What works in promoting governance reform in low income countries?

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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 collected by Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton.

The Indian construction companies rebuilding post-conflict states

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Indian businesspeople waiting for a flight in South Sudan, via Caravan

Caravan magazine recently published a fascinating article about the Indian-owned construction firms which are waiting out the war in South Sudan.  Many of them have previous experience in other African countries experiencing or emerging from conflict, including the DRC, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

Kuber D, an Indian who runs a restaurant on the outskirts of Juba, had earlier set up a business in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He told me that during the Second Congo War, in 1998, he was held hostage in his home as rebel forces looted his stock. Other Indians I met last year during a visit to South Sudan narrated similar experiences. A commodity trader I met in a hotel told me how he was once assaulted while taking photographs in a market in Mogadishu, in Somalia; another businessman recounted how he had driven lorries through the rebel-held jungles in the DRC. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to find these risks exciting, and part of the challenge of making it in a new country. “We chase the money. We don’t care if we die,” one commodity trader said, “We’ll be born again anyway, right?”

Extremely low levels of development and industrialization in post-2005 Juba offered excellent opportunities for Indian businesspeople elsewhere in east Africa who were willing to relocate.

But compared to much of central and east Africa, South Sudan was magnitudes less developed and had been a battlefield for the better part of the previous century. Even with their experience, for these Indians, moving their jobs and businesses to Juba was a leap of faith.

At the time they moved there, Kuber told me, the city contained only a few brick structures. The rest was largely tukuls—thatched huts. The infrastructure that now stands—roads, markets, even government offices and courthouses—was scant. Many of the people I spoke to said there no power or water. “We were spending $100 a night to sleep in tents, but we didn’t mind,” Kuber told me.

Part of the allure of Juba was the presence of various non-governmental organisations from the United States or Northern Europe, which had large budgets and could contract businesses in the city. It was “a new market,” said Reddy, an Indian water driller who had previously worked in Tanzania. Sandal Raj, who also works in the drilling business, said he brought his business to Juba because he “saw the opportunity there was with aid groups.” “Even during the oil crash, we were fine,” he told me. “There were still good dollars coming in.”

The current conflict in South Sudan hasn’t completely displaced the Indian business community, but the longer it drags on, the more difficult it has become for many businesses to break even.

With the South Sudanese Pound losing several points to the US dollar almost daily, the situation has become untenable. Sanjay Patel, the director of Jit Mart, the largest supermarket in Juba, bemoaned the circumstances. Patel had been working with Jit Mart in Tanzania, and brought the franchise with him to Juba when he came, in 2006. “By the time it goes from the shelf to sale, I’m losing money on everything. The floating currency is worse than the war,” he said. Even so, he sent off his friends at the airport last week, electing instead to stay back.

Links I liked

Cn41OAvXgAA2tJjThis and other interesting graphs to be found at the new African Visual Data site

Links I liked

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Mobility patterns during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, using mobile phone data, via CNN.

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Non-violence and the political marketplace

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Women protesting against the government in Khartoum in 2013 (NBC News)

Alex de Waal has an excellent recent post at Reinventing Peace on non-violence and the political marketplace in weak states.  It fits very well with North, Wallis & Weingast’s statebuilding framework in Violence and Social Orders, which I’ve previously written about here.  The major point is that violence in weak states is not an anomaly but an important type of “currency” in the marketplace for political power, which makes non-violent political change rather difficult.  Some key quotes:

First let me define a political marketplace. It is a system of governance that is driven by personal transactions of loyalty for reward. All political systems have this element: what characterizes a political marketplace is that all institutions, rules and laws are subordinate to this kind of bargaining…

[In a political marketplace,] politics are driven by the three principles of political budget (cash for renting loyalties), the political market (the prevailing price of loyalties) and skill in political business management. Skilled political managers are entirely instrumental and deal with individuals in an opportunistic manner: there are no permanent friends or enemies, only peers, rivals, clients and contractors. Ethnic and sectarian loyalties are mobilized on an instrumental basis. These political systems are typically highly turbulent, unpredictable from week to week, but maintaining recognizable patterns over a long period of time.

Violence is a standard tool within a political market. It is a signal of presence in the market; it is a means of bargaining and especially a signifier of determination in pursuing the best price (highest for the claimant, lowest for the ruler). It can also be a means of reducing or eliminating a rival’s constituency, by killing, raping, robbing and destroying. Excessive violence is a risky strategy as it disturbs any near-equilibrium in the market and risks inviting in new players.

