Unit 4: International influences on national politics and development

In this blog entry I will turn my focus away from the role of the state in development politics to look at the impact of international actors on the development politics of developing countries. I will make particular reference to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and, as in my previous posts, India.

The politics of aid allocation. Which countries receive aid and why?

Firstly, it is important to remind ourselves about the relationship between politics and development. As I set out in my first blog entry development is fundamentally political, and international aid, as a tool that donors use to drive development also carries with it political baggage. The end of the Cold War and the removal of the inter-Superpower rivalry that dominated global politics brought about a “sense of optimism about the potential for [international] aid to focus on countries most in need, irrespective of the political leanings of the recipient regime.” (Beall et al, 2006:4). But ultimately, when a country is making decisions about how to allocate its foreign aid budget, how it makes those decisions is likely to be shaped by political factors. Indeed, in recent years, policy rhetoric emerging from Western governments has sought to link the internal security of developing countries with their own domestic security concerns (Cameron, 2010, Clinton, 2010). As Morgenthau wrote in 1962, “foreign aid is an instrument of foreign policy” (Morgenthau, 1962:1) and donors recognise that aid offers a means of achieving foreign policy goals.

An analysis of where UK aid money goes could be used to suggest that UK development policy is not driven by political factors (a useful summary of UK aid allocation is available here). This may seem a bold statement, but let’s dwell on the facts for a moment. Since 1990, the two countries that have received the most money in the form of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) flows from the UK are India and Nigeria (OECD, 2013). While it might be argued that the UK has a strategic interest in supporting Asia’s largest democracy and the most populous country in Africa, one might equally argue that DFID’s presence is driven by the high numbers of poor people living in the countries. While it is undeniable that countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen have also received significant flows of UK ODA in recent years, other countries that regularly feature in the top-ten list of UK ODA recipients include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Nepal, all of whom, it could be argued, are on that list not for political reasons but because they are relatively poor (ibid.). Furthermore, the International Development Act, signed into law in 2002, specifically requires British governments to use aid money only for the purposes of reducing poverty (UK Parliament, 2002). While this does not preclude aid money from being channelled to countries in which the UK has a strategic interest, the ODI has praised DFID for creating ‘firewalls’ such as this to restrict the ways in which UK aid money can be spent (ODI: 2012).

Aid to India

I will now turn to a case study of the UK’s aid partnership with India to look in more detail at the reasons countries give international aid. On 9th November 2012 UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announced the end of financial grant aid to India from 2015. The announcement came after months of speculation about the future of DFID’s bilateral aid programme. The debate about whether or not the UK should give aid to India reflected the wide variety of differing opinions on why countries give aid and what they hope to achieve by doing so.

On the one hand, DFID argues that it works in India because the country is home to a third of the world’s people living on less that $1.25 a day – more than live in all of sub-Saharan Africa – and that if the world is serious about achieving the Millennium Development Goals, progress needs to be made in the parts of India that have been left behind by its recent growth surge. Detractors point to India’s enormous army, its space programme and aid programme to question whether donor contributions are needed. My feeling is that such arguments are partly driven by a misunderstanding of what the UK’s aid actually involves – DFID would argue that its aid is targeted to the poorest people in the poorest states and that it is winding down support for the central government. Whatever the merits of giving aid to India, it is also arguable that there are multiple other reasons that the UK might want to give aid to India. It might be an attempt to gain favour with a country of growing international importance and significance, to support Indian democracy as a bulwark against other ‘unstable’ countries in the region, or an effort to influence the Government of India to buy British goods. When one pauses to assess an aid programme within the wider geopolitical context, it becomes easier to recognise that all of these reasons could be factors in the UK’s decision to give aid to India.

The debate in the tabloid and right-leaning parts of the British media centred around the question of what the UK gets from India in return for its aid programme. While such publications had waged a long-term campaign against aid to India, the surge in debate about DFID’s programme in February 2012 was prompted by the announcement that a large Indian defence contract for fighter planes would be awarded to a French firm rather than a European consortium of which Britain is a member. Clearly for these parts of the press, the reason the UK gives aid to india is in its own self interest; that the UK gives aid in return for business contracts. The then UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, was reported as saying that giving aid to India was partly about winning defence contracts. It is arguable that this is an example of aid conditionality; we give you aid in return for contracts. In reality I can find no transcript of Mitchell actually saying such a thing, and what seems more likely is that he was – as suggested by Andrew Buncome of the Independent – making the point that the UK’s aid programme is a coherent part of the UK’s wider strategic relationship with India.

Commentators from the left also took this opportunity to attack the government’s position, as seen in this blog from Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement. In a woeful piece of journalism, Ms Doane presents an unattributed assertion in a Daily Mail article as a quote from Andrew Mitchell that UK aid to India is “partly about winning the bid”. Other commentators from the left have made the more thoughtful argument that the UK is driven by an ex-colonial mentality to India and that this might explain the maintenance of its aid programme. Perhaps reflecting such a mentality, the tabloids dredged up a comment from Indian President (then Finance Minister) Pranab Mukherjee made in the Indian Parliament in 2010 and used it to say that india was not grateful for UK aid. In reality, Mukherjee described UK aid to India as “a peanut in our total development expenditure” during a debate in the Indian Parliament in response to concerns that the potential withdrawal of UK aid could be damaging for India’s massive scoial sector schemes and was quoted out of context. This was fuel to the fire of tabloid rage about aid to India.

In general, I find it astonishing that the media is capable of conflating several issues into a single story to – misleadingly – present it as a a convincing and more compelling narrative. In this case the tabloid right have taken their preconceptions about international aid and have presented ‘facts’ in ways that conveniently fit their anti-aid agenda while the left have taken their pre-conceptions about the Coalition Government’s ambitions for the aid programme and melded the facts to suit their agenda.

My view is that while DFID’s aid programme in India is – and should be – a coherent part of the UK government’s wider strategy in India, the main reason for it existing is the scale of the remaining poverty challenge in India. If one takes a quick look at DFID’s Bilateral Aid Review, which assessed DFID’s partner countries in terms of what results could be achieved through development programmes, India comes out on top of the list, and this, so DFID argue, is the key reason why the UK decided to maintain aid to India at 2010 levels up to 2015. This would imply that poverty – not business, defence or neo-colonial attitudes – is the real motivation behind the UK giving aid to India. This is not say that broader strategic issues are not at play too. The British High Commission in Delhi attempts to reconcile that fact that it works with India on defence sales as well as development saying that inclusive growth and development is the number one domestic priority for the Government of India, and therefore the UK, as a good (strategically interested) global partner of India, has an interest in supporting Indian development. Having said this, the fact that Justine Greening announced a cut to aid to India only two years after the BAR and only several months after the controversy about the defence contract, does not look good. It makes it look like the two events are related. I am slightly depressed by the fact that the UK government appears to have pandered so heavily to the media outrage on this issue – in my view it should have stuck to its original plans up to 2015.

