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Attention to Donor Agencies: No democracy means no development August 26, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Aid to Africa, Development & Change, Free development vs authoritarian model, The Colonizing Structure & The Development Problems of Oromia, The Tyranny of Ethiopia, Youth Unemployment.
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Development First, Democracy Later?

By Anna Lekvall, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs; formerly Senior Programme Manager for Democracy and Development at International IDEA.

http://naiforum.org/2014/08/development-first-democracy-later/

Across all continents, cultures and religions, 80 per cent of men and women worldwide believe that democracy is the best available form of governance. But there is a raging democracy deficit across the world.

There is wide support for democracy in international agreements and development policy. Yet, only 2 per cent of official development aid goes to democracy support, indicating a low priority in practice.

The much larger aid flows delivered to reduce poverty also affect democratic processes and power dynamics – sometimes negatively.

The binding constraint on development is not always money or knowledge. It is also about political processes. Citizens across the world therefore call for democratic and accountable politics.

There is a raging democracy deficit across the world. Across all continents, cultures and religions, by gender, age, education or income level, 80 per cent of men and women worldwide believe that democracy is the best available form of governance.[1]

Only 30 per cent, however, are satisfied with the democracy that they are experiencing, and 85 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where media freedom is obstructed. Democratic transitions that were promising 20 years ago have in many cases regressed.

There is wide support for democracy in international agreements and development policy. Key donor countries and international organizations have goals to support democracy within official development assistance. The UN Charter is clear that the authority of governments shall be based on the will of the people. The UN Millennium Declaration promises that no effort shall be spared to promote democracy.

Yet when it comes to the practical implementation of official development aid, supporting democracy is a low priority.  The newly published book Development First, Democracy Later? (International IDEA, 2014) takes a critical look at traditional aid forms from a democracy perspective. It finds that despite donor countries’ often explicit ambitions to strengthen democracy, the picture emerging is not encouraging. In practice, democracy seems to be a low priority within official development assistance.

Supporting key democratic processes and institutions – elections, parliamentary strengthening, civil society – is a niche area of aid. But it only accounts for about 2 per cent of all development assistance. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the much larger aid flows delivered to reduce poverty, also affect democratic processes and power dynamics – sometimes in a negative way.

Many aid-recipient countries are ruled by either authoritarian or hybrid regimes. Among the ten countries that received most aid in 2010, all but one were ruled by authoritarian or hybrid regimes. Channelling money in such an environment requires careful consideration of the effects on the domestic political situation as it risks sustaining a dysfunctional system and reinforcing the powers that be.

Yet, the connections between development aid resources and the space for democracy are seldom explicitly discussed, the analysis in the book finds. Despite the use of political economy analysis, donors keep focusing on the executive branch of government and a limited type of civil society organisations, largely avoiding key political and social actors.

The primary focus is still establishing partnerships with governments of which some obstruct political representation, impede free speech, manipulate elections and compromise the rule of law. Despite the increased focus on accountability, development resources risk sustaining the hold on power of already overpowered executive heads of government.

Despite the rhetoric of country ownership, donors continue to prescribe policy priorities in budget reviews and to move policy formulation from domestic political processes to development aid negotiations. National actors become almost redundant in the process.

When donors eventually speak up for democracy and cleaner politics, it is often because things have got so badly wrong that they have to react. So-called ‘political crises’, are often situations which could have been foreseen and addressed in the choice of aid modalities.

Thus, not only has democracy not been a key goal on the aid agenda, but the way in which aid is organized has had challenging consequences for democracy. The development community acknowledges many of these concerns.

The Accra Agenda for Action recognized the need for inclusive ownership and the importance of involving actors such as parliaments, local government and civil society in development. In Busan, the private sector was added as a stakeholder and the term ‘democratic ownership’ was used. These are positive steps at the level of international policy deliberations, but translating the new policies into practice is a challenge.

There are many reasons for democracy being a low priority in the aid agenda. Other foreign policy goals are prioritized. It is difficult. There are disbursement pressures and practical issues in the way aid is organized. But there may also be a more ideological or theoretical reason.

The success stories in Asia, and of China in particular, have reinforced an old view that development comes first, and (hopefully) democracy later, even to the extent of seeing democracy as an obstacle that must be overcome by insulating the state from public concerns.

This is a dangerous path, however, as there is a tendency for absolute power to lead to absolute corruption – and absolute repression. Even if it is possible to find a ‘good autocrat’, he or she usually does not stay that way. Democracy is a fundamental requirement for replacing leaders peacefully. This must not be forgotten.

Moreover, despite some authoritarian successes, there is substantive empirical evidence that democracy delivers on development, even in poor countries. Among the top 50 countries that achieved the highest levels of human development in 2011, only four had either authoritarian or hybrid regimes. The rest were democracies.

One study compares the experience only across poor countries and finds that people in poor democracies live nine years longer than people in poor autocracies, have a 40 per cent greater chance of attending secondary school and benefit from agricultural yields that are 25 per cent higher. Poor democracies suffer 20 per cent fewer infant deaths than poor autocracies. Democracies fare better at avoiding political conflict and dealing with natural disasters.

But there are even more reasons why the development agenda should not ignore democracy. Over the past decade, the role of politics has come increasingly to the fore in explaining development failures. In Africa, success in terms of economic growth does not match its poor record in reducing poverty. There is little doubt that the vast majority of Africans do not get a fair share of the yields from the continent’s huge natural resource wealth.

Africa has 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land. It produces less agricultural output per person today than fifty years ago. Farmers lack access to capital for fertilizer and irrigation. They lack the roads and storage needed to get harvests to market. These are public goods that their governments should be facilitating. The economic resources exist and the solutions are known.

The binding constraint on development is not always money or knowledge. It is also about political processes. Citizens across the world know this, and therefore call for democratic and accountable politics. In a United Nations study in the post 2015-process, it was made clear that ‘honest and responsive government’ was among the top five priorities when people in 194 countries were asked.

Development experts too are finding that dysfunctional political institutions and processes are hindering development. Donor agencies are realizing the same, shown by the interest in political economy analysis. What remains, however, is making the move from analysis to considering aid modalities from the perspective of both democracy and development.


[1] All facts, definitions and references may be found in Development First, Democracy Later?, International IDEA, 2014. Free to download here.

http://naiforum.org/2014/08/development-first-democracy-later/

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