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Democracy and the foundations of legitimacy

Nicholas van Praag's picture

This post is part of a series of interviews with members of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council.

With the ongoing protests and calls for democratic reform in Egypt -- and in other parts of the Arab world -- there is a lot of interest in the grievances and aspirations that lie behind the unrest. In this interview, Mr. Louis Michel, a member of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council and member of the European Parliament, discusses the role of the state and the foundations of legitimacy.



Nigel Roberts's picture

Bamiyan, Afghanistan—December 12

    Nothing lasts forever, not even a good government. After more than three decades of conflict, violence, and extreme poverty, many Afghans hesitate to trust outsiders. Photos ©Ed Girardet.

The statues

The empty frames in the rock face greet you as you land in Bamiyan—home for 1500 years to two great carved Buddhas, until the Taliban pulverized them in 2001. Unlike the inhabitants of Bamiyan, the statues survived several major episodes of invasion and mayhem, most notably Genghis Khan’s 1221 rampage in which every person and every animal is said to have been slaughtered. A number of other invaders tried to obliterate them—in particular the Indian emperor Aurangzeb’s troops, who hacked their faces off in the 18th Century. The will was there, but the requisite technology wasn’t available until more recently.

Tragic as the dynamiting of the statues was, there is another way of looking at this episode of zealotry. In the words of the journalist Matthew Power, “High up in the empty alcove, I was struck by the absurdity of trying to kill the Buddha with tanks and rocket-propelled grenades. I recalled the Buddhist practice of contemplating emptiness, and realized how utterly the Taliban had been defeated.”

Absolute democracy

Nigel Roberts's picture

Trisuli Bazaar, Nuwakot District, Middle Hills of Nepal—November 19

    Nigel and Deepak (from left) in a Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) district office in Nuwakot.

Returning to Nepal after a gap of 16 years, I am struck by the explosion in political activity. The Nepal I knew was a politically literate country, and my memories of the Eastern Hills in the 1970s are peppered with intense discussions about landlordism, police corruption and the lifestyles of appointed district politicians.

But this is something different. I have arrived in Trisuli with Holly Benner of the WDR core team, and Deepak Thapa, our lead author for the WDR case study on Nepal. Three hours by winding road from Kathmandu, Trisuli is a town of perhaps 3,000 people, with one main street and a few simple shops. An hour’s walk up the hill is Nuwakot, the site of a glorious old Newar palace built in 1762, and soon thereafter occupied by King Prithivi Narayan Shah as his capital as he planned the unification of Nepal.

We find Trisuli consumed by politics, to an extent you would hardly ever see in a small town in Europe or the USA. In the course of the day we meet all three main national parties, as well as the government’s Chief District Officer and Chief of Police.

World Development Report 2011—Not a Cookbook

Nigel Roberts's picture

Many leaders and practitioners familiar with the challenges of delivering in fragile and conflict-affected states are urging us to come up with practical suggestions for them. We in the WDR Team feel we have to be careful not try and develop some set of 'conflict recipes', though: this would mean falling into the trap that characterizes a lot of institutional development work by external parties (i.e. that it is based on prescriptive models and is insufficiently adapted to real-life situations of fragility and conflict). Rather than a cookbook, then, we are shooting for an approach that shares insights and experiences from all types of situations, and points to those that have worked well and could prove useful elsewhere.

For a summary of the purpose and content of the upcoming World Development Report 2011, please take a look at my video:

WDR 2011 - Not a Cookbook from World Bank on Vimeo.