31 May 2017
The ‘Development in the Face of Global Inequalities’ conference held at the Institut Barcelona D’estudis Internacionals (IBEI) in Spain saw the coming together of scholars, practitioners and policymakers from across the world to explore new ways to address the pressing challenges of the distribution of resources in the capitalist world economy.
I attended this conference as part of the team working on ESID’s project ‘Have newly created Indian states promoted inclusive development? A comparison of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh’, where we presented our paper on the sub-national political settlements of the two study states. The two days of the conference that I attended were full of thought-provoking ideas around themes of natural resources, finance and sustainability and rethinking the politics of development beyond institutions.
With three days of very exciting-sounding panels, it was a tough call to decide which to attend. One panel that I particularly enjoyed was on social provisioning and development. It was fascinating to hear about the subnational analysis of Chile and to see how the relations between political actors and lower-level officials in the healthcare system lead to inequalities among the subnational units themselves. This resonates with our own work on the subnational political settlement and its role in development in India. This was much to my delight, since questions on the relationship between political actors and officials or functionaries in a state and the role of patronage have always intrigued me, having witnessed it in numerous ways during our own fieldwork.
Another interesting presentation was on the social subnational inequalities in health outcomes in Columbia and Peru, where the role of a healthy decentralisation model, along with policy adaptability and the strength and autonomy of the technocrats, enables the push for better health outcomes.
An extremely enriching session, which I felt privileged to attend given the extraordinary speakers, was the debate on social democratic development in the global south. With eminent scholars, Patrick Heller and Salvatore Babones, discussing John Harriss and OlleTornquist’s latest edited book, ‘Rethinking Social Democratic Development’, getting to this Saturday morning session was well worth it.
This work, comparing social democratic development in Scandinavia and India, sought to explore the possibilities for the reinvention of social democracy. What fascinated me the most about this work was the stellar comparison linking the experiences of social democracy in Sweden and Norway to that of Kerala in south India and the search for alternative dynamics that may be able to foster viable and democratic counter-movements in response to the protests against the existing order and the new quests for social democracy in the global south. An interesting and very pertinent question raised was that of the effect of state capacity of the two areas in terms of their outcomes. This, again, was particularly insightful for me, since we have been trying to establish the relationship between state capacity and development outcomes in our work.
On the other hand, with the conference being held in the beautiful city of Barcelona, downtime proved to be very enjoyable, exploring the city, the local architecture, culture and food. The conference gave me an opportunity to interact with individuals from different parts of the world with whom I happened to share academic interests. This made for enriching discussions over tapas, while also having the opportunity to explore the streets of Barcelona and its multitude of offerings.
Overall, the conference gave me an opportunity to be exposed to the international arena, where debates surrounding the questions around development happened on a much bigger scale. It was an extremely valuable learning experience with its amalgamation of scholars and practitioners sharing their diverse insights and experiences. The experience of having attended this conference, along with interactions with accomplished scholars, have helped broaden my horizons and knowledge base. I will endeavour to further my own efforts as a researcher by learning from the experiences shared during the conference, since each one had something unique and insightful to offer.
We hosted a great workshop in London on 8 May 2017 with some members of the ESID network. Its purpose was to explore emerging messages and lingering questions related to our research so far. This first segment was an explainer regarding ESID’s core messages on Rwanda. Thank you to presenters Sam Hickey and Tom Lavers, discussant Phil Clark and our chair, David Hulme.
Congratulations to ESID researcher Tim Williams, whose paper, ‘The political economy of primary education: Lessons from Rwanda’, has been published in the August issue of World Development.
The paper draws on Tim’s research for ESID, as captured in Working Paper 64 ‘Oriented towards action: The political economy of primary education in Rwanda‘.
Read the WD summary below, and find it in full here.
16 May 2017
Bureaucracies, we have learned, are embedded in politics. How, then, to strengthen public services in messy democracies? In settings where public hierarchies are weak, can participatory governance provide an alternative entry point? Recent results from an ESID research project I have been leading on the politics and governance of basic education in South Africa suggest an intriguing answer.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape province provides an ideal setting for exploring these questions. As the ESID approach underscores, two sets of variables that have a powerful influence on bureaucracies are: (i) the inherited institutional legacy, and (ii) how elites interact with one another. On both counts, as the ESID working paper, ‘The governance of basic education in the Eastern Cape‘, by Zukiswa Kota, Monica Hendricks, Eric Matambo and Vinothan Naidoo, details, the Eastern Cape scores badly. The province’s bureaucracy is a patchwork, built largely around two patronage-riven structures inherited from the apartheid era. Electorally, the ANC was dominant – but in practice it comprised an overall umbrella under which inter-elite conflict was endemic.
A day is a long time in politics and the first full day of election campaigning was dominated by suggestions that the Conservatives would row back on the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. But, barely 24 hours later, Theresa May scotched these rumours, perhaps encouraged by a passionate plea from Bill Gates that lives will be lost if the UK reduces its aid.
But this does not mean that battles about the aid budget are over. They now shift to defining exactly what official development assistance (ODA or ‘aid’) can be used to achieve. The OECD controls this definition, enabling it to collect authoritative statistics on what each member country spends. Over the years it has had to produce a very precise definition, preventing countries from attempting to count any overseas spending as ODA. This has included commercial loans, subsidies to arms manufacturers, and export-credit guarantees for civil engineering companies to win contracts in Africa and Asia: all activities to achieve domestic benefits rather than promoting international development.