How we want to change power structures

Philipp Keil is the managing director of the Baden-Württemberg Development Cooperation Foundation (SEZ). Partnerships between Baden-Württemberg and countries of the Global South are central themes of the foundation. In this context, Philipp Keil examines power structures and their meaning. For example, for partnership projects between Burundi and Baden-Württemberg.

“I have been heading the Baden-Württemberg Development Cooperation Foundation (SEZ) for just over two years. The SEZ was founded in 1991 by the state parliament as an independent non-profit foundation under civil law. Due to its close proximity to the state and the state government of Baden-Württemberg, the foundation can be assigned relatively clearly to the privileged power structure. When I talk about an understanding of development cooperation or “us” in the following, I mean the perspective of the majority society.

The mission of the SEZ
The mission of the SEZ is to raise awareness and promote development policy commitment. Since I started at SEZ in September 2015, we have been in a constant organizational development process and always looking for impact. The key question is: How can we contribute to a fairer world? The supranational framework in which we find ourselves is the 2030 Agenda. It is evidence that the world is in a sustainability crisis. It is an almost revolutionary paradigm shift. Because the agenda is largely about the development of the industrialized countries. Goal 17, for example, is to strengthen means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. The subtitle of the agenda is the “Agenda for Transforming the World”. Central questions that arise from this: What does transformation mean? What does development mean? Who is developing whom here? Where do we want to develop? Is economics a means to an end and an end?

Traditional development cooperation, including that at the time the SEZ was founded in 1991, was strongly influenced by the dichotomy between the “First World”, which was developed, and the “Third World”, which was supposedly underdeveloped and in need of help. The majority of society still associates the term development cooperation with images of dry landscapes, sick, malnourished children or destroyed infrastructure. We all know that reality is different. In development cooperation we are dealing with a deeply unjust global world system, which is being fed by us here in the West. In the search for transformation or, in other words, impact orientation and reflection, we here in Baden-Württemberg inevitably have to deal with power structures or with the inequalities that have developed historically during the colonial period. Using Burundi as an example, these include the colonial era, climate change and agricultural subsidies. The development problems of the North such as resource consumption, environmental pollution or democratic deficits have not yet been taken into account in our understanding of development. Development cooperation therefore begins with us in the industrialized countries and, in particular, with the analysis of the prevailing power structures.

A rethink must take place
In various places the distorted view of Western development cooperation screams at you. For example, financial development cooperation for the South from the North accounts for less than a third of what flows from the South to the North in annual debt service. In effect, this means that the South is developing the North. We all know what a central contribution the remittances make, which also exceed state development cooperation many times over.

What does this mean for us as an SEZ?
During this process, I quickly realized that initiating change is more about individual change and reflecting on our organization. I have personally dealt with books such as those by Lucia Muriel, the “Glokal” association or Toupoka Ogotte and as a SEZ team we are working on the topic of critical whiteness.

In this process I came to the hard truth that I, our society and our educational plans are all racist. For example, I was surprised when I realized for the first time that I had learned almost nothing about German history at school about the colonial period. Or I didn't hear or read anything about the colonial period when I was studying economics. Overall, our understanding of development cooperation is based on a Western view of humanity. It mostly follows the basic idea, “as in the West, so on earth”.

The term partnership
In my opinion, partnership on equal terms is a fictitious ideal that rarely occurs in practice. Partnership is also an inflationary term. Partnership at eye level is usually more of an empty phrase. I am convinced that true partnerships are not possible as long as racist images persist and political and economic power imbalances are not acknowledged. Nevertheless, as SEZ we use the term partnership or partnership. For us it's about an inner attitude. It's about humanity, relationships, everyday interactions with respect, tolerance, honesty, trust or listening and inclusion. In other words, we are concerned with participation and participation. To make this clear, I like to use the term “partnership at heart level”, which the partner organization “Afrokids International e.V.” has shaped.

For me, the goal of a true partnership of equals is not an altruistic or philanthropic approach. Rather, large parts of the majority society in the Western world live in luxury at the expense of others. It is more about recognizing the human right to a dignified life for everyone. It is our duty and responsibility to change our behavior against this background.

What can the SEZ do?
We as SEZ know that we are only at the beginning of a process. I can only promise you that we are working seriously to reflect on our work and to question and change power structures. We want to be part of the transformation. For example, we want to learn a lot from Burundians within our partnership with Burundi. We want to be open to dialogue and open to change.”

Philip Keil

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