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Elites

2014: The Graveyard of Fevered Hopes?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The year that is ending in two weeks has exhibited two sobering characteristics. First, it has been marked by apocalyptic violence (the massacre of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan being the latest outrage). Second, it has been marked by pressures on communication freedom, and the relentless squeezing of civic spaces. The violence we all know about; for it seems to be kicking off everywhere. But the causes are legion; the politics in each case is bewilderingly complex. So, we’ll leave these alone and hope for the best. But we might usefully reflect, as the year closes, on what is happening with national public spheres and the emerging global public sphere.

There is a narrative of hope and freedom about the global communication context. That narrative celebrates the mobile wave and the astounding spread of information and communication technologies. It talks about how wonderful all this is for voice, for enlightenment, for freedom. Look, we are told, see all those cool young kids with their fancy gadgets, social media skills, and their ability to launch collective action eruptions, even revolutions! See how admirable and hopeful all this is, we are told. And, yes, events have often backed up the fevered hopes and dreams, even this year. Yet, as the year ends, the overwhelming sense one gets is that dark and powerful forces are counterattacking. They are certainly not on the ropes. Let’s look at the particulars:

Quote of the Week: Esa-Pekka Salonen

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Many of my colleagues say, ‘Well, you know, music is above or beyond politics.’ I have the opposite view. I would very much like to be in the centre of the political debate. And I think one of the problems of classical music, or whatever you call it, is that we have been marginalised as part of the uppermost crust of society.  We play our Mozarts and our Beethovens, and it’s quite pretty and it doesn’t annoy anybody.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen, a Finnish orchestral conductor and composer. Salonen is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

What if Grand Corruption is the Price of Peace?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

An old teacher of mine, the late, great Professor Ronald Dworkin (professor of jurisprudence and political philosophy) used to say this to us: principles are often in conflict…what do you do then? How do you get to the ‘right answer’? He was talking about constitutional and, ultimately, moral principles. But principles are often in conflict in the business of international development as well. It would be great if life could be as simple and as unclouded as water in crystal, but it is not.

Here is an example. On April 1 this year, I was watching the Charlie Rose Show, here in the United States. One of his guests that night was a top American general, Major General H.R. McMaster. He turned out to be an impressive, agile, excellent mind. One of the questions he was asked was about the perceived prevalence of corruption in a particular crisis-torn developing country that he was very familiar with. Charlie Rose blamed the president of that country for the situation. The General said the matter was far more complicated than that. Then he embarked on a crisp analysis of the nature of the political settlement…such as it is …in that country, and why a hasty imposition of norms of good governance can, in fact, make a bad situation much worse. I don’t want to discuss that country but you can find the interview here.

What have We Learned about Crisis/Fragile States? Findings of a 5 Year Research Programme

Duncan Green's picture

Cards on the table, confronted with a closely argued 11 page exec sum, I am unlikely to then read the full report. But the short version of Meeting the Challenges of Crisis States, by James Putzel (LSE) and Jonathan Di John (SOAS), is a meal in itself. It summarizes 5 years of DFID-funded research by the Crisis States Research Centre, led by the London School of Economics, and is a great way to take the temperature of academic thinking on ‘states with adjectives’ – fragile, failing, crisis etc etc.

The key question it seeks to answer is why the daily and inevitable tensions of politics and ‘conflict as usual’, which exist in any society, tip some states over into a downward spiral of distintegration, grand theft and violence, while others, even poor ones, prove resilient. Key Findings?

Like most political scientists, Putzel and Di John believe that if you want to understand politics, you have to understand elites. And that means jettisoning preconceptions of ‘good governance’ (aka how much do the institutions resemble an idealized notion of American/European democracy) and thinking instead about the underlying political settlement. How do individuals and groups with different slices of power protect and negotiate over their pieces of the pie?

What leads to fragility? In the rather disturbing language of the report:

#3 from 2012: The Stubborn Problem of The "Village Elite"

Darshana Patel's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on August 28, 2012

Donor agency X has had a long history of working in Country A. Since the 1970s, the donor agency adapted its projects to be more participatory and has never looked back. Before starting a new project in the country, a project officer from the donor agency researched into international best practices, organized consultations in the country, and put together an action plan with the indicators to measure results.  The project is now ready to be launched.

The donor agency works through a national NGO to organize the first community meeting in village B to start the project. The village is selected because it is close enough to the capital city but far away enough to be considered rural.  (It turns out that this village is often selected for pilot projects.) The community is invited to a meeting in one of the village’s schools.  On the day of the meeting, the room is filled with some familiar faces. The party leader, a local landowner, the school head teacher and even the factory boss are in attendance. The room looks fairly full, the discussion is active for the most part, and promises are made by all to keep the momentum going for the 3-year span of the project.

What Can Political Economists Tell Us about Africa, Aid and Development?

Duncan Green's picture

There’s a clutch of different research initiatives trying to understand Africa’s political economy and its impact on development and aid. Often, the tone of the political economists can be quite discouraging – Alex Duncan gives a tongue-in-cheek definition of a political economist as ‘someone coming to explain why your aid programme doesn’t work’. There are few practical ‘take aways’ either for large bilateral aid agencies, or NGOs other than ‘give up and become a researcher’.

And that’s pretty much the tone of a logotastic ‘joint statement’ from 5 research programmes based (loosely) in the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands (The Africa Power and Politics Programme, Developmental Leadership Programme, Elites, Production and Poverty: A Comparative Analysis, Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa, Tracking Development). Here’s some highlights:

Answering the Right Questions

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?