‘At times in the last few years,’ writes Duncan Green in his recent book, How Change Happens, ‘It has felt like something of a unified field theory of development is emerging.’ As Hegel reminded us, however, the owl of wisdom flies at dusk. As recently as early 2016 (which is about when he wrote these words), Green’s exuberant enthusiasm was shared by many of us. But a year, we now know, can be an eternity.
How Change Happens synthesises a growing body of work that has aimed to move development scholarship and practice away from a preoccupation with so-called ‘best practice’ solutions. It captures well the sensibility of the new literature – a paradoxical combination of the enthusiasm of a breakthrough and the pragmatism of seasoned practitioners who have learned the limitations of overreach, often through bitter experience. But, as per Hegel, has our quest for useful insight reached its destination only to find that a new journey has begun – a different and more difficult journey than the one we had planned?
In this review essay, I use the insights of How Change Happens to explore this question. I unbundle into two broad groups the categories of analysis Green uses to delineate the grand unified theory. In discussing the first group, I highlight what we got right about the drivers of change; in discussing the second, what we got wrong. I then suggest possible ways forward. Continue Reading →
20 April 2017
Brian Levy warns that the magnitude of what is at stake in the current crisis in South Africa is at risk of being underplayed
The promiscuous use of the accusation of ‘corruption’ to cover all sins risks obscuring the nature of South Africa’s current crisis. As per ESID’s ‘political settlements’ approach, it is helpful to look beyond the details of venality, and identify some deeper patterns. But these alternative framings need to be handled with care. There is a risk that the result could be to inadvertently and wrongly take the edge off a sense of urgency.
At this moment of crisis, there are two misframings in particular that potentially have pernicious consequences. The first is an over-eagerness to describe any and all shortfalls vis-à-vis ‘good governance’ in binary terms – as ‘proof’ that a rule-bounded polity and economy has been entirely overtaken by patronage. The second is a conflation of the distinction between patronage and predatory kleptocracy. Both end up, inadvertently, downplaying the magnitude of what is at stake.
18 April 2017
It is widely accepted that the creation of impartial organisations is an important condition for spurring economic growth and development on a sustained basis. Democracy requires impartial enforcement of rules that promote liberty, equality, property rights and open competition for public office. Both procedural and substantive definitions of democracy therefore include a system of rule of law enabled by impartial bureaucratic organisations.
Public sector reforms to remove patron-client organisations from Africa’s expanded public bureaucracies have been strongly supported by international development agencies. However, there is some emerging consensus that it takes a long time to establish impartial bureaucratic organisations. A longstanding question of scholarly interest is whether competitive democracies in developing countries can sustain public sector reforms aimed at establishing the impartial organisations required for stimulating economic growth and development. Continue Reading →
The Ugandan state presents an interesting puzzle for advocates of public sector reforms (PSRs). Though it has been subjected to several waves of reforms over the last three decades, these have generally not translated into progressive changes in how the central government functions.
In our latest Working Paper, Dr Badru Bukenya and Professor William Muhumuza argue that the root of this conundrum lies in the country’s political settlement. Drawing on ESID’s expanded political settlement framework, their research finds that over the last 15 years Uganda’s ruling elite has been exposed to unprecedented internal and external competition, leading to a shift in the balance of power from a dominant to vulnerable dominant political settlement.
By Brian Levy
29 March 2017
ESID will soon be publishing a synthesis of new research on the politics of the extractive industry in Africa and Latin America. Here, our researcher, Brian Levy, writes about the recent ‘unconscionable’ US vote to repeal transparency for oil and mining companies, signed by Donald Trump.
In a world where anger increasingly rules, I prefer to avoid outrage – but the vote to repeal transparency for oil and mining companies is unconscionable. How – Republican members of the House and Senate who voted on party lines for this repeal, Rex Tillerson (whose 2010 efforts to lobby against the measure have, now that he has become Secretary of State, seen fruition with this repeal) and, of course DT (who gleefully signed into law this licence to collude with criminality) – do you sleep at night? Continue Reading →