Aid and normative change. Should aid be used in this way?

A key question hanging over the international development industry is a quite fundamental one; should aid be used to try and achieve normative change in other countries? Since the Second World War, the concept of ‘universal’ human rights has gathered pace and extended into new areas of human life. But the recognition of such rights, and the fact they might not really extend universally across geographies and populations, raises the question of how – and whether – countries should seek to promote and protect the rights of citizens in other countries. In addition, such rights create a potential tension with cultural values, and aid development actors seeking to challenge cultural values that conflict with human rights may find themselves being criticised for imposing a kind of cultural hegemony.

Working in the industry myself, I find this raises some real concerns for me because the idea that through implementing a development programme I might be supporting the imposition of a foreign worldview, irrelevant to the concerns and interests of recipients, quite worrying. However, I also think that while I recognise this is a risk, there are numerous things international development actors can do to help avoid problems like this, and I feel the risks can be over-stated.

I used to work for an African health NGO called AMREF – the African Medical and Research Foundation. AMREF works at a micro level to try and extend health services to communities that otherwise have very little access to them. The reason I mention their work is that some of the projects they implement involve challenging cultural behaviours now recognised to be detrimental to health, such as female genital mutilation. AMREF argue that FGM directly violates the human rights of girls and women and believes that it can help communities achieve “positive social change” (AMREF, 2013:1). While AMREF’s work in this area can be controversial amongst the target communities, they argue that they have achieved real results through the development of alternative rites of passage for teenage girls. I would argue that the manner in which such interventions are implemented helps to reduce the risk of accusations of cultural hegemony by working collaboratively with communities and respecting their views, but also seeking to raise awareness about the value of behavioural change.

More controversially, some international development actors have sought to use their resources and political muscle to try and drive what they see as “positive change” in less developed countries. For example, DFID’s cutting of aid to Uganda for the introduction of an anti-homosexuality bill and other Western outcry has been labelled an example of Western cultural hegemony. Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s State Minister for Ethics and Integrity said “The children of Uganda will be saved from this dangerous practice of same sexual marriages that Western countries want to impose on us. This bill respects the positive culture of Ugandans.” (Lokodo in IRIN, 2012:2). I think DFID’s decision to do something to stand up for LGBTI rights in Uganda was appropriate but I am not conviced that cutting budget support is necessarily the best approach (it should be noted that DFID did mantian its civil society programme on LGBTI rights). Having said that, I wonder if the decision would have been so controversial if the Ugandan government was legislating against, for example, an ethnic minority? One might argue that the world has not done enough to influence the decision of the Ugandan government on this issue. Perhaps DFID was showing a kind of enlightened leadership. I am skepticial of this arguement. In general, while we might disagree with the actions of some governments, I have concerns about aid agencies operating in this way. DFID’s action in this example represents a challenge to the concept of state sovereignty and demonstrates that aid donors have real power to threaten countries with reprisals if their cultural views are not respected. In general, it seems globalisation and the weakening of perceived barriers between groups inside and between countries has created a tension between national norms and minority rights.

Non-state development actors

In recent years the role and impact of non-state actors for development has been the subject of significant discussion, particularly as the spending power, influence and voice of such actors grows to new levels. Philanthropic organisations carry with them enormous resources and freedom to use those resources however they see fit. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made a total of $3.4 billion of grant payments in 2012 (BMGF, 2013) – more than total ODA payments than the governments of Switzerland ($3bn) or Denmark ($2.7bn) in 2012 (OECD DAC, 2013). In the face of it, the injection of new, large scale and flexible resources to development – particularly vaccine development or the promotion of access to financial services – might seem like a good thing, but is it all good news?

Michael Edwards raises some particular concerns about the impact of philanthropic organisations on democratic development (2012). He argues that while international foreign aid can help to foster the kind of institutions, economic growth and political stability required for genuine poverty alleviation, big philanthropy does not change the “social and political dynamics of places in ways that enable……the foundations for democratic development” (Edwards, 2012:4). I feel this chimes with Moore’s work on unearned income creating a disincentive for democratic development (Moore, 2001). While I am not sure that I agree with this assessment, I do have some sympathy with Edwards’ second criticism which is around accountability. He argues that “it privileges the voices of a tiny number of billionaires who are only weakly accountable to the public interest, or to governments or to international institutions” and “may…crowd out other, less powerful constituencies” (Edwards, 2012:4). For Edwards, Bill Gates could make a big contribution to development, but he could also make some massive mistakes and would not be held to account. He reports that the WHO are now struggling to find independent reviewers for health research purposes because they are “all on the payroll of the Gates Foundation” focussing on the eradication of malaria (ibid.). Furthermore, philanthropic organisations financed through private sector businesses may bring with them a certain ideological approach to development that sees the private sector and technological innovations as the solution to development challenges, even though they may be entirely inappropriate for the purpose. In my view, the fact that such organisations can bring additional resources to the financing of development, and can bring new and innovative ways of thinking, mean they have the potential to make a positive – complementary – contribution to global development efforts. However, the devil is in the implementation. I am concerned that the hype surrounding such initiatives, the presence of large sums of flexible funds and the weak accountability of leaders mean that they risk displacing other ongoing development efforts that might be achieving results without grabbing any headlines.

How important is it for national governments to set their own development agenda?

For me, a unifying theme linking both official development assistance between countries and aid provided by non-state actors is that the most sustainable and impactful way of doing development through both types of actors is to collaborate with and support a national government with a developmental set of priorities to implement its own strategies. In the context of a substantial intenational aid industry, ‘universal’ human rights and globalisation I think it is increasinlgy difficult – perhaps impossible – for countries to do this in solation from global pressures. For me, that can be a good thing, but only if the inputs and support offered by international development actors are complemetary to domestic development plans. This should not be taken to mean that international development actors should not operate in countries without the the capacity to design or implement their own development strategies. In such contexts development actors can step in and help states to fill gaps in the administration of their country. However, states must always be conscious of the geopolitical context in which aid is given between countries and accept it only where it alligns with their own priorities.

In the case of DFID I would argue that to a great extent it does seek to allign its work with recipient country priorities. Here in India, for example, the DFID Operational Plan for 2011-2015 explicity sets out to support implementation of the Government of India’s 12th 5-year plan and all projects are co-designed and approved by the Government of India. However, as the Uganda anti-homosexuality legislation demonstrated, DFID’s position on supporting national development strategies is clearly conditional on some level of respect for ‘universal’ human rights. This is a rather disempowering fact for recipients of DFID’s aid because committed resources can be withdrawn where the UK deems a country has not met the standards it expects. In this respect, recipient countires remain subject to a kind of cultural hegemony dictated by donor governments. Having said this, I don’t think it would be right for DFID to ignore the rights of minorities in less developed countries. But the cutting of budget support is a very blunt instrument and may not be the most efficacious method of protecting the rights of such groups.



