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Has the governance agenda lost its mojo globally?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Romanian RevolutionWhen I started work in international development in London in the late 1990s, a more experienced colleague gave me the following insight. At some point, she said, I would either catch the bug and stay in the field or I would not and leave it to go and do something else. And it is usually some agenda within the broad field that would get you hooked, she added. She was right. I caught the bug and stayed in the field, and the agenda that excited my passion was and remains governance: efforts to improve governance systems in developing countries in order to do real and permanent good. The reason was obvious. I had moved to London from Lagos, Nigeria, having participated actively in the public affairs of the country; and I had left thoroughly convinced that unless governance improved in Nigeria there was no way that the abundance in the country would lead to improved welfare for the vast majority of its citizens. That remains my conviction.

In those days working on governance issues was exciting; for, it was like joining an army on the march, one that appeared ready to sweep everything before it. There was definite intellectual energy in the field. Practitioners had poise and confidence. Initiatives were being dreamt up by different donor agencies. Funds were pouring into the field. And we began to see a new breed of development professional: the so-called ‘governance advisers’. But behind it all, I suppose, was a powerful zeitgeist: the Berlin Wall was down, communism was on the ropes, and liberal constitutional democracy appeared to have triumphed with resounding finality.

But now, in late 2015, it all feels very different globally. In the words of the B.B. King classic: ‘The thrill is gone’.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Freedom on the Net 2015
Freedom House
Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content. State authorities have also jailed more users for their online writings, while criminal and terrorist groups have made public examples of those who dared to expose their activities online. This was especially evident in the Middle East, where the public flogging of liberal bloggers, life sentences for online critics, and beheadings of internet-based journalists provided a powerful deterrent to the sort of digital organizing that contributed to the Arab Spring. In a new trend, many governments have sought to shift the burden of censorship to private companies and individuals by pressing them to remove content, often resorting to direct blocking only when those measures fail.
 
The hidden digital divide
SciDev.Net
Data is fast becoming the universal currency that defines personal status and business success. Those with unlimited access to information have a clear economic and social advantage over those for whom it is not readily to hand. For example, people who can go online can access education and the global marketplace more easily. They also have the political knowledge to demand transparency from their government. When the term digital divide was coined in the 1990s, it simply referred to the growing inequality between people with any type of internet access and those without. On this basis, clear gaps were visible between rich and poor countries, between cities and rural communities.
 

Quote of the week: Justin Trudeau

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Justin Trudeau“Conservatives are not our enemy. They are our neighbours.”

-Justin Trudeau, a Canadian politician and the prime minister-designate of Canada. When sworn in, he will be the first child of a previous prime minister to hold the post; he is the eldest son of the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, and Margaret Trudeau. Trudeau was elected in the 2008 federal election to represent Papineau in the House of Commons. He won the 2013 Liberal Party leadership election, and in 2015 federal election, he lead the Liberals to a majority victory, moving the party from third-place with 36 seats to first place with 184 seats. It was the largest-ever numerical increase by a party in a Canadian election.

Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)
 

Where has the global movement against inequality got to, and what happens next?

Duncan Green's picture

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of Global External AffairsKaty Wright, Oxfam’s Head of Global External Affairs, stands back and assesses its campaign on inequality.

The most frequent of the Frequently Asked Questions I’ve heard in response to Even it Up, Oxfam’s inequality campaign is “how equal do you think we should be?”

It’s an interesting response to the news that just 80 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population put together, and the best answer was that given by Joe Stiglitz to a group of UN ambassadors: “I think we have a way to go before we worry about that.”

The Inequality BusSo how far do we have to go, exactly? The good news is that inequality is no longer just the concern of a small number of economists, trades unions and social justice campaigners. It’s now on the agenda for the international elite.

That partly reflects a growing realisation that inequality may be a problem for us all, not just those at the bottom. The Spirit Level  raised questions about the impact of inequality on societies, and the rise of Occupy pointed to a growing political concern.

More recently, research papers from the IMF have demonstrated extreme inequality is at odds with stable economic growth, and that redistribution is not bad for growth. Significantly, this shift in focus from the IMF has been driven by Christine Lagarde. To the outside world, the IMF now officially cares about inequality, as do Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, Donald Kaberuka (outgoing head of the African Development Bank), and Alicia Barcena of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, to name a few.
 

