A few weeks ago, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) concluded a three-day visit to the Bank with a presentation by its Chief Economist, Stefan Dercon. ‘Aid is Politics’ traversed the big picture debates in economics, politics and development with ease, but the focus was the practice of aid.
Once we’re on the ground at scale, we become part of the politics. Not only do domestic politics shape the impact of our interventions, our programs today affect politics tomorrow. Economic policy, although seemingly about ‘removing market failures and correcting distortions’, impacts upon the distribution of rents or income, at times adversely affecting political equilibria by benefitting already powerful groups.
Since walking away from politically fraught environments is not an option (aid practitioners are “the intervention squad”), we need to constantly analyze, adapt programing to politics, be creative, make political engagement endogenous, and try to nudge aspects of the political settlement to a better place.
Although Stefan gave a lively presentation, what struck me was not the content -- over the last decade, a virtual consensus has formed in development praxis that political drivers shape development outcomes, and that effective interventions require both deep understanding of the distribution of power and resources in a given country and the flexibility to adapt to changing context. Most striking was the mission underlying Stefan’s comments.