Published on Arab Voices

It's about governance, friends

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This blog was co-authored by Omer Karasapan and Guenter Heidenhof  

World Bank | Arne HoelIt is difficult to imagine a book more timely and relevant to the Arab revolutions than Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's "Why Nations Fail." Indeed they focus on Egypt in their preface. As they sum it up "To Egyptians, the things that have held them back include an ineffective and corrupt state and a society where they cannot use their talent, ambition, ingenuity, and what education they can get. But they also recognize that the roots of these problems are political. All the economic impediments they face stem from the way political power in Egypt is exercised and monopolized by a narrow elite. This, they understand, is the first thing that has to change." Politics determines what type of institutions countries build and the institutions determine whether countries are economically successful. 

A good summary of the main arguments and links to many of the reviews can be found in Isobel Coleman's article about the book.  Economic success  argue Acemoglu and Robinson, requires strong institutions that are inclusive and "pluralistic," institutions which create incentives for people to work hard and invest in the future. Unsuccessful states have extractive and absolutist institutions that economically and politically benefit a small group of elites to the detriment of everyone else. The authors also look at other explanations for lack of economic success,  ranging from geography, climate, culture, to lack of knowledge and, while not totally dismissing these, they argue that lack of credible and strong institutions are at the heart of the problem.

So, if the real issue is getting the politics right, i.e. making institutional governance more inclusive and pluralistic - how can the Bank advance the agenda and make a meaningful difference? MENA's evolving governance strategy, tentatively entitled "Strengthening Governance and Institutions" points the way...

Clearly, institutions and behavior do not change overnight. And, the process by which successful countries have achieved inclusive and pluralistic institutions has been a long one. The British started in the 17th century, initially allowing representation by only 10% of the male population, with laws and often exclusionary behaviors far from where they are today. So this is an evolutionary and (occasionally) a revolutionary process. Still, the Bank can advocate for improved inclusivity and pluralism and can move beyond business as usual in our projects and programs as we deal with the consequences of poorly performing institutions, i.e. weak educational and health systems, lack of adequate infrastructure, and the myriad of other services that are badly managed, inequitable, and deliver little.

The key for the World Bank is to ensure that in each and every area where we are involved, we bring components/elements of inclusion, accountability and transparency. Building a road or reforming the health system? Consult with the beneficiaries and affected communities. Ensure that they have the means to adequately follow progress and the mechanisms to relay concerns to relevant CSOs, the government, their (increasingly elected) representatives and the World Bank. Include social accountability measures as part and parcel of every project in which we engage -- including TA to develop new institutions and strengthen existing ones. Put in metrics that are publicly available and demonstrate progress or lack thereof. Strengthen the technical capabilities of CSOs, watchdog agencies and professionalize civil servants.

We can also support partners that focus on this agenda. Among others, the Open Government Partnership, a new multi-lateral initiative, which was launched in September 2011 to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

The only Middle East and North Africa member to date is Jordan. We can work to encourage stronger membership from the region, while continuing to support the adoption of OGP principles, i.e, open budgets, access to information, asset disclosure and participation, across our client countries.

It is clear that the governance agenda should cut across all our sectors and areas of work from education to water to the environment and beyond -- a governance lens on all of these will make us part of the solution as citizens push for the inclusive institutions they deserve.


Omer Karasapan

Regional Knowledge & Learning Coordinator

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