AMREF (2013) AMREF’s position on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (Online) http://www.amref.org/info-hub/our-position/amrefs-position-on-female-genital-mutilationcutting/

Barder, O. (2005) Reforming Development Assistance: Lessons from the UK Experience (Online) http://www.cgdev.org/files/4371_file_WP_70.pdf (12th February 2013)

Beall, J., Goodfellow, T. and Putzel, J. (2006) Policy Arena introductory article: On the discourse of terrorism, security and development. Journal of International Development. 18: 51-67

BMGF (2013) Gates Foundation Factsheet (Online) http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Who-We-Are/General-Information/Foundation-Factsheet

CAFOD (2011) The UK Bilateral Aid Review. Analysis and response. (Online) http://www.cafod.org.uk/content/download/551/5562/file/Policy_Aid_CAFOD-response-to-the-Bilateral-Aid-Review.docx (10th February 2013)

Cameron, D. (2010) Statement on Strategic Defence and Security Review. (Online) http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/sdsr/ (8th February 2013)

DFID (2005) Fighting Poverty to Build a Safer World: A Strategy for Security and Development (Online) www.dfid.gov.uk/pubs/files/securityforall.pdf (6th February 2013)

DFID (2012) Statistics on international development 2012. (Online) http://www.dfid.gov.uk/About-us/How-we-measure-progress/Aid-Statistics/Statistics-on-International-Development-2012/  (9th February 2013)

Edwards, M. (2012) DOES BIG PHILANTROPY UNDERMINE DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT? (Online) http://www.hivos.net/Knowledge-Programme2/Themes/Civil-Society-Building/News/Does-Big-Philantropy-Undermine-Democratic-Development 

Haddad, L. (2011) Six things we learned from DFID’s Aid Review. (Online) http://www.developmenthorizons.com/2011/03/six-things-we-learned-from-dfids-aid.html (8th February 2013)

HM Treasury (2010) Comprehensive Spending Review. (Online) cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sr2010_completereport.pdf (7th February 2013)

IRIN (2012) UGANDA: Anti-gay bill could be passed before Christmas (Online) http://www.irinnews.org/report/96765/uganda-anti-gay-bill-could-be-passed-before-christmas

Mitchell, A. (2011) Britain set to increase aid to Somalia (Online) http://www.dfid.gov.uk/news/latest-news/2011/mitchell-increased-aid-to-somalia-will-help-save-lives-and-make-britain-safer/ (8th February 2013)

Moore, M. (2001) Political underdevelopment: What causes bad governance.

Morgenthau, H. (1962) A Political Theory of foreign aid. The American Political Science Review Vol. 56, No. 2, Jun., 1962

ODI (2012) The UK’s approach to linking development and security: assessing policy and practice Working Paper 347 (Online) http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7658.pdf (12th February 2013)

OECD Development Assistance Committee (2013) Query Wizard for International Development Statistics (Online) http://stats.oecd.org/qwids (6th February 2013)

UK Parliament (2002) International Development Act (Online) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/1/part/1 (8th February 2013)

White House (2010) US National Security Strategy (Online) http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf (11th February 2013)

Unit 3: The role of the state in development politics

My first two postings in this blog have looked at the importance of democracy for development and the relationship between politics and development. Now I will turn my focus to another key debate in development theory and practice; the role of the state in development.

Political debates in both the developed and less-developed parts of the world are often shaped by different views on what role the state should play in the governance of countries. The state’s star has risen and fallen over the years as different political narratives have held sway. As discussed in my first posting, this process has been mirrored in international development theory as the central planning of the 1960s and 1970s gave way to neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, as interventionist states of both capitalist and socialist persuasion have achieved development progress, theorists have come to realise that the state has an important role to play in facilitating development. In addition, particularly since the events of September 11th 2001, ‘failed states’, state-building and state-sustainability have become core themes of Western foreign and development policy (see Cameron 2010, White House 2010, Mitchell, 2011).

But what is it about a state that makes it an effective driver, rather than an inhibitor of, development? Why are some states with broadly similar structures better able to drive development than others? And what is it that makes some states strong and stable, and others weak and ineffective? I will try to answer these questions with particular reference to the Indian state.

What does it mean to be an ineffective state?

Maureen Mackintosh has drawn out two themes of ideas in critical writing about the states and their impact on development (Mackintosh in Wuyts, Mackintosh and Hewitt, 1992). The unresponsive but invasive state (highlighted largely by those on the political left) is one where the bureaucracy imposes, for example, poor social services on citizens while being entirely insensitive to their needs and preferences. I very much recognise this vision of the state here in India. The government has introduced numerous large scale social sector programmes which are believed to be in the interest of the poor, but there is very little independent rigorous analysis of these programmes’ performance to judge what impact they are really having or how well suited they are to their intended beneficiaries. Without this, it seems to me, such programmes may remain attractive ideological concepts rather than practical solutions to people’s genuine needs. Sen and Grown made a similar critique of India’s social programmes in 1987.

Mackintosh’s second group of criticisms of the state come from the right of the political spectrum and are concerned with the inefficient and restrictive state. Such a view of the state sees governments and as inefficient and self-serving, while state subsidies are market-warping and incentivise the poor to make decisions not in their best-interest (Mackintosh in Wuyts, Mackintosh and Hewitt, 1992). Asking the state to be more active in driving development is, therefore, counterproductive. This basket of criticism shifts the emphasis from a concern with authoritarian tendencies in some states and how this impacts on the poor’s experience of public services, to a fundamental concern with the ability of the state to efficiently allocate resources. In this respect, there are some parallels between the two groups of views, as both consider ‘technocrats’ incapable of making resource allocation decisions for the genuine benefit of the poor. However, the policy recommendations of the two are very different. While (traditionally) those on the political left see potential for improvements in the quality of state services by incentivising state systems and structures to better cater to the needs and interests of citizens, those on the right argue that the best thing a state can do for development is get out of the way.

Reflecting on these differing views of the role of the state and what I have observed during my career, I find that I have more often seen examples of unresponsive but invasive state behaviour. I feel that states do have an important role to play in driving development, but that often the efficacy of state programmes is limited by poor implementation. Sometimes that weakness is caused by inadequate programme design, sometimes by limited availability of information and sometimes by insufficient capacity on the part of officials. For me, these programme weaknesses do not imply that the country would be better off without the programme altogether, but rather that improvements might be made to ensure that it reaches its intended beneficiaries. However, to make broad generalisations about the characteristics of all states seems overly simplistic. Some will portray characteristics that could be labelled unresponsive, invasive, inefficient and restrictive, while others may be none of those things. Some are benevolent, others are patently not. 

