Category Archives: Capacity Building
A number of noteworthy reports on institutional change, development, and foreign aid have been published recently. There is much agreement between them, suggesting that we have reached a tipping point in knowledge in this area. I will briefly summarize the results here and provide links for those who want to explore the subject further.
The Development Leadership Programme lays out a framework for how to work politically:
1) Agency matters. This means that the choices, decisions and actions of individuals, groups and organizations and, in particular, their leaders and elites matter.
2) Leadership matters. But the extent to which he or she will be able to pursue a particular vision depends on his or her ability to mobilize an alliance or coalition of other people, organizations or interests in support of that goal.
3) Coalitions matter. This is essential to reconfiguring political dynamics to overcome constraints and take advantage of opportunities. The possibilities depend on the institutional and political context; the interests, strength and nature of the political opposition; the strategies they adopt; the networks they exploit; and the manner in which their tactics and communications are framed. (more…)
Fragile states have limited capacity to govern. They have few highly trained policymakers, few managers able to organize departments and ministries, and few officials able to implement decisions. They have very limited financial resources and little prospect (unless they have a lot of natural resources) of becoming self-sustaining anytime soon. Why then do we ask them to do so much?
far from any threshold of “good governance”; at their pace or average pace of progress it would take very (to infinitely) long to reach a threshold; even at very to extremely optimistic accelerations of the pace of progress . . . the time from fragile states to reach solid levels of governance is measured in decades, not years.
Yet, such countries are expected to do more or less everything much more developed countries do. They must deliver adequate public services to all their people, adopt and enforce an enormous number of laws and regulations, and meet international standards in a wide range of areas. If they receive substantial sums of foreign aid, they must deal with each donor on every project and meet all their specific requirements. Is any of this realistic? (more…)
The below are excerpts from an article originally appearing in World Politics Review.
Later this month, Somalia’s eight-year political transition is scheduled to end with the declaration of a “post-transition” government. Casual observers will be forgiven for assuming such a step signals that, after 21 years of complete state collapse, a functional central government in Somalia is now in place.
The reality is that the post-transition government will be unable to project its authority beyond much of the capital, Mogadishu. Most of the country and parts of the capital itself remain under the de facto control of autonomous strongmen, self-proclaimed regional states, clan militias and the jihadi group al-Shabab. Of these, only al-Shabab has demonstrated any will and capacity to impose basic law and order in its areas of control, but the group is losing ground to multiple armed offensives and is focusing its waning energies on war-fighting, not administration. (more…)
Everyone in the development field recognizes that learning is essential to development. But what kind of learning matters most?
For most major development actors, the emphasis is squarely on individual learning. Achieving universal primary education, for instance, is the second Millennium Development Goal, coming just after ending poverty and hunger. Organizations such as the World Bank believe that education is “universally recognized as one of the most fundamental building blocks for human development and poverty reduction,” and that, as DFID puts it, it is “fundamental to everything we do.”
Yet, societies and states must also learn if they are to develop the new institutions, new knowledge, and new capacities that are essential to creating wealth, improving governance, and enhancing resilience. And this larger, macro level learning requires very different types of investments from those individuals need—investments that rarely get prioritized in the development field. (more…)
Many fragile states suffer from incoherent legal systems. Whereas in developed countries, one single system exists and is effectively enforced, in fragile states multiple systems work side-by-side, each weakly enforced, and often operating in contradiction with each other. Creating a unified and robust system of law is one of the biggest challenges these countries face.
In most cases, this incoherence is a direct product of colonialism. One system, often with the greatest relevancy to local populations, has roots in the precolonial system of governance. It may have evolved a lot since then, but is still based on local circumstances and institutions. The state, itself a product of foreign rule, follows another system, based on Western legal tradition, imported from abroad. Neither is consistently or equitably implemented. Corruption distorts outcomes. Officials (whether those of the state or local leaders) lack training. Favoritism is common.
In some places, religion comes into play with its own system (such as Sharia), creating three legal layers, each with its own logic. Outcomes and incentives can be widely divergent. Local systems may also vary tremendously by location, creating a complex mosaic of different mixes of different systems depending where in a country one is. (more…)
There is a sharp dichotomy in opinions about foreign aid.
Aid money can and does work. It improves people’s lives and makes the world a better and safer place. . . . Wasteful and corrupt aid projects are probably inevitable, and they should never be tolerated. But overall, when you look at the big picture, quite a lot of good things are happening.
Each foreign aid bureaucracy is responsible for everything, all the aid bureaucracies together are collectively responsible for all this “everything,” and in this bureaucratic maze with no exits, nobody is individually responsible for anything. . . . It is a fallacy to think that overall poverty can be ended by a comprehensive package of “things,” like malaria medicines and clean water.
Is there any logical explanation for this divergence beyond the biases that these personalities have? Is there any way that both groups might be right (or wrong)? (more…)
Many fragile states maintain a very limited presence in large parts of their territory and lack the capacity to effectively govern even when present. Is there any way to improve governance in such places without depending on the government?
In other words, are there mechanisms to promote collective goods in areas where political institutions are too weak to adopt and enforce collectively binding rules?
Although governance is usually considered a product of government (the state), empirical evidence suggests that areas of weak or limited statehood do not necessarily have weak governance. “Governance without a state” is a reality in many parts of the world, including Somaliland, parts of the eastern DRC, and places where warlords, multinationals (MNCs), or NGOs provide some public goods.
Improving security and justice in fragile states is a major theme for political leaders, scholars, and donors. Foreign aid agencies have spent billions attempting to catalyze improvements in these areas within other countries. Yet despite this money and much hard work, the track record of past efforts has been paltry.
A large part of the reason can be traced to how these issues–and the concept of state building–is approached. (more…)