For anybody who thinks about governance as an issue in development, Sue Unsworth needs no introduction. She used to be the main intellectual force behind DFID's 'drivers of change analysis', an approach to political economy analysis. She is now with the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, in the United Kingdom. She has just published an article in the Journal of International Development titled 'What's Politics Got to do with It?: Why Donors Find It So Hard to Come to Terms with Politics, and Why it Matters' (a free version can be found here).
The article deserves wide attention. In it, Unsworth points out that donors are paying more attention to politics these days than they used to, and some are even applying political analysis to aspects of development practice, but huge barriers remain that ensure that all this is having little influence on mainstream debates about how to do development . Mainstream approaches remain apolitical and the 'implicit assumption is still that the obstacles to better governance and development performance are primarily financial, technical and managerial...'
Unsworth argues that in any particular context development 'happens when political systems create incentives for the productive use of resources'. She also says that for donors, 'politics is not an optional extra, or something that gets in the way of development. It is central to the whole endeavor.' Her assertion - and I totally agree - reminds me of what a DFID head of office once said to me: 'Every development objective we want to achieve in this country can only be achieved via the domestic political process. We want pro-poor social and political change,well only the domestic political process can deliver it or it will not happen.'
Unsworth says quite rightly that to 'many interested observers outside the development community, the proposition that development challenges are fundamentally political seems obvious. So what is stopping development practitioners from taking this on board? Donors are not stupid, and they are not unaware of the way in which politics interacts with development.' This is the heart of the matter. Development practitioners are not imbeciles, at least not usually. We have all these superb PhDs from the best universities in the world working on international development challenges yet they often act in ways that are so politically naive you wonder what is going on. In section 4 of her article Unsworth discusses what she thinks is really going on. It is a frank, knowing analysis, but I don't want to steal her thunder by telling you about it.
Find the article, and read it...the whole of it.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Overseas Development Institute