Public or private interest?

The views classified by Mackintosh are based on some commonly held ideas about the state which have been called the ‘public interest’ view of the state. This view assumes that it is possible for states to identify a single national interest and then pursue that through policy making. In practice, this appears a very simplistic and idealistic view of the nature of states. In the case of India, there is certainly no single national interest; there are complex social structures and hierarchies dividing and classifying over 1.2 billion people or differing socio economic, cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Policy reforms may work in the interest of some groups within the country, while they may adversely impact on the interests of others. Furthermore, the Indian state is far from being the well informed, logical actor imagined in the ‘public interest’ view of the state. India’s large social schemes, through which the Indian government invests vast resources, are beset by a dire lack of data meaning that decisions on their reform are often based not on evidence but rather on conjecture, opinion and special interest groups. For me, therefore, there is no true ‘public interest’ state.

In contrast to the ‘public interest’ view, neoliberals have attempted to paint a ‘private interest’ view of the state. This sees employees of the state acting in their own private interest at the expense of all else, including the poor, and implies that the interests of state employees are served by enlarging the budgets of the departments for which they work, protecting their jobs and perks in the process. While there have undoubtedly been examples (from all around the world) of public servants seeking to promote their interests, perhaps at the expense of others in their country, this demonising characterisation of the motivations of all public officials is in my experience, highly misleading. It is quite likely that those working in, for example, a government department concerned with the delivery of poverty-reducing programmes are there because of their own personal commitment to achieving progress in the areas that interest them. In this sense they are seeking to promote the interests of others. This is not necessarily at the expense of themselves, but their own self interest could be a lower priority factor than others’ interests. Basic human empathy is an important factor to consider here!

Developmental states

Perhaps in response to the theoretical positions that have cast the state as the sole solution to, or inhibitor of, development, since the turn of the century, a moderate third position has emerged that has renewed interest in and recognition of the role of the state in development. In development thinking it is now rare for states and markets to “be perceived as polar opposites in the development process” and instead there is increasing recognition that they are “complementary agents of economic advancement” (Matlosa, Mwanza and Kamidza, 2002:1). In place of strong ideological positions on the state, increasing attention has been paid to the idea of developmental states. A developmental state has the power, autonomy, legitimacy and capacity to support the achievement of national development objectives, and urgently prioritises the pursuit of such objectives (Leftwich, 2000). There is no fixed prescriptive model regime type for a state to be classed ‘developmental’, what matters is its prioritisation of developmental objectives. 

Matthew Lockwood argues that most African states tend to portray all the hallmarks of a state that a citizen would probably recognise in most countries in the world; they have laws, budgets, a bureaucracy, cabinet and parliament (Lockwood, 2006). What sets them apart, according to Lockwood, and disqualifies them from being considered developmental, is the degree to which personal rule and patronage (or clientalist politics) determine state action (ibid.). Often these two aspects of the state co-exist, with commentators like Kelsall distinguishing between the “shop window” presentation of the state to the outside world and the reality of poor governance behind closed doors (Kelsall in Lockwood, 2006:1). I find myself feeling that I recognise these behaviours to some degree in my observations of some African states. Uganda, for example, is a good example of a state where real development progress has, in recent years, given way to clientalism as President Museveni has sought to entrench himself in power through the creation of patronage networks. Similarly, Rwanda under Paul Kagame has done a good job of presenting an image of a state that countries, donors and the private sector can do business with. However, in recent years, Kagame’s halo has really started to slip as concerns over human rights violations have come to prominence, raising concerns about the reality of his government’s commitment to development. Having said that, I also think that it’s very easy for commentators to criticise governments for displaying such behaviours without fully appreciating the necessities of governing a state. Kagame has repeatedly reiterated his government’s development focus and commitment to democracy, and one might argue that the stability of the country, particularly given its relatively recent experience of genocide driven by social divisions that still remain, necessitates some of the closed door decision making described by Kelsall (ibid.). However, one might equally argue that “there is a real risk that, if left unaddressed” such “shortcomings could exacerbate tensions and ultimately drive broader instability” (Centre for Strategic Studies, 2011:2).

After reading Lockwood’s pessimistic assessment of whether developmental states are emerging in Africa (2006), I found myself dwelling on the question of whether or not India is a developmental state. I think that the current government would like to think of itself as having all of the hallmarks of a state committed to development, but I’m unsure whether the facts bear that out. On the one hand, India’s liberalising reforms in the early 1990s have driven higher rates of economic growth, this growth has been poverty reducing and the government is spending record levels on impressive social schemes. On the other, the spoils of growth have not been shared equally across the country and India is seeing a widening inequality gap. Furthermore, India’s social schemes, while headline grabbing and ambitious, often fall down in implementation and even exclude those who they are intended to benefit, as argued by Supreme Court representative N.C. Saxena in 2012.

Incentives for reform

Unsworth has argued that a key cause of weak or fragile states is “the lack of elite incentives to create effective public authority” (Unsworth, 2010:17). She argues that perverse incentives exist for elites which mean that it is in their interest to maintain the status quo. For example, elites who control access to raw materials and the high returns they offer, have no incentive to change a system that helps to keep them very rich. Moore’s work on earned and unearned sources of income also reaches some interesting conclusions about how different types of income create incentives for different types of state behaviour (2001). He argues that where a state has access to a large volume of income from sources such as oil or minerals (or aid) it does not have to do anything to collect those resources. Earned income, in contrast, requires organisational and political effort to collect and requires significant engagement, interaction and bargaining with taxpaying citizens and businesses. Where a state has significant sources of unearned income it has a much weaker incentive to listen to its citizens or create an efficient public service to collect taxation and administer the government – it instead serves as a source of patronage opportunities (ibid.). 

I find this interpretation of the impact of unearned income rather simplistic and would argue that states with high unearned income levels are not necessarily more likely to behave in the ways Moore suggests. There are example of countries – such as DRC and Nigeria – where natural resource windfalls have not been converted into developmental progress and may have created a disincentive for the state to cultivate a strong ‘earning’ relationship with its citizens. However, Botswana is a good example of a developing country that has been able to derive significant return from its unearned income from diamond reserves while also being praised for maintaining a strong economic growth, good governance and democratic track record (Lockwood, 2006). 

Why Nations Fail

Acemoglu and Robinson make the argument – contrary to the views of many others in development – that we know what makes a state ineffective or effective. They put developmental success down to the existence of inclusive political and economic institutions and argue that where such institutions are extractive, states are likely to be ineffective (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). Were Acemoglu and Robinson to leave their argument there, I would a gross over-simplification, but they do not. They also look at the historical and political context in which states are located to explain their developmental position. This means taking account of factors such as countries’ colonial experience or regional stability as well as the existence or otherwise of institutions.

While some – like Bill Gates and Jeff Sachs – have criticised the book for its simplicity, I find the clarity of their position attractive. Broadly I would agree that inclusive political and economic institutions can help to drive development. However, there are two particularly clear outliers that demonstrate their theory doesn’t always hold; China and India. Chinese growth has been achieved without the kinds of institutions they refer to, although they argue that it was precisely the creation of inclusive economic institutions under Deng Xioaping that enabled China to embark on its impressive growth journey. At the same time, one might argue that India has created precisely the sort of inclusive institutions they recommend and has not achieved the remarkable growth that should follow. In my view, India has made some remarkable developmental progress in recent decades, but it also remains home to a large proportion of the World’s poorest people so there is still a long way to go. Despite being the World’s largest democracy one might argue that the quality of its institutions is actually holding back faster progress. Indeed, Arvind Subramanian of the Centre for Global Development has written that he sees no correlation between institutional performance and growth in India, arguing “there does not seem to be evidence of improvements in the average quality of [Indian] institutions over time; if anything, the evidence leans in the other direction” (Subramanian, 2007:1).



Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) Why nations fail: The origins of power, prosperity and poverty.

Cameron, D. (2010) Statement on Strategic Defence and Security Review. (Online) http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/sdsr/ (8th February 2013)

Centre for Strategic Studies (2011) Rwanda: Assessing risks to stability. (Online) http://csis.org/files/publication/110623_Cooke_Rwanda_Web.pdf (27th May 2013) 

Lockwood, M. (2006) The state they’re in: An agenda for international action on poverty in Africa. Rugby, Intermediate Technology Publications.

Matlosa, Mwanza and Kamidza (2002) The Role of the State in Development in the SADC Region: Does NEPAD Provide a New Paradigm? (online) http://www.africavenir.org/uploads/media/KamidzaNEPAD.pdf

Mitchell, A. (2011) Britain set to increase aid to Somalia (Online) http://www.dfid.gov.uk/news/latest-news/2011/mitchell-increased-aid-to-somalia-will-help-save-lives-and-make-britain-safer/  (8th February 2013)

Mackintosh, M. (1992) “Questioning the state”. In Wuyts, Mackintosh and Hewitt (Eds.) Development Policy and Public Action. Oxford, Oxford University Press. pp. 61-89.

Moore, M. (2001) ‘Political underdevelopment: What causes bad governance’. 

Sen, G and Grown, C. (1987) Development, Crises and Alternative Visions. Earthscan Publications: London.

Subramanian, A. (2007) The Evolution of Institutions in India and its Relationship with Economic Growth (Online) http://www.piie.com/publications/papers/subramanian0407b.pdf

Unsworth, S. (2010) An upside down view of governance

White House (2010) US National Security Strategy (Online) http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf  (11th February 2013)

Unit 2: Democracy and development politics

In this posting I take a look at democracy, what it means for a country to be democratic and what the relationship is between democracy and development, particularly in Africa.

Meanings of democracy

What democracy actually means is a contested and (frequently) debated issue. How high should we set the bar when defining whether countries are democratic or not? Is the holding of elections sufficient? Does it matter if those elections are peaceful? How much interference in the electoral process from the party in power should we accept? Should we be looking at broader issues of voice in local governance? The presence of strong parties of opposition? What about the rule of law and effective institutions? Freedom of expression, assembly and the media?

Joseph Schumpeter defined democracy as “that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote” (Schumpeter, 1942). This rather narrow conception of what democracy means has been added to by various thinkers over the years. Dahl, for example, expanded the definition to include the protection of basic civil liberties, freedom from repression, freedom of expression and assembly (Dahl, 1971). Since the 1980s, with the emergence of many ‘new’ democracies the focus has shifted to consolidation of the democratic system and the definition of democracy has been broadened to place more focus on “the role and importance of accountability” (ODI, 2007:2) or ‘personal freedoms’ (Sen, 1999).

In reading these thinkers I have come to agree with the ‘thicker’ definitions of democracy. I try to imagine myself living in a country where I could participate in elections but couldn’t, for example, protest against the government I had elected. To me, such a country should not be labelled a democracy. Elections are only a means of selecting leadership for a country. What that government then does with that power is what determines whether a country is democratic or not.

But what characteristics does a country have to portray in order to be labelled a democracy? The majority of commentators now seem to recognise that there is a democracy continuum from not very democratic (think autocratic nations like North Korea), all the way to very democratic (Norway regularly features near the top of democracy rankings). As such, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “half of the world lives under a democracy of some form” while “only 15 percent of countries enjoy full democracy” (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013:2).

Measuring democracy

Below, I have set out some examples of attempts to rank or index countries according to how democratic they are, or the quality of democracy within a county. The methodology used to create each index reflects the values of its creators, so one has to consider these with a critical eye, but each offers a useful an interesting perspective:

Democracy Rankinghttp://www.democracyranking.org A democracy index based on political, social and economic factors developed by Vienna-based Democracy Ranking Association.

Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index: 
http://www.eiu.com A democracy index developed on the basis of expert evaluations of 60 factors from five areas (electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, government function and capability, political participation and political culture) in 167 countries).

Freedom in the World Reports: 
http://www.freedomhouse.org Ratings of political and civil rights around the world. Developed by American NGO Freedom House. Each country and territory is assigned a numerical rating (1-7) for political rights and a rating for civil liberties. 

Each of these rankings, because of the different methodologies they use, produce different results. But there are some themes that emerge:

  • Perhaps expectedly, Nordic countries feature near the top of all rankings of democracy and freedom. They are usually joined by fellow Europeans like Switzerland and the Netherlands in the top ten while Australia, New Zealand and Canada also receive high marks.

  • There is some reasonable consistency at the bottom of the rankings too, with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uzbekistan all featuring in the bottom ten of the EIU ranking and receiving the Freedom House 7/7 score for political and civil liberties. Syria is the only of these countries assessed by Democracy Ranking and it is second last in their index (Democracy Ranking, 2012).

There are also some interesting contrasts between the different indices:

  • The EIU index pushes European countries further down the rankings where they are heavily indebted, have ‘weak governments’ or have suffered as a result of the eurozone crisis. Countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Greece are ranked 25th, 26th, 28th,33rd respectively (EIU, 2013), compared with 16th, 18th, 17th and 32nd in the Democracy Ranking (Democracy Ranking, 2012). I found these results really fascinating because I hadn’t previously associated economic factors with democracy. However, on reflection, it seems one might create a convincing argument that if a country is more economically unstable then its government may have to resort to more anti-democratic measures in order to preserve the stability of the economy. The recent Cypriot personal savings levy is a good example of a government in dire financial straits choosing to resort to a policy measure that impinges on individual freedom. Similarly, if economic factors can drive political instability then this could have implications for democracy.

