Waylaid Dialectic

April 15, 2013


Filed under: Aid — terence @ 1:47 pm

Duncan Green writes:

At a more meta level, my main takeaway from this and other panels was that people always stress the need for national ownership (eg of any post2015 goals), which usually involves adapting  whatever is globally agreed to meet national circumstances. But they then deny any trade-offs with global goals. But is that credible? If every country adapts a global instrument differently, they just become part of national political processes (and a good thing too), but lose international comparability.

Maybe I have a skewed view because I’m researching a very clientelistic polity, but I think there’s a much more fundamental problem with this national ownership thing: most countries that receive a lot of aid aren’t nation enough to make it meaningful to talk about them owning goals, or policy or anything similar. ‘Not nation enough’ in the sense that their governments don’t reflect their peoples’ aspirations for their nations. Rather the governments in question are either: non-democratic (i.e. Viet Nam); non representative because political inequality has led to elite capture of democratic institutions (much of Latin America, at least in the past); or strongly patronage based, where collective action dilemmas force people to vote in search of personalised benefits rather than national political vision (Solomon Islands, probably much of Africa); or a combination of the above.

When the aid world talks about national ownership it is, I hope, talking about ownership by the people of the nations involved. That is, aid work which reflects the development they would like to see happen to their countries. Yet in the types of nation that I’ve just described that formal state isn’t a conduit of this. But still they remain the main partner in crime in this partnership gig.

And so what we get is mostly a charade. Aid agencies speak of partnership, which sounds great, almost as good as mom and apple pie. And recipient country politicians repeat the language in order to get the aid (in Solomons PM Gordon Darcy Lilo is a master of this). But the people who ought to be the real partners — i.e. the mass publics of developing countries — are barely partners at all.

This, I would say, is the central problem of aid partnership. It would make sense if we gave aid to countries like Sweden, where the politicians might reasonably be said to be representative agents steering their nations in the direction that their people want them to. But we don’t give aid to Sweden, nor to countries remotely similar to Sweden. Which seems to me to render this whole partnership thing kind of nonsensical — at least with respect to government to government aid.

But maybe I’m too cynical?



  1. This is a good point. Paul Collier has made a similar point in relation to the Paris declaration – that it’s largely about how to help those who don’t really need help.

    Comment by Michael Wulfsohn — April 22, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  2. Thanks Michael. That’s a great way off summing up the main problem with the Paris declaration.

    Comment by terence — April 22, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

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