International donors - aiding or abetting?

10th September 2015

In September 2012, lawyers representing an Ethiopian farmer announced that they planned to sue the UK government for its role in human rights violations in Ethiopia. The farmer, named in court papers as “Mr O”, alleged that the Ethiopian government’s “villagisation” programme had involved the forced resettlement of thousands of families including his own.

Mr O claimed to have witnessed beatings and rape. He says that when he tried to return to his own village in 2012, Ethiopian soldiers caught him and tortured him. His lawyers argue that the UK government must share some of the responsibility for these abuses because the villagisation programme was funded by its Department for International Development.

Criticism from a number of organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute, has fuelled accusations of donor complicity in the violations in Ethiopia – yet many see the country as a development success story. Thirty years on from the famine that claimed over a million lives, Ethiopia’s transformation has been described as an “economic miracle”.

"Donors who help such regimes may be complicit in those abuses, and yet withdrawing aid may threaten the socio-economic progress of these countries."

This demonstrates well the dilemma donors face when giving aid to non-democratic developmental regimes. The commitment of the Ethiopian and other ‘developmental’ yet repressive governments to promoting socio-economic development has led to significant progress. Donors who help such regimes may be complicit in those abuses, yet withdrawing aid may threaten such countries’ socio-economic progress. How, then, should donors decide what to do?

The shift towards politics in development research and policy in recent years, often referred to as “thinking and working politically” (TWP), has highlighted the trade-off that often has to be made between promoting economic development and strengthening political and human rights. Acceptance of this trade-off, the emphasis on political realism, and the importance given to the role of domestic leadership all mean that proponents of TWP tend to take a favourable view of developmental regimes, even if they exhibit authoritarian characteristics.

The clearest example of this is South Korea. The country’s economic transformation took place under an authoritarian regime, and it was only after a minimum threshold of development was achieved that the country democratised. While South Korea is widely viewed as the foremost development success story, current President Park Geun-hye went so far as to apologise during her 2012 election campaign for the substantial human rights violations of the earlier authoritarian developmental regime.

Even so, some proponents of TWP criticise the donor emphasis on democratic governance, saying that “what poor developing countries really need are leaders who … can get things done”. However, there are also plenty of examples to show why this ‘working with the grain’  approach can be problematic.

Peter Uvin’s superb book, Aiding Violence, explains how the donor community saw the Rwandan government of the 1980s and early 1990s as developmental and so continued to provide it with aid, though warning signs such as escalating racist propaganda hinted at the possibility of looming problems. Uvin describes how this aid helped the Hutu government to acquire the weapons used in the genocide of 1994.

As Duncan Green notes, a real danger with some of the approaches to TWP and ‘doing development differently’ is that “we end up helping governments that routinely kill or suppress their opponents [to] ‘deliver development’”.

We argue in our new paper that it is important to acknowledge the dilemma donors face when giving aid to developmental states. We have developed a framework that shows how the “donor’s dilemma” is, in fact, three distinct dilemmas of complicity, double effect, and dirty hands.

In complicity dilemmas, an agent sets out to achieve a desired outcome but others do wrong while progress towards that outcome is underway. To avoid complicity, the agent would have to withdraw and sacrifice the positive effect of her intended actions.

The name we have given to the second type of dilemma borrows from the ethical Doctrine of Double Effect which says that sometimes it may be permissible to cause harm as a side effect – but not as a means – of bringing about a good result. We suggest that a political reading of double effect dilemmas would interpret them as cases in which the structural realities that constrain the agent create a situation in which actions towards desired effects will inevitably generate negative side-effects.

In dirty hands dilemmas, the agent acts in a way that would generate a negative effect as a means – perhaps the only means – to achieve the desired positive effect. Understood politically, dirty hands dilemmas arise where different goals – for instance, stability, fairness, justice – are in tension with each other, and some have to be sacrificed, compromised or negated to maintain others.

"Our framework suggests how to diagnose each type of dilemma and offers practical ways of addressing them [beyond] an all-or-nothing approach."

Our framework suggests how to diagnose each type and practical ways in which they can be addressed. An all-or-nothing approach to the donor’s dilemma offers only two choices; either fully endorsing financial support to a developmental regime regardless of how it behaves, or withdrawing all aid to preserve the moral integrity of the donor. Treating the donor’s dilemma as a structural problem depersonalises it, and this helps to ensure that the donor does not conflate the dilemma with the contingent leadership of the recipient state.

Correctly identifying contextual constraints and the type of dilemma also puts more choices and tools at the donor’s disposal. This in turn would make it possible for donors to build a coherent case for different responses to normatively distinct situations, and so strengthen public support for development aid.

Many donors and development organisations work in complex political realities and we need to move past a naïve belief that donors should never provide aid to non-democratic governments. Equally, it is important that we avoid the other extreme where we ignore signs of increasing repression and rights violations.

