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Domestic Accountability

Can a Political Economy Approach Explain Aid Donors’ Reluctance to Think and Work Politically? Guest Post from Neil McCulloch

Duncan Green's picture

The more enlightened (in my view) aid types have been wagging their fingers for decades, telling their colleagues to adopt more politically literate approaches to their work. Why isn’t everyone convinced? Neil McCulloch applies a bit of political economy analysis to the aid business.

Over the last fifteen years or more, a new approach to development assistance has been gaining ground in policy circles. Broadly entitled the “political economy” approach, it attempts to apply a more political approach to understanding development problems and, importantly, development “solutions”. In particular, a central tenet of the approach is that many development problems are fundamentally political rather than technical and that therefore solutions to these problems are most likely to come from inside a country’s polity than from outside. Perhaps the most famous recent example of this line of thinking is Acemoglu and Robinson’s 2012 book Why Nations Fail.

Acemoglu and Robinson conclude that if each nation’s fate depends primarily on its domestic political struggles, the role for external development assistance is minimal. However, the response of practitioners to this field is to turn this argument on its head i.e. that is, if indeed each nation’s fate depends primarily on its domestic political struggles, development assistance should be trying to influence these struggles in ways that make pro-development outcomes more likely. Yet despite more than a decade analysis, the political economy “approach” is still rarely used by donors in the field. Why? I think there are four reasons:

Is there a Global Policy Network on (Good) Governance?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I was in Paris in early June to take part in a meeting organized by the OECD Development Affairs Committee (DAC) Governance Network (Govnet). The meeting brought together governance advisers in OECD donor agencies and the media development community to talk about the role of the media in strengthening domestic accountability in developing countries.  Govnet is developing practice guidance on domestic accountability. The meeting was productive but it was quite clear that these were global policy networks that had not previously interacted much, if they had interacted at all. Speaking during the deliberations, I made the point that those of us who had been trying to bring the two communities together for quite some time often felt that our first job was translation: making the discourse of one network intelligible to the other one and vice versa.