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Governance and the Supernovas of Politics

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Every now and again, somewhere in the world, a politician comes along who is a supernova: a special astronomical event.  Reacting to him or her, citizens feel a tingle in the spine, they become emotionally flooded, and they fill up with galloping hopes and effervescent dreams. In my adult life, I have yielded to the power of supernovas twice. Between the Special One and the followers, and amongst the followers themselves, you have a case of interpenetrating intensities.

Each of these cases is an instance of what Max Weber calls charismatic authority. According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, charisma is: “a capacity to inspire devotion and enthusiasm.”  And according to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “Charismatic authority exists where exceptional abilities cause a person to be followed or obeyed, and the ability is perceived as conferring the right to lead” [page 70]. Add formal power to charismatic authority and you have power and influence of a tremendous variety.

How do these situations arise? Nobody knows for sure. Clearly, it is a potent mix of a gifted person, some inner magnetism, and the specificities of the particular cultural and political context. What is clear is that for the leaders so blessed being a supernova is great for winning elections. It produces enormously enthusiastic, self-sacrificing efforts by millions of followers. It tends to produce big wins and powerful mandates. What fascinates me about the phenomenon though is what happens to governing when the leader is a supernova.

How Change Happens: Great New Case Studies + Analysis on ‘Politically Smart, Locally Led Development’

Duncan Green's picture

The research star of the show at last week’s Thinking and Working Politically event was a great new ODI paper from David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Bioversity International/Ronnie Vernooy

Politically smart, locally led development seeks to identify the secret sauce behind 7 large and successful aid programmes: a rural livelihoods programme in India; land titling and tax reform in the Philippines; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in the Eastern Congo; the EU’s global plan of action to reduce illegal logging; civil society advocacy on rice, education and HIV in Burma and inclusive governance in Nepal.

The paper identifies a number of common elements:

Quote of the Week: Rachid al-Ghannouchi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The cure for a failed democracy is more democracy [...] dictatorship disguised in religion is the worst kind of dictatorship."

 -Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder and chairman of Tunisia's moderate Islamist party, Ennahda. Since the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the party has become the largest and most well-organized in Tunisia.

Competing Approaches to Social Accountability

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Advocates of social accountability approaches believe that regular elections are not enough to bring about a change in service delivery

Seeking accountability from public service providers remains one of the most prominent governance challenges in developing countries. In recent years, there has been a burst of social accountability tools, and NGOs and governments have promoted their use widely. Broadly, social accountability refers to approaches that seek to foster accountability through enhanced civil society engagement.

The advocates of social accountability approaches believe that the regular cycle of elections—in spite of the near continuous cycle of elections for the village councils, state and centre—are not enough to bring about a substantive change in service delivery. In this context, there is the opportunity to experiment with alternative mechanisms of fostering social accountability. Researchers at the Centre for Future State of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, conclude from their field studies in Delhi and Sao Paulo, Brazil, that social accountability tools can be used to set the minimum required standard of public services by “highlighting deficiencies in existing provision or entitlements”. This also works when citizens’ demands are “framed in terms of legal or moral rights”.

As a set of approaches for “good governance”, social accountability tools represent an interesting collection of hypotheses. One, that involving citizens in local planning, budgeting and spending decisions will ensure that the design and implementation of public services is pro-poor. Local governments and decentralized systems for local planning and service delivery are the usual form in which this approach manifests itself.

Politics in Development? Meet the New Institutional Economics

Kate Henvey's picture

Around the end December of every year, the pundits start coming out with their forecasts for 2014. This past December, the World Bank pundits predicted everything from girls outperforming boys in developing countries (girl power!) to the staggering idea that for Europe, 2014 will be a better year.

This year though, the World Bank’s Future Development Forecasts blog, included a prediction that caught these two political scientists by surprise— “as more and more economists point to the primary [sic] of politics in development, political scientists will wake up and wonder why they have been left out of the discussion.”

End Discriminatory Laws, and Transformative Change Can Follow

Tazeen Hasan's picture

A woman in South Africa. © Trevor Samson/World BankIn September 2013, four elderly sisters in Botswana were finally and definitively allowed to remain in the ancestral home where they had spent most of their lives — the result of their own tenacity and determination that a young nephew could not step in and take ownership of a property they had lovingly maintained.

