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Community Driven Development & The Challenge of Governance

I recently attended a talk at The Hertie School in Berlin by the acclaimed political scientist Francis Fukuyama. Whether or not you agree with his famous ‘End of History’ thesis, it’s always interesting to hear from such a famous academic name.

The talk mostly focused on the importance of thinking about the implementation side of governance – what Fukuyama termed ‘public administration’. He also touched on an aspect of international development thinking over the last twenty years or so which I thought was very interesting.

He was using the example of various World Bank driven projects but never explicitly mentioned Jeffrey Sachs and his Millennium Development Villages while roundly criticising the methodology behind them. As most people interested in global development will know, yet another voice from development attacked Sachs recently in a scathing piece for the New York Times which documented a reporter’s increasing disillusionment with Sachs’ projects as she spent several years investigating them all over Africa. Sachs has long been the recipient of some fierce criticism from development academics (most notably Bill Easterly and Michael Clemens) and now, it would seem, lay-observers are coming to similar conclusions.

The question of governance in international development, Fukuyama argued, is a way for the development community to avoid talking about two things: democracy and government. Because of various historical and contextual issues with these terms have become tainted and subsequently euphemised. The anti-government movement in the West, the rise of NGOs as powerful domestic and international actors, the relative successes of authoritarian governments in accelerating development and the increasing globalisation and networked world we live in – all of these things have muddled the post Cold War picture of progress. I should note that Fukuyama neatly sidestepped mentioning his own most famous work while talking about these issues!

Regardless, this is an interesting point. Governance remains the most common way the international community refers to the proper management of large scale development – like health, education, combating corruption and most of the other Millennium Development Goals. Are development actors like international lending agencies and large NGOs actually worsening these issues by looking to go direct to the people they want to help and cutting out state or local governments?

Another recent fad in the development blogosphere has been the championing of direct cash transfer programmes (here is a good, if critical look at the topic from AidSpeak). While Economic researchers get all hot and heavy about the idea of development being as simple as handing out wodges of cash like Mario Balotelli at Christmas time, perhaps they should think about the infantilisation of institutions and structures that this system will almost certainly contribute to.

Are the short term gains of this set-up worth potentially crippling the very institutions that underpin the functioning developed states around the world?

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