- Start the diagnosis with a focus on the problem to be solved, the challenge to be confronted (not general, big picture analysis for its own sake);
- Probe why the bad equilibrium exists/persists by investigating the roles of (a) structural factors (b) formal and informal institutions…the rules of the game and (c) stakeholder interests, networks and power; and
- Find a feasible path to reform/change in the specific context.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Behind a Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt
For months now, protestors have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all these places, protestors are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won election in relatively free polls. And in nearly all these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with the very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.
Where Did Press Freedom Suffer Most in 2013? Online.
PBS Media Shift
This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a “Risk List” of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace. In the past, the list has focused on highlighting nations where freedom of the press are under attack, but this year CPJ wrote, “We chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.” Including cyberspace is a recognition that, at least in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression, the web is not virtual reality, it is reality.
-Margaret Hodge, a British Labour politician, who has represented Barking, a district in East London, since 1994. On 9 June 2010, she was elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government expenditures to ensure they are effective and honest.
The last decade has witnessed unprecedented Internet diffusion in India. Over the past three years alone, Internet usage in India increased from 100 to 200 million people, growing far more rapidly than the decade it took to raise Internet users from 10 million to 100 million. A report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) estimates that by June 2014, India will have 243 million Internet users, at which point in time it is expected to overtake the US as the second largest Internet base in the world. This report further observes that the mobile Internet is going to be the next game changer for the Internet in India, with Indian mobile Internet users experiencing huge growth reaching 155 million in March and 185 million in June 2014 (IAMAI, 2013). With this rapid growth, scholars adopting a normative perspective present the Internet as a friend, philosopher and guide across different localities and communities in India. One such scholar, Adulkafi Albirini, articulates one possibility of the Internet as an emerging, “…utopian, egalitarian and empowering tool with the potential of ushering in a new era of development, democracy, and positive cultural change” (2008, p. 49).
Spent an enjoyable couple of days last week with the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) crew, first at a follow up to the Delhi meeting (nothing earth shattering to report, but a research agenda is on the way – I’ll keep you posted), and then at a very moving memorial conference for the late Adrian Leftwich (right), who is something of a founding father to this current of thought.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of this line of thinking: understanding and engaging with the underlying issues of power and politics should be the heart of any serious work on development.
But based on last weeks exchanges, I’ve got some concerns too – here are some reflections:
First some choice quotes:
"Cynics who say power is all that counts in politics forget that power without ideas is just improvisation."
- Michael Ignatieff, Canadian author, academic, and former politician
Around the end December of every year, the pundits start coming out with their forecasts for 2014. This past December, the World Bank pundits predicted everything from girls outperforming boys in developing countries (girl power!) to the staggering idea that for Europe, 2014 will be a better year.
This year though, the World Bank’s Future Development Forecasts blog, included a prediction that caught these two political scientists by surprise— “as more and more economists point to the primary [sic] of politics in development, political scientists will wake up and wonder why they have been left out of the discussion.”
The recently-concluded state-level elections in India’s capital city-state, Delhi, yielded a remarkable outcome. The country’s newest political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), literally “Common Man” Party, formed only a year ago by civil society activists affiliated to the landmark 2010 anti-corruption movement, routed the country’s oldest political party, the Congress, which has governed the country through most of its post-Independence years. The fledgling party’s performance and subsequent formation of the state government (ironically with the backing in the state legislature of the same party it had demolished), is being hailed as the beginning of something like a peaceful democratic revolution. It has galvanized political participation in a fairly unprecedented way as hundreds of thousands of “common people” across the country have rushed to join the ranks of a political force they hope will deliver better governance. And it had sowed the seeds of fresh optimism in the possibility of an ethical and accountable governance system.
This euphoria might be somewhat premature in the absence of any track record of AAP’s performance in government. But the party’s ascent undoubtedly represents a distinct break from traditional politics and suggests a new paradigm in at least two ways. First, AAP transcends the politics of identity and sectarian interests and practices instead what has been called the “politics of citizenship.” While other political parties have emerged from the grassroots in post-independence India and gone on to become potent regional forces, they have typically had their moorings in identity politics of one sort or another – caste, religion, ethnicity – that gave them dedicated support bases. In contrast, the AAP’s primary plank is good governance. Although it has been criticized for espousing untenable populist economic policies – such as subsidized water and electricity, its economic ideology and policies are very much at a formative stage. Its largest selling point has been its promise to fight corruption and bring probity to governance. Its success has catapulted the problem of corruption center-stage as the defining issue in the upcoming national elections.
In the next few weeks, we will be running our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
Originally published on May 22, 2013
I attended a panel + booklaunch on the theme of ‘Citizens Against Corruption’ at the ODI last week. After all the recent agonizing and self-doubt of the results debate (‘really, do we know anything about the impact of our work? How can we be sure?’), it was refreshing to be carried away on a wave of conviction and passion. The author of the book, Pierre Landell-Mills is in no doubt – citizen action can have a massive impact in countering corruption and improving the lives of poor people, almost irrespective of the political context.
The book captures the experience of the Partnership for Transparency Fund, set up by Pierre in 2000. It summarizes experiences from 200 case studies in 53 countries. This has included everything from using boy scouts to stop the ‘disappearance’ of textbooks in the Philippines to introducing a new code of ethics for Mongolia’s judiciary. The PTF’s model of change is really interesting. In terms of the project itself:
- Entirely demand led: it waits for civil society organizations (CSOs) to come up with proposals, and funds about one in five
- $25k + an expert: the typical project consists of a small grant, and a volunteer expert, usually a retiree from aid agencies or governments, North and South. According to Pierre ‘the clue to PTF’s success has been marrying high quality expertise with the energy and guts of young activists’. (I’ve now added ‘Grey Wonks’ to my ‘Grey Panthers’ rant on why the aid world is so bad at making the most of older people).
- The PTF is tapping into a zeitgeist of shifting global norms on corruption, epitomised by the UN Convention Against Corruption (2003). The idea that ‘they work for us’ seems to be gaining ground.
- The PTF prefers cooperation to conflict – better to work with champions within the state (and there nearly always are some, if you can find them), than just to lob rocks from the sidelines (although some rock-lobbing may also be required).
- It also prefers action and avoids funding ‘awareness-raising’, ‘capacity building’ and other ‘conference-building measures.’
So what works? On the basis of the case studies (chapters on India, Mongolia, Uganda and the Philippines), and his vast experience of governance and corruption work, Pierre sets out a ‘stylized programme’ for the kinds of CSO-led initiatives that deliver the goods:
Gosh I love my job. Last week I attended a workshop in Delhi to discuss ‘thinking and working politically’. A bunch of donors, academics, NGOs and others (Chatham House rules, alas, so no names or institutions) taking stock on how they can move from talk to walk in applying more politically informed thinking to their work.
That means both trying to do the normal stuff better (eg understanding the politics that determines whether your water or education programme gets anywhere) and in more transformational work trying to shift power from haves to have nots.
The meeting was convened by some very practical (‘what do I do on Monday Morning’) aid people keen to move on from what they see as the overly academic (‘needs more research’) character of discussions on governance, institutions, state-building and all its obfuscatory language (‘What we don’t need is lots of people talking about isomorphic mimicry, rules of the game and political settlements’).
The purpose of this discussion was to take the growing body of research from the Development Leadership Programme, Tom Carothers, ODI, Matt Andrews, ESID etc and turn it into programme ideas that can be tested on the ground. A giant ‘do tank’ exercise, in fact. Alarmingly, I can’t think of other examples of such an explicit research →hypothesis→test process on governance (unlike drugs research, say).