It’s time for donors to get out of their addiction to Good Governance! No country has ever implemented the current donor-promoted Good Governance agenda before embarking on social and economic development. This was true for rich countries before they became rich, and it is true for the rapidly ‘catching up’ countries of Asia today. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are no exception.
They are therefore not helped to get out of poverty by donor insistence on prior achievement of Good Governance, meaning adoption of the institutional ‘best practices’ that emerged in much richer countries only at a later stage in their development.
The other main message is that development outcomes in poor countries depend fundamentally on incentives. The political incentives facing elites and leaders are the key to possible change at national level. Within particular economic and social sectors, other actors and their incentives help to shape what can and cannot be done.
If aid is to help, it has to be based on a good understanding of what these incentives are, how they work and where they come from.
We argue that incentives which work against progressive change are often the result of unresolved collective-action problems. Fragmentation among political elites and among sector actors makes collective action in the pursuit of shared long-term goals difficult. So, at all levels, vital things that are in everyone’s interest – from clearing the drains, or enforcing crop standards, to reforming the civil service – don’t get done.
The fact that the actors are fragmented makes things difficult, but not impossible. Sometimes, the timely intervention of a third party is what the various players need to stimulate the necessary agreements. We ask: cannot aid be used, in careful ways, to identify and help to address such blockages? Would this not be more useful and relevant than funding NGOs to promote Good Governance?
With this blog, we invite those interested in these issues to join a discussion of the messages in the Joint Statement.
To set the ball rolling, we suggest a discussion about the idea of collective-action problems as an alternative way of understanding and responding to governance challenges in Africa.
Can we identify more examples of collective-action problems that explain the political incentives blocking development? In cases where solutions have been found, how this was achieved? Was a useful role played by aid?