Recently, I was asked whether I thought Nigeria’s problems would be solved if only we managed to fight corruption effectively. I responded that this alone would not be enough. That while important for sure, other problems needed to be tackled as well. The next day a headline in one of the papers read “World Bank says corruption not Nigeria’s Bane.” After I had looked up what "bane" meant, I realized my response had been misunderstood.
The entity often known as ‘the international community’ has a touching faith in standard liberal constitutions and one-person-one-vote elections. Now, while those are outstanding human inventions, it is becoming clearer every day that in plural, deeply divided societies these inventions alone will not lead to settled systems of governance.
In my previous blog post, I examined how the system of oil revenue distribution in Nigeria is likely to weaken accountability and the results focus at all levels of government. Some of my colleagues actually wanted me to be more forceful than I was and close the door on the argument. However, I did not want to do so, for having lived in Nigeria for almost three years now, I have observed signs of change.
The mantra of the “country-specific solution” has become fashionable post-Washington Consensus. The consensus has shifted massively against simplistic economic theory that ignores country specificities. In fact, the rebellion has gone way further, encouraging theorists to abandon the search for big solutions, and practitioners to become advocates of ownership and participation -- thus enabling the new experimentalists to feel even more righteous about their focus on the small.
Taking governance seriously is profoundly discomfiting for development work. It forces each of us to examine critically and with humility what we bring to the development endeavor. The more we know about a country’s governance and political realities, the more we are confronted with the limitations – as well as continuing relevance – of our hard-won technical knowledge.
I am writing from Seoul, where I participated in the Economic Development and Impact Evaluation conference organized by the Korea Development Institute. Korean officials at the conference had a consistent and forceful message: aid works.
Ambiguity and uncertainty about the exact scope of the term governance is useful, not least because it opens up broad areas of discussion with governments and policy-makers, allowing difficult topics to be broached or skirted pragmatically.
For a long time, public procurement was seen as (and was) the backwater of the public financial management agenda. Procurement, the means by which public budgets are translated into goods, works and services for provision of services, was considered a back-end function, narrowly associated with the purchasing transaction. However, over time, appreciation of the centrality of procurement to budget execution, provision of services and to the governance agenda has grown.
What does the demand for good governance mean to an ordinary citizen living in a remote village in the developing world? For a woman in Bangladesh, social accountability means she can state “when I open the tap every morning, water should flow from it.” Could a villager in Cameroon in similar circumstances demand such a service of the state?
When I first went to Nigeria, I had a picture in my mind of an oil country with a struggling non-oil economy. This picture came from two statistics I knew: 95 percent of Nigeria’s exports are oil and 85 percent of Government revenues come from oil. What I did not know was that oil is only the fourth largest sector in the economy, with the wholesale and retail sectors being larger.