This landmark decision by the highest court in Botswana, the Court of Appeal, followed five years of efforts by women’s networks and legal associations who helped the sisters bring their claim. The judges decided that customary laws favoring the rights of the youngest male heir were simply out of date.

“The Constitutional values of equality before the law and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere demonstrate that there is no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems,” wrote Justice Lesetedi of the Botswana Court of Appeal.

The reform of discriminatory laws can lead to transformative change.

For Open Governments, Does Virtue Merely Attract Punishment?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

A while back, a friend and colleague here at the World Bank told me of an experience that bothered him. He had been talking to a minister in an African country where the government had been making strenuous efforts to become more open and transparent. It had passed a Freedom of Information law, made quantities of government information available, liberalized the media sector, thus creating a vibrant, even raucous public sphere…all the things people like me urge developing country governments to do. In a couple of neighboring countries, said the minister, the governments had gone in the opposite direction. They had restricted access to official information, clamped down on the press, and were generally thuggish towards the media, civil society activists and so on.

 What the minister asked my colleague is roughly this:
 

‘Can you guess which government is being painted as corrupt and incompetent by local and international NGOs and the local and international media? Ours!’

Open Data, Open Policy: Stepping Out of the Echo Chamber

Milica Begovic's picture

Recently, I participated in several events that look at the space between empowered government (gov2.0) and empowered citizens (citizen2.0 both individuals and civic groups and NGOs).

One discussion was around tapping into networks of empowered citizens clustering around different issues for open policy making (Masters of Networks, Venice) and another on getting human-readable stories from data (Open Data on the Web, London).

Then, there was a question on how open data and modern technologies can improve environmental sector governance (#ICT4ENV, Cetinje), or strengthen political transparency and accountability (Point 2.0, Sarajevo).

Different countries, different venues, different leading institutions – but a common set of issues that I struggle with and that, I hope, will emerge as topics in some future events (one of those, shaping up to be the policy making 2.0. deluge in Dublin, is coming up this month).

De-coding Gender-based Violence

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The brutal assault on a young woman in Delhi on December 16 last year, and the protests that followed in its wake spotlighted global attention on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV), a malady that manifests itself in myriad forms across the world – sexual violence, war crimes against women, domestic abuse, domestic violence, just to name a few. The World Bank has recognized the relevance of, and worked on addressing, gender-based violence as an intrinsic element of empowering women as equal partners in development. In the wake of the horrific December 16 incident, the Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy for India, highlighted attention to GBV as a key element of its strategy.

Over the past few months, a number of discussions at the Bank have attempted to investigate and understand the key underlying drivers - sociological, economic, and cultural - that spawn gender-based violence, its impact on welfare and development, and possible approaches to finding solutions. Among them was a panel discussion organized by the Bank-Fund India Club in March that brought together experts from different disciplinary backgrounds: eminent sociologist Alaka Basu, Georgetown University Professor Shareen Joshi, ICF International Fellow Kisrsten Johnson, and World Bank Senior Economist and human rights expert Varun Gauri. Another event, co-sponsored by the Social Development Department in May discussed the experience of prominent NGOs in addressing GBV – in settings as diverse as the South Asian community in New Jersey, and the rural and urban communities of Brazil. The panel included Maneesha Kelkar, former Executive Director of New Jersey-based Manavi, Candyce Rocha, Gender Coordinator at the Brazilian House of Representatives, and Matt Morton, a Social Scientist and gender expert at the Bank. Common themes – on the causes, consequences, and solutions – emerged from the two panels.

When/How Does Aid Help Africa’s Public Services Work Better?

Duncan Green's picture

I seem to be spending most of my life at the ODI at the moment, largely because it is producing an apparently endless stream of really useful research papers and seminars. Yesterday saw a combo of the two, as it launched Unblocking Results: using aid to address governance constraints in public service delivery (OK, maybe it still has a thing or two to learn about snappy titles…..).

The starting point for the work is that while there is a vast amount of research on the role of institutions in delivering (or failing to deliver) health, education, water etc, there is very little on the role of aid agencies when things go well. So ODI carried out a positive deviance exercise, identifying 4 success stories out of 60 initial candidates, and then delving into the reasons behind the success.


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