On peacebuilding:

What is peace under these circumstances? Most peace agreements are bargains struck among players in the marketplace, to share resources and reconfigure alliances. They divide the cake and construct a new configuration according to which they share out the rents. A peace agreement is as good as the market conditions in which it is made. It also typically involves the parties to the agreement organizing violence against those who have not joined. Often, such peace agreements actually see an upsurge in violence, as the signatories enforce their deal on those they describe as ‘spoilers’. A ‘successful’ peace deal in a political market is not an end to violence: rather it means that violence no longer matters (specifically, it is no longer a problem to those in power)…

Non-violent political mobilization can take several forms.  First is for an individual to act out of personal integrity to uphold justice and non-violence. An individual judge, chief, administrator, journalist, teacher, religious leader, etc., can uphold non-violence in a limited sphere. There are cases of principled individuals defying the pressure of political leaders and resisting financial inducements. An example is the decision by high court judges in South Sudan to throw out treason charges against political opponents of the government. In order to do this, the individual concerned needs many of the same qualities and capacities as an effective political entrepreneur: a wide network, skills in judging character and circumstance, and resources. Those individuals are also typically selective in applying their principles: they do enough to generate a reputation and a following, which protects them, but they cannot uphold principle on every occasion…

A second approach is to make a political market more efficient. In principle, a well-run political market could be made to function with reduced violence, if the functions of signaling entrance into the political market and bargaining could be carried out by other means, for example through elections or non-violent demonstrations, violence would be reduced. As countries urbanize, and as communication improves, this may indeed be a long-term trend. Some initiatives have enhanced this feature, for example the use of the internet and social media by Ushahidi in Kenya. Communication among elites increases the possibility that they will conduct their business with limited violence. Another approach to this is to enhance the coordination of political finance: if those who provide the funds for political entrepreneurs to operate coordinate to insist that politics is conducted with less violence, then politicians will comply.

The entire piece is essential reading.

The political economy of mass atrocities

This recent post from Alex de Waal on the structural causes of mass violence should be required reading.  I’m quoting here a bit out of order because it ranges rather widely, but there are several important main points.

On targeting prevention activities:

The Enough Project has a habit of targeting the well-known gallery of rogues. It wasn’t news to anyone that Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir ran a government responsible for mass atrocities against civilians. A project aimed at stopping mass atrocities needed to point out that Bashir’s challengers—the leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army—did not have a better record. Since the eruption of civil war in South Sudan in December 2013, that fact has become painfully obvious—but the depths of corruption and militarization, and South Sudanese leaders’ sense of impunity and recklessness were evident beforehand. Similarly, everyone agrees that Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army is a villain. But in terms of sheer numbers of people harmed and damage done to the fabric of society, the Ugandan army is comparably destructive. The Ugandan defense budget is the black heart of corruption in that country—and remains a valued partner for U.S. security cooperation. South Sudan’s pathological political economy appeared on American advocates’ radar only after mass atrocities occurred—let that not be the case for Uganda.

On the internationalization of the US war on terror:

The firehose of counter-terror funding—now increasingly blended with peacekeeping operations—is generating out-of-control security establishments across the world. Army generals and security chiefs receive hard currency for which they do not need to account. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that these security entrepreneurs have an interest in keeping crises bubbling away, and are networked in both to counter-insurgency and insurgency.

Corruption, violence and impunity are not anomalies: they are how individuals respond to the incentives and opportunities they face. The black budgets of the U.S. national security establishment, the monies associated with arms deals, and the blanket secrecy that covers all of these, are the fuel in this engine.

And on the US role in supporting brutal dictators:

Sarah Chayes in her recent book Thieves of State describes how U.S. money and license to act with impunity changed Afghanistan from a corrupt patrimonial system into a vertically-integrated and transnationally-linked criminal cartel. The Pentagon and the CIA were the chief accomplices in the criminal takeover of the Afghan state. Repeatedly, when anti-corruption officers identified a highly-placed person responsible for thievery, they found that individual was protected by the CIA—purportedly indispensible for America’s war on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

It is no different in Africa. Chad’s president Idriss Déby is a ruthless dictator who runs his country as a personal business. But his troops are valued by France and the U.S. for military operations against militants in Mali and Nigeria, so he gets a free pass.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, international interventions have made a bad situation worse. … We have a closed security establishment that considers itself above the rules that govern society as a whole. Their worldview subordinates public interest to greed and fear, and their prescriptions for global problems don’t challenge this formula.