  • India is 38th in the EIU compared with 72nd in the Democracy Ranking (ibid.). This difference may be caused by the fact that the Democracy Ranking takes into account non-political dimensions such as health and gender which adversely affect the India score. Similarly, South Africa is 35 places lower in the Democracy Ranking index (66) than in the EIU (35). I found these results interesting too because they highlighted a broader definition of democracy than I had previously reflected on. I really agree with the inclusion of gender equality in any measure of democracy because if freedoms are only really available to half of a country’s population then it shouldn’t be labelled a democracy. However, taking other development indicators – such as measures of health – into account is something I am more conflicted on. This implies that low income countries are less able to be democratic than rich countries. Again, though, I can see some merit in this argument as individuals’ capacity to fully participate in a democracy may be inhibited by factors of under-development.

Trends in democratisation

In 1991, following the events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union, Samuel Huntington defined three waves of democratisation, with each of the first two waves being followed by some reversal of the democratic trend (Huntington, 1991). I was initially quite skeptical of this rather neat characterisation of global democracy. Why would democratic change happen in multiple countries at similar times? But then I reflected on the fact that Huntington’s waves in the 20th century largely took place following global events or shifts in geopolitical dynamics that made it more likely for democratic revolutions to take place; such the Second World War and the collapse of Communism. I also reflected on whether democratic change in one country made it more likely that democracy might spread elsewhere – thus feeding the idea of a building wave. Events in the Arab world over the last two years have raised a question around whether the Arab Spring could be labelled a 4th wave of democratisation as pressure on authoritarian leaders swept through the Middle East and North Africa. These revolutions certainly seemed to occur in a cluster as citizens across the region saw their neighbours challenging their governments and achieving change. Freedom House have called the Arab Spring “the most significant challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism.” (Freedom House, 2012:1). However, the EIU is more pessimistic about these movements for democratic reform because “it has become apparent that democracy in the region remains a highly uncertain prospect” (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013:1). 

Trends in African democracy

The Economist has written enthusiastically about democratic progress in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the last 20 years (Economist, 2011). If one takes the holding of elections as a sufficient measure of democracy, African democratisation since the end of the Cold War has been sweeping and impressive. Between 1960 and 1989 there were no elections in Africa. In contrast, Van Der Walle has said that 70 Presidential elections took place between 1989 and 2000 (Van Der Walle, 2002). On first sight these figures look really impressive and appear to add weight to Huntington’s ‘waves’ hypothesis. However, while there have been some democratic success stories in Africa, many countries that became ‘democratic’ would not be considered democracies by a liberal democratic standard. They might have gone through the process of holding elections, but that alone is insufficient when you take a broader definition of what it means to be democratic. For example, under Paul Kagame, Rwanda held elections in 2000, 2003 and 2010, and has been widely criticised by human rights groups for “worrying pattern[s] of intimidation, harassment and other abuses – ranging from killings and arrests to restrictive administrative measures – against opposition parties, journalists, members of civil society and other critics [of the government]” (Human Rights Watch, 2010:1). Rwanda, holds elections, but it is not a democracy as most people would understand one. Similarly, in neighbouring Uganda, critics have become increasingly vocal of President Yoweri Museveni’s rule after 26 years in office, citing “increasing threats to freedom of expression, assembly, and association” (Human Rights Watch, 2013:1). I would argue, therefore, that Huntington’s waves of democratisation are more a convenient academic narrative than a convincing representation of the reality of democracy in the world.

Democracy and development

The relationship between democracy and development has been the subject of significant debate over the years with commentators disagreeing on whether one is a necessary precursor for the other, or whether there are alternative forms of government that are more likely to drive development. Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” argued that the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union represented a victory for liberal democracy as the model of for achieving industrial development (Fukuyama 1992). Around the same time, some academics (see Leftwich, 2000), donor governments and multilateral institutions (UNDP) were developing the view that “democracy is not an outcome or consequence of development, but rather a necessary ingredient to bring about development” (ODI, 2007:5).

This debate is really interesting because I find the argument that democracy is a valuable way of holding government’s to account and creating an incentive for good performance quite convincing. Therefore, one might reasonably expect that development would flow from democracy. However, since the early 1990s, some authoritarian models of government have proven themselves equally capable, if not more so, than democracies of driving development. The country that has lifted the largest number of people out of poverty in recent years is – by far and away – China. The World Bank estimates that China’s high growth rate, averaging 10% per annum since 1978, has lifted over 600 million people out of poverty (World Bank, 2013). This fact quite clearly demonstrates that development is not dependent on democracy. China is not alone in driving development through authoritarian government; the East Asian Tigers of Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore all achieved rapid growth rates and dramatic poverty reduction through strong state-led schemes with only limited democracy (Stiglitz, 2002).

Taking this line of thought a bit further, is it possible, therefore, that democracy holds back developmental progress? Halperin et al. have argued that ‘the appeal of the authoritarian-led approach has … at least something to do with its expediency, in comparison to the messy and time-consuming procedures typical of democracy’ (in ODI, 2007:7). One might speculate (as Herring (1999) has) that India’s experience of development might have been simpler were it not operating within a system of parliamentary democracy. This assertion really chimed with me as I have often wondered the same during my time living in Delhi. So often the Indian government appears to take decisions based not on evidence or rational cost benefit analysis, but on political grounds. The current UPA coalition has really struggled during the current parliament to get any of its legislative agenda of bills passed, a problem it wouldn’t have were India not a democracy. Some commentators – like Leftwich (2000) – have argued that ‘authoritarian democracies’ where elections are held but human rights are tightly controlled, offer an attractive developmental model; for example Ethiopia under Meles Zanawi. However, of course we need to ask ourselves at what cost that authoritarian-driven ‘development’ is being achieved? 

Democracy and development in Africa

If there is no clear relationship between democracy and development in other parts of the world, what is the best model of government for Africa? Claud Ake, the Nigerian political scientist, saw democracy as being indispensablefor development in Africa, because he believed that there is a causal relationship between democracy and development (Ake in Fayemi, 2009). Nyong’o agreed and argued that “If governments are not accountable to the people they govern, then they are very likely to engage in socio-economic practices which are not responsive to people’s needs.” (Nyong’o in Fayemi, 2009). Some commentators, however, have argued that African society and culture does not lend itself naturally to the democratic model. Van De Walle, for example, has written about ethnicity posing a particular challenge because many African countries are divided along ethnic lines and politicians have a strong incentive to pander to their own ethnic group (Van Der Walle, 2003). I find myself feeling very skeptical of the validity of this argument. I think it’s wrong to make broad generalisations about many different countries within the continent of Africa and my initial reaction to this argument was that it sounds very patronising. However, other commentators have argued that democracy has enabled leaders to ‘capture’ the state machinery and use it in the interest of their own ethnic group, which seems quite convincing given the experience of Kenya under Kenyatta and his preference for the Kikuyu, Moi and the Kalenjin, “Biya of Cameroon and the Beti, Eyadema of Togo and the Kabye” (Ayittey, 2010:1). Fayemi has made the point that in some African countries “certain ethnic groups and political parties have found themselves perpetually in the minority, consistently staged outside the corridor of power….This violation of the right to be well represented…is one of the most persistent causes of political instability in Africa” (Fayemi, 2009:15). To me, this doesn’t mean that democracy and Africa are incompatible but rather that different models of democracy may work more effectively in different places; more decentralisation of democracy, for example, can help to ensure better representation for different ethnic groups. Ghana has recently demonstrated that democracy can work in Africa as it has received substantial praise for peacefully transitioning power following the death of President John Atta Mills in 2012 (BBC, 2012). It is clear that it is not correct to talk about Africa as a whole, because there is such diversity across the continent.



