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The People versus the Leviathan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

 "Only fools, pure theorists, or apprentices fail to take public opinion into account."

Jacques Necker (1792) finance minister to King Louis XVI of France.
 

Recent events confirm, once again, that public opinion is the basis of power, and the very definition of legitimacy. If it comes to pass that the preponderance of the citizens of a country come to despise or hate their rulers...an event that occurs over a period of time and is the outcome of  experiences, debate and discussion ... that crystallization of public opinion is a serious development, one capable of leading to momentous consequences. The regime in question becomes a hollow leviathan. One can only hope that autocratic leaders as well as the cynical technocrats who advise them are paying attention to the lessons of both recent and ongoing struggles between citizens and a variety of autocracies. 

Sotto Voce?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Recently I read yet another paper advancing the idea that governance reforms should take a back seat to economic development. To which, as I watch the ongoing footage from the Middle East, I must respond: really?
 
If there is nothing else that recent events in Egypt have taught us, it is that people, everywhere, demand a voice. Not all democracy templates are universally applicable. But citizens of any country surely desire the freedom to express themselves, and count themselves heard. It's not merely a human right; it's a human fact. 
 
Many development agencies have been caught off balance by recent developments in the Middle East, and are scrambling to adjust. Why? Because we, the collective development community, still have no real way to think about issues of voice, accountability, representation, politics, and power. Our assessment templates only marginally, if at all, take into account such crucial issues; operationally, we have no established methods of building such issues into our work. Even now, governance remains a road hesitantly trod, skirting the outside of the development mainstream. And yet I challenge anyone who has watched recent global events unfold to argue that governance and politics do not matter in people's everyday lives.

Implications of the Giving Pledge: More Technocratic Solutions?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

This article on the cons of the "Giving Pledge" approach to philanthropy is thought-provoking, particularly for those interested in non-technocratic - or rather, not-solely-technocratic - approaches to governance and development issues. The author argues, among other things, that the current trend of billionaire philanthropy tends to emphasize technocratic fixes, derived partly from the business approach to problem-solving. "Thorny social problems require investments in civil society and social justice, not technocratic business-driven solutions," he writes.

Control over State-Owned Media Equals Control over the State?

Hannah Bowen's picture

Demonstrations this week in Cote d’Ivoire prompt a number of troubling questions, including what it means to be a “state broadcaster” when who heads the state is in dispute. The influence of state-run broadcasters may be diminishing across much of sub-Saharan Africa, but their potential impact on fragile democratic institutions has been highlighted this week in west Africa. Who controls the airwaves may turn out to be instrumental in who shapes public perceptions, and through them, political reality – the protestors in Cote d’Ivoire know this, choosing of all institutions as the focus of their protest, the state-run television station.   

Quote of the Week: Jonathan Bernstein

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"If pressed, I’d probably say: get the politics right, and you’ll get the policy right. But I’m sure of one thing: get the politics wrong, and it doesn’t matter what policy you want, because it ain’t gonna happen anyway. Probably not now, and certainly not in the long run."


-- Jonathan Bernstein, Get the Politics Right, October 21, 2010

The Revolution Will Not Be Donor-Harmonized

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

It's hard not to be inspired by Nick Kristof's article on "The D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution" in the New York Times. His detail-rich story of energetic, socially conscious people routing around the bureaucracy of large aid organizations to tangibly and directly improve people's lives in the developing world is both important and thought-provoking. And it helps reframe the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of development assistance from one of "nothing works" to "there are so many ways to make this work."

Beyond The Reign of Reason?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In liberal political and constitutional thought, the passions are feared and often decried. The constant appeal is to reason: rational thought, rational debate, and rational solutions to problems. Even in the work that we do in CommGAP, the ideas we are committed to include: 

1) Rational debate and discussion in the public sphere (inclusive and democratic) focusing on the leading challenges facing the political community; and

2) Informed public opinion arrived at through a process of open debate and discussion, where relevant information is available to citizens, and all sides to the issue are fully canvassed by proponents. In all that, the appeal is to reason. 

Donor Bureaucrats As Obstacles To Reform Initiatives

Sina Odugbemi's picture

For two days last month (June 21-22) CommGAP and the Governance Practice in the World Bank Institute organized a workshop on the theme: The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action. In attendance were practitioners and academics from around the world, including several leading donor agencies. While the insights from the very productive workshop are being organized - they will be made available as soon as they are ready - I want to share this report regarding an unanticipated leitmotif of the meeting.

Without prompting, several donor agency officials, and they were senior ones, turned their attention to the challenges posed to reform efforts by the behavior of donor bureaucrats. I have just been through the notes I took during the meeting, and what follows are some of the  comments that were made. The meeting took place under Chatham House rules, so no names will be mentioned here:

The Technocrat and the Politician

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As a salute to the historic passage of health care reform in the United States, a story that this blog has been tracking, I want to recall something that Senator Barack Obama ( as he then was) said in 2008. It was in the course of his epic battle with Senator Hillary Clinton (as she then was) for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. You will recall that the two of them debated health care reform interminably in those months. The issue was: was health care reform merely a problem of technical design?

Quote of the Week

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Yet journalism is a critical point. Political journalism in particular must cope with a fragmenting political sphere, the rise of fleet-footed competition from blogs and websites and the decline of an audience. Journalism and politics have, for two centuries, depended on, fought with, supported and tried to destroy each other. Now they sigh for the good old days when they were both certain enough of their respective institutions to engage in combat." -- John Lloyd, Power and the press, Financial Times, February 20 2010

 

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