Pablo Yanguas

Political Analysis & Aid Effectiveness

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. This is the sport, the luxury, special to the intellectual man. The gesture characteristic of his tribe consists in looking at the world with eyes wide open in wonder. Everything in the world is strange and marvellous to well-open eyes. This faculty of wonder is the delight refused to your football ‘‘fan,” and, on the other hand, is the one which leads the intellectual man through life in the perpetual ecstasy of the visionary. His special at-
tribute is the wonder of the eyes. Hence it was that the ancients gave Minerva her owl, the bird with ever-dazzled eyes.

José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932 [1930])

“Varieties of state-building in Africa”: New comparative paper on public sector reform

ESID has just released my new working paper on comparative PSR in Ghana, Uganda, and Rwanda: “Varieties of state-building in Africa: Elites, ideas and the politics of public sector reform“.

Here’s the abstract, followed by the download link:

Why do some states in Africa seem to be stuck in a spiral of corruption and institutional weakness? Why do others somehow build effective bureaucracies that are able and willing to tackle the challenges of development? The public sector remains the inescapable anchor of development, whether for good or ill, but our understanding of the politics of public sector reform remains shackled by concepts that do not allow for variation or change over time. This paper presents a theoretical framework for understanding variations in public sector reform (PSR): centring the analysis on the intersection of power relations and ideas, the paper shows how the stability of a country’s elite settlement and the coherence of its developmental ideology interact with reform ideas in the PSR policy domain. This framework is explored through a structured-focused comparison of reform experiences in three Sub-Saharan African countries with different elite settlements: competitive Ghana; weakly dominant Uganda; and dominant Rwanda. In Ghana, where successive regimes have focused on political control for partisan purposes, it has been quick reforms compatible with top-down control that have achieved political traction. In Uganda, high-visibility reforms were introduced to secure donor funding, as long as they did not threaten the ruling coalition’s power. In Rwanda, lastly, the regime has fostered and protected various public sector reforms because it envisioned them as instruments for domestic legitimation as constituent elements of an impartial developmental state. In combination, policy domain, elite time horizons, and ideational fit allow us to move beyond blanket statements about isomorphic mimicry or neopatrimonialism, and towards a more nuanced understanding of the varieties of state-building in Africa.

PDF download.

I was on the GDI podcast

You can now listen to my rants, while you commute or exercise, for free!

Endorsements from David Booth and Nic van de Walle!

Slowly but surely, Why We Lie About Aid is moving along the production track, going into copy-editing. But what has me particularly excited is the fact that I now have two endorsements from people I deeply admire and respect:

‘One of the most exciting books about development aid in many years: original and timely, closely argued and evidenced, and beautifully written.’
David Booth, Overseas Development Institute

‘Elegantly written and passionately argued, Yanguas has provided us with an authoritative guide to current debates within the aid business, and, more importantly, to the crucial political struggles that have always defined the development process.’
Nicolas van de Walle, Cornell University


And now there is a cover

Why We Lie About Aid – Pablo Yanguas

As seen in the shiny Forthcoming page on the Zed Books site. I don’t happen to know our cover model, Stock Poor African Woman #17, but I do like the look she is giving us.

So, I wrote a book called Why We Lie About Aid

It turns out there are some things in life that will limit your online presence. Here are my excuses:

  1. Having a second child
  2. Getting more job responsibilities
  3. Writing a book

I want to write at some point about 2 in some detail. But right now I wanted to offer a little teaser about 3.

Earlier this year I finally submitted the full manuscript of my potential book Why We Lie About Aid: Development and the Messy Politics of Change to Zed Books. Then two months ago I received a really positive set of reviews and comments, including an actual endorsement for the back cover. I won’t reveal who wrote this just yet, but I will shamelessly copy here the reviewer’s opening words:

This is one of the most exciting books about development aid in many years: original and timely, closely argued and evidenced, and beautifully written.

I have finally managed to complete the revisions, and it is now up to the editor to give it a final green light. If everything goes well, we are talking about a February 2018 release date in paperback. Both ESID and GDI are super excited about it, so expect a bit of promotional work in the second half of this year.

As time goes by I will post here particularly juicy excerpts from the manuscript. For now I will only copy here the table of contents:

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: The theatrics of aid debates
Chapter 3: The banality of certainty
Chapter 4: The ugly politics of change
Chapter 5: The limits of donor influence
Chapter 6: The paradoxes of development diplomacy
Chapter 7: The struggle of thinking politically
Chapter 8: Understanding the messy politics of change
Chapter 9: Conclusion

Stay tuned for more previews.

The politics of change

In the literature that spans political science, political economy, and policy science, a large number of questions about processes of change remain unanswered, particularly about how agenda setting, decision making, and implementation occur. Thus, there is little theory to explain how issues of reform come to the attention of government decision makers or how reform of policies and institutional arrangements becomes part of their agenda. Even less is known about how policy elites weigh the often urgent and well-articulated advice they receive about policy and institutional changes, their own intellectual [p4] and political views about such changes, and economic and political pressure to alter policies, against equally pressing concerns about the impact of their decisions on existing political and bureaucratic relationships. The factors that affect whether policies will be pursued, altered, revised, or sustained after they have been decided upon are also generally left unexplored because implementation and sustainability are often considered to be matters of effective administration, not political processes.

Merilee Grindle and John W. Thomas (1991), Public Choices and Policy Change: The Political Economy of Reform in Developing Countries, p. 3-4.

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