Ayittey, G. (2010) Why Western-style democracy is not suitable for Africa http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/08/20/ayittey.democracy.africa/index.html

BBC (2012) Ghana’s transition sets democratic example http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18987589

Dahl, R. (1971) Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press

Democracy Ranking (2012) Democracy Index. http://www.democracyranking.org

Economist (2011) Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s progress, even if it’s patchy. http://www.economist.com/node/21531010

Economist Intelligence Unit (2013) Democracy Index 2012 http://www.eiu.com/Handlers/WhitepaperHandler.ashx?fi=Democracy-Index-2012.pdf&mode=wp&campaignid=DemocracyIndex12

Fayemi, A.K. (2009) Towards an African Theory of Democracy Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya. Vol.1 No.1, June 2009, pp.101-126

Freedom House (2013:i) Freedom in the world 2013 http://www.freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world

Freedom House (2013:ii) Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritatrians http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/special-reports/undermining-democracy-21st-century-authoritarians-0

Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man

Herring, R. (1999) Embedded particularism: India’s failed developmental state. In M. Woo-Cumings (ed.) The Developmental State. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Human Rights Watch (2010) Rwanda: Silencing dissent ahead of elections http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/08/02/rwanda-attacks-freedom-expression-freedom-association-and-freedom-assembly-run-presi

Human Rights Watch (2013) World Report 2013; Uganda http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/uganda

Huntington, S. (1991) The Third Wave

Leftwich, A. (2000) Democracy and Development: Theory and Practice

ODI (2007) Analysing the relationship between democracy and development http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1981.pdf

Schumpeter, J. (1942) Capitalism, socialism and democracy

Sen, A. (1999) Development as freedom

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its discontents

Van De Walle, N. (2002) Elections without democracy: Africa’s range of regimes. Journal of Democracy 13(2): pp.66-80.

Van De Walle, N. (2003) Presidentialism and Clientelism in Africa’s Emerging Party Systems. The Journal of Modern African Studies. 41 (2) pp.297

World Bank (2013) China Overview http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview

Unit 1: The primacy of politics in development and theories of political development

This blog is about the relationship between politics and development. I will aim to give a brief overview of my interpretation of the relationship between the two, will summarise the evolution of dominant themes and ideas in development politics since the 1950s and will look at the implications of my interpretation of the relationship for the international development community. I hope you enjoy the read!

The primacy of politics

For me, politics is a fundamental determinant of development. In fact I would say it is at the heart of  all processes of development. You might question how can it be that politics is more important than other factors like security, health, the environment, food or education in development? I see politics as a cross-cutting issue that feeds into all these aspects of development and more; from the provision of public services to the maintenance of state security and governance processes. I would argue that politics can shape how a state chooses to organise itself and determine what (or who) will be supported with the state’s resources. Governments (whether democratic or otherwise) are concerned with staying in power and therefore their decisions are based at least partly on political factors, whether that’s in terms of policies designed to appeal to – or extend – their traditional support banks or policies intended to preserve the security of the state.

Adrian Leftwich, the British political philosopher, would agree with this assessment of the relationship between politics and development. He argues that developmental theory and practice has largely neglected the critical importance – or ‘primacy’ – of politics “in shaping state goals, capacity and developmental outcomes” (Leftwich, 2008:3). Understanding development from a political perspective is therefore essential because it helps us to appreciate how and why decisions are made and how power is distributed in a country.

Reflections on the evolution of political theory and the implications for development

Despite this assessment of development, with politics at its core, Leftwich has argued that “the fundamental questions of politics and political philosophy have rarely been seen as relevant in the analysis of the politics of development” (Leftwich, 2000:13). This is a peculiar and interesting reflection that I will now try and unpick by looking at the dominant political theories that have held sway at different times since the 1950s. These theories have shaped ideas about how to drive development and, in particular, the role of the state in doing so.

  • Modernisation theory (1950s and 1960s) saw a single path of political development to the Western democratic model. This one-size-fits-all approach has been widely discredited in serious academic and policy circles but has remained alarmingly influential.

  • Dependency theory (popular in the 1960s and 1970s) cast the development challenge in a different way, placing the emphasis on international barriers to development as opposed to domestic ones. For dependency theorists the structure of the international system is tilted very much in favour of a selection of wealthy countries at the expense of all others. As such, modernisation theory and dependency theory place great emphasis on economic factors, rather than political ones, as the key determinants of development.

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, as right-leaning governments came to power in the UK, USA and several other key countries, a neo-liberal political philosophy emerged which advocated for a minimal state and a reliance on markets to drive resource allocation (Stiglitz, 2002). Politics was, therefore, a minor factor. Scholars like Gilman have said that the policies of this period – the so-called Washington Consensus – saw a resurgence of modernisation theory and point to the transition of former Soviet states to illustrate the point (2003).

  • Good governance rose in prominence in development circles during the 1990s and 2000s. Unlike neoliberalism, it acknowledges the importance of the role of the state, but like neoliberalism, did not attach much importance to politics.

  • In more recent years, politics has risen up the development agenda. Acemoglu and Robinson have convincingly argued that it is “man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or the lack of it)” (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012).

This analysis suggests that Leftwich’s argument that wider political forces have not been given sufficient importance in the politics of development is fair. Recent developments in the academic and popular literature on the subject are, however, encouraging. It is interesting to note that each of the above themes are still very visible in different parts of the development community. Some commentators still cast the development challenge very much in modernisation theory terms. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2009, Inglehart and Welzel praised the thinking behind the Bush Administration’s attempts to install democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq because, they argue, it will set in train a clear process of development (Inglehart and Weizel, 2009). At the other end of the spectrum, it seems to me that campaigning organisations like War on Want present the development challenge in a way that echoes the dependency theorists of the 1970s (for an example see The Hunger Games by War on Want, 2012).