Quote of the Week: Matteo Renzi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Matteo Renzi"We’re a young team— we want to invest in the new generation— but we’re not simply a young team.  Youth is the man of whatever age who risks believing in the possibility of change.”
 

- Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy since February 2014. Previously, he was the President of Florence Province from 2004 to 2009 and the Mayor of Florence from 2009 to 2014. At the age of 39 years and 42 days, he is the youngest Italian Prime Minister since unification in 1861 (he was younger than Benito Mussolini when he took office in 1922 by 52 days).  He is also the first to be elected Prime Minister as a Mayor and the second youngest leader in the European Council.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Projecting progress: Reaching the SDGs by 2030
Overseas Development Institute
This month the United Nations launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan to spur action across the world on areas of critical importance to humanity. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end this year. The SDGs will significantly shape development efforts for the coming 15 years. But are they really achievable? And what can we do to improve our chances of success? Our SDG Scorecard 2030 is the first real attempt to project where the world will be in 2030 across the SDG agenda.

The Politics of Media Development: The Importance of Engaging Government and Civil Society
Center for International Media Assistance
In the field of media development, the public sector is often viewed as a barrier to the development of independent and sustainable media. Although governments do frequently pervert and capture media sectors in countries around the globe, the enabling conditions under which media can achieve and maintain independence are nevertheless reliant on institutions of government. Therefore the media development community must rethink its approaches to public sector engagement in efforts to improve the environment for media systems in emerging and fragile democracies. This paper outlines the key role of political support, the need for more nuanced understanding of political context, and how donors and implementers can more effectively engage drivers of change in the public sector to build support for media and media development work.

Managing public opinion in the epic migration crisis

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Refugees line up at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, LebanonIn all the affected countries, the ongoing migration crisis centering on both the Middle East and Europe is many things. But it is also a public opinion management challenge of impressive girth and height. This is one of those instances where wise leaders will not make policy first and only thereafter ask communication advisers to go and ‘sell’ it. They will have their sharpest communication/political advisers in the room while making policy, especially as the situation evolves in ever more dramatic directions. And those advisers will, one hopes, be monitoring public opinion, consulting panels of voters, talking to deeply experienced players in the political system… all as vital inputs into the policy process.

Why is this a particularly ticklish public opinion management problem? Here is why: the fundamental emotional and values drivers of public opinion at work here are powerful ones, and they clash clangorously. The temptation in host communities is to keep outsiders out, especially people who look different, speak different tongues, worship different gods, and have all kinds of fundamental commitments that host communities might be wary of.  People often think that these primordial sentiments come into play only when transnational movements of people in large numbers happen. But for people like me who grew up in geographically plural, multinational societies (where different ethnic groups live in distinct parts of the country) we know that moving to another part of what is supposed to be your own country to live permanently can be an ego-shredding challenge. As we used to say in Nigeria, the ‘sons of the soil’ might not accept you.

What are the drivers of change behind women’s empowerment at national level? The case of Colombia

Duncan Green's picture

Just read a new case study of women’s empowerment in Colombia, part of ODI’s Development Progress series (summary here, full paper here). What’s useful is the level of analysis – a focus on the national rather than global or a project case study enables them to consider the various drivers of change at work. Some excerpts:

Portrait of a Colombian womanSigns of Progress:

  • "Colombia is home to the longest armed conflict in Latin America. In this context, women have mobilised effectively to influence emerging law on transitional justice mechanisms and to ensure that understanding the gendered experiences of conflict informs policy and law.
  • Colombia has more women in relevant decision-making positions than ever before. In 2011, 32% of the cabinet were women, compared with 12% in 1998; in 2014, 19.9% of parliamentarians in the Lower House and 22% in the Senate were women, compared with 11.7% and 6.9% respectively in 1997.
  • Girls’ enrolment in secondary and tertiary education outperforms boys’, while women’s participation in the labour market has also seen sustained progress. Women constituted 29.9% of the labour force in 1990; by 2012 this had risen to 42.7%." (Summary, page 1)

Quote of the Week: Simon Schama

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Simon Schama"But populism is not the monopoly of the left. Its common thread is a loathing for politics as a corporate affair: relentlessly managed, image-calibrated, bankrolled and focus-tested."

-Simon Schama, an English historian specialising in art history, Dutch history, and French history. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, New York and a contributing editor to the Financial Times.

Quoted in the Financial Times on August 29, 2015, "Beware the passionate preachers of populism".

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