Is there a better response to our public support crisis?

It hasn’t been a great year for aid charities so far. Public outcry about abuse and unethical behaviour in the high profile examples of Oxfam and Save the Children has been inflamed by opportunists, who have tapped into a constituency of popular disdain for the aid industry, and a certain resentment towards the holier-than-thou language and attitudes of the charity world.

This crisis of confidence arising from the scandals has led to apologies from many in the sector and some tangible commitment to change. But without a change in the underlying strategy and messaging of aid, there is zero guarantee that good intentions and gestures alone will forestall future attacks.

Continue reading on Bond’s website…

Going rogue

I first joined the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre (ESID) in January 2013. Since then, David Hulme, Sam Hickey and Kunal Sen have empowered and encouraged me to pursue policy-oriented research and ask sweeping theoretical questions about development politics. They also introduced me to fascinating and generous scholars, like Merilee Grindle, Brian Levy, or David Booth. Above all, they allowed me to find my own identity in a tiny corner of the UK-based development studies community. So it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to leave ESID this summer. Continue reading Going rogue

New briefing: Public sector reform in Africa

Hot off the ESID press: “Public sector reform in Africa: Understanding the paths and politics of change”, ESID Briefing 28, Deceber 2017.

This briefing explores why some states in Africa seem to be stuck in a spiral of corruption and institutional weakness, while others build effective bureaucracies that are able and willing to tackle the challenges of development. Drawing on research from ESID’s PSR project, it compares the public sector reforms of Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda during the period 2000-15. The three countries exhibit different kinds of political settlement, which makes for a useful comparison of how national-level politics filters the diffusion of transnational norms. This helps to build a more nuanced understanding of the varieties of state-building in Africa, and provides some policy implications for reformers.

Key implications

Purely institutionalist explanations cannot explain variations in African state-building in the 21st century.

There are different paths to change, like Ghana’s fragmented reform under competitive clientelism, Uganda’s cosmetic reform under a decaying dominant party, and Rwanda’s directed reform under a dominant political settlement.

Understanding these paths requires a theoretical framework that highlights the contested nature of the PSR policy domain, the effect of political settlements on elite time horizons, and the ideational fit between transnational policy ideas and elite ideologies.

Lessons for reformers and donors:

  • Reform spaces are fluid, but contested;
  • The ‘black box’ of political will is no longer enough;
  • Strategic framing of policy ideas is key;
  • Sustained change requires sustainable coalitions

Download link.

Development politics lacks a shared language

The fact that I have written a grand total of 7 posts for my own blog in the entirety of 2017 is a testament to the madness that this year has been. Good madness, I must say. None of that Lovecraftian “things-man-was-never-meant-to-see” stuff. But madness anyway. And as I emerge from a cocoon fashioned out of draft chapters and reports, taking up blogging again seems like the perfect New Year’s Resolution for the month of December.

So I will start with my main takeaway from 2017: writing about the politics of development for different audiences is not an easy thing to do. I have always prided myself in being able to talk politics with almost anyone, anywhere. But writing semi-cogently is a different challenge altogether, as this year has shown me with the clarify of a punch to the face. Here are four translation tasks that I have had to deal with, and the realization that has come out of the experience. Continue reading Development politics lacks a shared language

“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.