Politics in international development

Politics is also a critical driving factor in the international development system, by which I mean the agencies, institutions and resources of the international aid system. While some bodies, like UN agencies and other multilateral institutions, claim a greater degree of political impartiality than other actors, I would argue that decisions made by such bodies are inherently political because they are influenced by world events and even have interest groups within them that represent political viewpoints.

Some donor governments – such as the UK – have introduced measures to try and de-politicise decision making around the allocation of international aid flows. The UK International Development Act, signed into law in 2002, specifically requires British governments to use aid money only for the purposes of reducing poverty (UK Parliament, 2002) while DFID’s bilateral aid review sought to make allocation decisions based on need and the potential impact of UK Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) (DFID, 2011). The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has praised the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for creating ‘firewalls’ such as this to restrict the ways in which UK aid money can be spent (ODI: 2012). However, this does not preclude aid money from being channelled to countries in which the UK has a strategic interest, and while there have been recent increases in UK aid to less ‘strategically important’ countries like Ethiopia and Nepal, countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen have, it is arguable, received disproportionate flows of UK ODA in recent years (OECD, 2013). This implies that politics is a key determinant of the allocation of international aid flows. To me, as long as agencies are financed using public (ie. taxpayer’s) money it is difficult to genuinely de-politicise aid spending.

Many people working in development – as I do – like to see their work as technocratic and try to take steps to remove the politics from what they do. As I set out above, in my view this takes a very narrow view of what ‘politics’ actually means. Indeed, in an assessment of two participatory development projects in India Vasudha Chhotray (from the University of East Anglia) found that far from circumventing politics, such projects actually served to reflect and even reinforce existing power relations in a community (Chhotray, 2004). So, for me this means that development practitioners need to be aware that their work is inherently political and can have unintended consequences if politics are not considered from the outset.

Having been criticised for not taking sufficient account of politics in the past (see Hickey, 2008, Unsworth, 2009) DFID has taken steps to enhance the level of political and political-economy analysis required before an intervention is financed. It’s current business case process requires that “The case for any intervention in a country should always be rooted in analysis of the relevant context – in particular all interventions should refer to political economy and social context” (DFID, 2011). The extent to which this analysis at the project design stage carries through to implementation is a matter of debate, but it would appear to suggest an improving trend of recognition of the importance of politics in development. Despite this theme, Hickey has argued that the Millennium Development Goals – which govern a lot of the work that development finance institutions do – seek to de-politicise development and continue to present it in technocratic terms (2008). Therefore, while it may be difficult to disconnect politics from decision making about resource flows, agencies such as DFID are taking steps to ensure that politics is considered and taken account of in the design of projects.

Case study: India

As the title of this blog suggests, I live in India at the moment. The political system here is an interesting case study on the subject of the relationship between politics and development. The current governing alliance (the UPA) likes to market itself as a pro-poor party and the main party within the alliance – the Congress – use their Gandhi-Nehru roots to define their pro-poor ideology and demonstrate their ‘development’ credentials. The UPA has invested huge resources in public sector initiatives (like PDS and NREGA) aimed at reducing the enormous levels of poverty that still remain in the country. As a result they command significant support from the rural poor. However, these initiatives have been the subject of significant criticism as their efficacy as a tool for development has been widely questioned and criticised and the evidence base upon which the policies are founded is limited (Jagannathan, 2012). This leads critics to argue that the UPA’s social schemes are more about politics than development.

At the other end of the political spectrum you have the opposition BJP which – when last in power – liked to propagate a different vision of development politics which talked about ‘India Shining’ as a powerful emerging global power. Their emphasis was very different. They talked about Indian business and the private sector and didn’t like to deal in the language of poverty or development. Despite this, poverty levels have fallen under both brands of government, so the efficacy of different models for development is an interesting – and contested – debate. I think this quite starkly illustrates some of the key issues in this unit, particularly around the importance of the role of the state in development.

An upside down view of governance?

While studying for this unit I read Unsworth’s Upside down view of governance (2010), and it struck a chord with me. She argues that traditional donor-recipient relationships are currently governed by the principle of using aid to ‘buy’ reforms or behaviours that are viewed by donors as being good. She encourages donors to turn their focus to “more indirect ways of influencing the interests and incentives of local actors” (Unsworth, 2010). I agree that donors could do more to think about development in ways beyond aid. I have often thought about the trade reform agenda in this way. If donors were willing to take more serious action on trade reform then the demand or need for initiatives ‘bought’ using aid might diminish as countries become more capable of trading their way out of poverty. The reason Unsworth’s idea chimed with me was that I had not thought about extending such a line of thought to other aspects of development policy beyond trade. One might argue that innovations like climate pricing are doing exactly this, but I feel such methods could be rolled out more widely, particularly in a globalised world where one nation’s policy decisions can impact on many others’. This entails thinking about the interactions between states in a different way that I found very interesting and motivating.



Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. (2012) Why nations fail.

Chhotray, V. (2004) The Negation of Politics in Participatory Development Projects, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. Development and Change Volume 35, Issue 2, pages 327–352

DFID (2009) Political Economy Analysis – How to Note (Online) http://www.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/stabilisation-and-conflict-resources/thematic/doc_details/73-political-economy-analysis-how-to-note.html

DFID (2011) Business Case How To Note (Online) http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/DFID_HowtoNote_BusinessCase_Aug2011.pdf

DFID (2011) Bilateral Aid Review results (Online) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/137265/BAR-MAR-country-summaries-web.pdf.pdf

Gilman, N. (2003) Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America.

Hickey, S. (2008) ‘The return of politics in development studies I : getting lost within the poverty agenda’, Progress in Development Studies. 8(4) : 349-58.

Inglehart, R. and Welzel, C. (2009) How development leads to democracy http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/64821/ronald-inglehart-and-christian-welzel/how-development-leads-to-democracy

Jagannathan, R. (2012) Here’s evidence that NREGA is actually destroying jobs (Online) http://www.firstpost.com/economy/heres-evidence-that-nrega-is-actually-destroying-jobs-226987.html  

Leftwich, A. (2000) States of development: On the primacy of politics in development

Leftwich, A. (2008) Developmental states, effective states and poverty reduction: The primacy of politics

ODI (2012) The UK’s approach to linking development and security (Online) www.odi.org.uk/resources/docs/7658.pdf

OECD (2013) Aid statistics (Online) http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/usersguidetothecreditorreportingsystemcrsaidactivitiesdatabase.htm

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and Its Discontents

UK Parliament (2002) UK International Development Act

Unsworth, S. (2009) What’s politics got to do with it? Why donors find it so hard to come to terms with politics, and why this matters. Journal of International Development, 21:883-894.

Unsworth S. (2010) An upside down view of governance (Online) http://www2.ids.ac.uk/gdr/cfs/pdfs/AnUpside-downViewofGovernance.pdf

War on Want (2012) The Hunger Games (Online) http://www.waronwant.org/about-us/publications/doc_download/102-the-hunger-games