Seminar on emerging democracies - rising to the challenge

Senior DLP Research Fellow Alina Rocha Menocal discussed the relationship between democracy and development at The Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific on 9 February 2016. Emerging Democracies: Rising to the Challenge was a Centre for Democratic Institutions seminar that considered how best to help promote development in countries which, formally at least, are democracies but seem to be ‘stuck’ in transition.  

Alina is currently on secondment with DLP from the Overseas Development Institute, and she has written an ODI briefing on this topic. Her work over the last decade has sought to help bridge the gap between research and policy in thinking about governance.

In the Emerging Democracies seminar she argued that the new frontier for development is no longer whether democratic systems can deliver, but how they can do so.

Both democracy and development need to be underpinned by a functioning state – and a vast majority of incipient democracies, especially those affected by conflict, lack fundamental state capacity and effectiveness. Yet, however imperfect, democratic systems are now the norm across the developing world.

So the challenge that faces the international development community is to revisit the all-too-easy assumption that fostering democracy and state-building are the same thing. As the case of contemporary Rwanda vividly illustrates, the conflation of these two processes is problematic and fraught with tensions.

Governance transitions are not linear and one-directional. Some changes may, indeed, reinforce others. For instance, increased state capacity to deliver basic services may reinforce a focus on the public good, which may then help to build more inclusive political orders. This, in turn, may foster state legitimacy.

But contrary to what may be assumed in principle, democratisation does not automatically have a positive effect on other governance and development priorities such as growth, poverty and inequality, and corruption. Elections, essential for the legitimacy, accountability and responsiveness of a political system, illustrate this well – they have also been associated with increased clientelism and corruption in developing settings, such as the infiltration of democratic institutions by organised crime.  Latin America is a poignant example of that. Electoral competition can also generate incentives that foment fragmentation and undermine coherent long-term policy-making.

Such tensions need to receive far greater attention as the international community thinks about policy and practice.

Many countries undergoing democratisation processes across the developing world are often not only trying to establish democracy but to transform themselves in other fundamental ways. This may include, for instance,  a transition from violent conflict to peace; from narrow-based eoncomies to shared growth; from a culture of impunity to the rule of law. These are all long-term and deeply political change processes that are likely to be complex and contested.

So when donors make choices about how to support democracy and how to promote development, they need to consider how efforts towards one objective will affect the other. Policies and programmes also need to factor in how both are likely to affect, or be affected by, broader state-building efforts. 

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

Find out more

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