Category Archives: Politics
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…)
The Limited Access Order (LAO) conceptual framework is an excellent way to understand why developing countries work the way they do, analyze their political and economic dynamics, and formulate policy ideas appropriate to their context. Its focus on power, violence, rents, and elite bargains provides far greater explanatory and predictive power than the standard template that uses developed countries as a model for how countries ought to work. As such, everyone in the development field working in a policymaking role should make use of it.
No one, including the state, has a monopoly on violence . . . An LAO reduces violence by forming a dominant coalition containing all individuals and groups with sufficient access to violence . . . The dominant coalition creates cooperation and order by limiting access to valuable resources – land, labor, and capital – or access [to] and control of valuable activities – such as contract enforcement, property right enforcement, trade, worship, and education – to elite groups . . . The creation and distribution of rents therefore secures elite loyalty to the system, which in turn protects rents, limits violence, and prevents disorder most of the time. (more…)
In his landmark study of the civic traditions of Italy, Robert Putnam showed how differences in the norms and patterns of behavior that drove societies in northern and southern Italy had profound influence on development outcomes, governance, innovation, and the prospects for democracy. As he explained,
Some regions of Italy, we discover, are blessed with vibrant networks and norms of civic engagement, while others are cursed with vertically structured politics, a social life of fragmentation and isolation, and a culture of distrust. These differences in civic life turn out to play a key role in explaining institutional success.
These patterns are deep-seated, and can be traced back as much as a millennium. Governments had come and gone. Economies had evolved tremendously. Lives had changed enormously, especially in the last few decades. But the basic underlying dynamic that drove how people interacted with each other, how officials behaved, and how government acted retained an important essence that had deep influence. Path dependence was hard to break. Why? (more…)
How useful is the concept of political settlement? Not very, according to a recent post by Mick Moore over on the Institute of Development Studies’ Governance and Development blog. Taking particular issue with the lack of consensus regarding definition, Mick questions the legitimacy of the concept, closing with a somewhat pessimistic evaluation of its added value.
To be sure, definitions of political settlement abound, and while many are simply variants revolving around a core theme, others are most certainly competing. To quickly caricature what I see as the biggest ‘battle’ in this war of definitions: political settlement as arrangement of political power vs. political settlement as outcome of a peace process. In these circumstances, confusion is inevitable.
But I disagree with Mick in his assessment of how far the concept of political settlement takes us. As documented by DFID’s Will Evans, recent years have seen the development of a sophisticated understanding of what political settlements are about, shifting from a narrow focus on ‘bargains’ and ‘pacts’ between elites to a broader consideration of the way in which organisational and political power is organised, maintained and exercised (who is included, what are the conditions that determine in/exclusion?). And, despite the multiplicity of definitions, Will identifies a number of ‘common points’, including: (more…)
Africa has had a number of good leaders and growth stories in the years since independence. But it is had very few countries whose success spanned multiple leaders and which included a substantial increase in the institutionalization of politics, such that the country came to not depend on any particular leader.