What works in promoting governance reform in low income countries?

thumb_corruption_1024.jpg

An anti-corruption campaign in Rwanda, via This is Africa

I’ve recently come across a series of excellent articles on what works in promoting governance reform in low income countries.  Two of them have come out of UK-based ODI, which is sponsoring some very interesting research on institutional development.  The politics of institutional reform haven’t received as much attention in American political science, although there’s a promising panel on this topic at APSA later this week.

My current go-to paper on governance reform is the “Developmental Regimes in Africa” synthesis report.   Some key points:

  • “States like Ethiopia and Rwanda whose leaders are forcing the pace of
    national and rural development [appear to be doing so because there is] an acute rural threat to the future of the elite in power” (p. 3).  Similar explanations have been put forward for the exceptionally strong post-war state-building observed in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.  Most African states do not have organized, class-based rural interest groups which can credibly threaten urban leaders
  • There is “no support for globally influential claims about the positive contribution of inclusive institutions or a ‘golden thread’ linking rule of law, absence of conflict and corruption, and strong formal property rights. … The combination of factors that was present in all six successful episodes [of high growth] and absent in all four unsuccessful ones contained just three elements. They were an intermediate level of ‘systemic vulnerability’ … a broadly market-friendly policy approach, and a policy-making process embedded in one or other of two types of strong institution: a political party with a tradition of consensual decision-making and leadership succession; and a strong, organic state bureaucracy with the ability to insulate policy from changes in political leadership. [This suggests] that the institutional character of the dominant party is the most generally relevant issue in Africa today” (p. 5)
  • Pockets of administrative effectiveness do exist in many African bureaucracies.  They may be particularly important for the outcomes of rural subsistence farmers, who are the majority of the population in many countries.  However, “the typical form of competitive clientelism in Africa today does not and perhaps cannot deliver the political protection that an effective agricultural transformation agency would require” (p. 6)
  • In comparative perspective, “Southeast Asia’s development successes were [emphatically not] the work of a particular type of political regime. Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam achieved comparable development outcomes under very different sorts of regime. What their governments shared was a pragmatic approach to an immediate problem – summarised in the phrase ‘urgency, outreach and expediency’. The change process was not driven by a bold vision for national economic transformation, but by a consistent incrementalism. [Conversely,] ambitious visions for economic transformation were more often found in Africa, where they contributed to a policy climate that systematically avoided providing the needed support to agriculture” (p. 6)

The DRA report takes an admittedly broad approach to the question of institutional change, focusing more on the outcomes of particular institutions than the the question of how those institutions arose in the first place.  Useful perspective on this issue is provided by the the “Change in Challenging Contexts” report, which focuses on the DR Congo, Liberia, South Sudan and Uganda.  To quote the executive summary (p. 7),

Strengthening capacity and systems for public financial management and service delivery in challenging contexts is possible. Attention needs to be placed on fostering genuine behavioural change if such change is to contribute to improved development outcomes.

Reform is messy in practice. The actions which deliver genuine change tend not to be pre-planned but responses to local problems and opportunities. Reforms need to be relevant to those problems and adapted based on experience, and must fit within the available space for reform and capacity.

Senior officials in authority provide and protect the space for change. Yet change is typically taken forward by mid-level bureaucrats who convene teams to deliver reform and build coalitions in support of change.

External actors can play an integral role in fostering genuine change. If this is to be more common, donors need to encourage governments and providers of technical assistance to address local problems and adapt solutions to them.

Another good bit of perspective is offered by Martha Johnson in “Donor Requirements and Pockets of Effectiveness in Senegal’s Bureaucracy.”   (The article is gated, but if you’d like a copy, I can pass it on.)  Here’s the abstract:

Donors increasingly value the work of statistics, project assessment and related offices in developing countries, but can they ensure these offices are able to do their work? This article assesses donors’ efforts to do so in Senegal’s ministries of finance, health and agriculture in the mid-2000s. It contends that donors’ impact is greatest if they generate political incentives for governments to create ‘pockets of effectiveness’ in these areas. The health and agriculture case studies indicate that direct donor involvement, particularly if incompatible with domestic political forces, produces disappointing results, while the finance case studies suggest donors can induce political support for the work of specific offices if donor incentives coincide with domestic political imperatives.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the series of excellent case studies of specific reform efforts collecte by Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton.