Recent research in the field of development aid persuasively problematises aid relationships and begins to reveal their significance for the real-life application and effectiveness of international development cooperation. Until insights from such research percolate through aid machineries such as the OECD DAC and its workings, the country-level consequences of universal aid frameworks and prescriptions will continue to be insufficiently foreseen, and in some cases unexpectedly problematic. This paper is about an in-depth, qualitative study of the application of the Paris Declaration (PD) on Aid Effectiveness in Colombia. This middle-income, non aid-dependent country with a prolonged and complex internal armed conflict and a poor human rights record, hitherto on the margins of international aid circles, has fast assumed a high-profile role in them via its adoption of the PD.
The study stemmed from a conviction that PD application in Colombia has unanticipated consequences, with under-appreciated impacts on the strategies of donors and social actors. Donors are subject to an attempt to push them (back) into a technocratic corner. In this politically complex context where donors’ presence owes at least as much to concerns over Colombia’s international human rights performance as to classic aid donor concerns with widespread extreme poverty, this is worrying and undesirable. It also has serious implications for the tripartite aid dialogue process established in 2003, involving Government, donors and social actors. This, for all its flaws and frustrations, is unique and important in a historic context of polarised, antagonistic and violent relationships between the state and left-wing advocates of human rights and social democratic principles. It will require skilful and opportunistic responses by both donors and social organisations to turn this conjuncture to their favour, in the sense of strengthening their leverage on the Government in relation to human rights, poverty, conflict and democratic governance.