We argue that at the heart of thinking and working politically lies the ability to respond to changing circumstances and to be aware of warning signs. Further, the framework illustrates that a political approach to aid, one which is sensitive to political contexts and structural constraints, need not be normatively silent.

Image: Niels Sienaert, Flickr

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Author

Niheer Dasandi

Niheer Dasandi

Niheer is a Research Fellow with the Developmental Leadership Program, based at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on politics and development, particularly on the political economy of aid, links between inequality and poverty, the process of policy reform, and political-bureaucratic interactions.

Read more

Author

Lior Erez

Lior Erez

Lior Erez is a Teaching Associate in Ethics and World Politics at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. His research is in normative political theory, and in particular the obligations and responsibilities of states and citizens in the global political order.

Read more

Related items

Shuffling the decks: quick fixes versus long-term stability

Guest post for Development Progress on 'post-conflict' DRC

Opinion by Suda Perera22nd January 2015

How does politically informed programming shape development outcomes?

Many well-intentioned development programmes founder in the face of resistance from entrenched elites who feel threatened by a potential loss of power and resources. Resources intended for the poor and disadvantaged benefit the rich and powerful. In response, development practitioners and academics have become keenly interested in the political factors that shape development outcomes over the past ten years.

Opinion by Mark Robinson29th January 2016

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth7th April 2014

Overcoming premature evaluation

Guest post in From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th November 2016
Opinion by Suda Perera19th December 2016

DLP political settlements workshop: reflections

Serendipity, perhaps. I joined the Political Settlements Research Programme at the beginning of June; my first formal engagement was on June 17, at the Political Settlements Workshop organised by the Developmental Leadership Program. It was quite an induction day.

Opinion by Astrid Jamar22nd July 2015

The International Budget Partnership: Reflecting on two decades of campaigning for fiscal governance reform

New Year 2017 brings with it the 20th anniversary of the International Budget Partnership (IBP). Since its foundation, IBP has supported efforts around the world to make budget processes more transparent, participatory and accountable so that public resources are used to address poverty. During our milestone anniversary year, we will reflect on what we have learned and where we are headed.

Opinion by Brendan Halloran20th December 2016

Don't give up on government

The World Bank launched its flagship World Development Report (WDR) this week, which boldly redefines how governance and policy interact to yield good or bad development outcomes. People are rightly praising the report for rejecting best practicesembracing adaptation and endorsing a focus on politics.

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

Corruption: do we target the servant or the paymaster?

Guest post for The Guardian on UK aid watchdog report

Opinion by Heather Marquette5th November 2014

Fragmentation of the Thinking and Working Politically agenda: Should we worry?

Recently, I’ve read many articles and heard from many colleagues who are concerned about the apparent competition between the Doing Development Differently (DDD) network and the Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) community of practice.

Opinion by Thomas Parks29th August 2016

How can a high-growth autocracy become a democracy without derailing growth?

In a previous DLP paper and blog I asked whether governance advisors in high-growth autocracies should seek to promote democracy. The answer was complex, but one of the considerations related to the likely economic effects of the process of transition itself.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall28th September 2016

Our money, our projects: demand-driven community development through Australia's Central Land Council

We came to the DLP conference on ‘power, politics and positive deviance’ to talk about emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program. The program works to maintain Aboriginal identity, language, culture and connection to country; and to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia by improving their health, education and employment outcomes.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016

Anthropology and elites: 'Studying up', politically

Some strikingly parallel questions are being asked in my own discipline of anthropology and by those examining how donors and practitioners can think and work politically with developing communities.

Opinion by Paul Robert Gilbert10th March 2016
Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

A large oil painting hangs in the formal reception room of Myanmar’s Ministry of Mines. A powerful and confident 19th century Burmese senior civil servant shows a pot full of rubies to a covetous foreign trader. Glowing at the centre of the pot is the Padamyar Ngamauk or the ‘royal ruby’—the massive and flawless ruby that was the pride of the royal treasury.

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

When the stars align to tackle inequality: reflections on the DLP annual conference

From the Occupy Movement to Thomas Piketty to current proposals for a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, inequality has emerged as one of the most intractable challenges of our time, and everyone, from activists to academics to policymakers, is talking about it. 

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

Anticorruption posters and billboards are common sights around the world. Most anticorruption programs now include an awareness-raising element. The hope is that anticorruption messages – whether shared via posters, radio or TV, for example – will inspire citizens to refuse to pay bribes and to report any corruption they encounter.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

International donors - aiding or abetting?

In September 2012, lawyers representing an Ethiopian farmer announced that they planned to sue the UK government for its role in human rights violations in Ethiopia. The farmer, named in court papers as “Mr O”, alleged that the Ethiopian government’s “villagisation” programme had involved the forced resettlement of thousands of families including his own.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included, and how?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post is the first of a series inspired by the workshop and written by researchers, policymakers and practitioners. Here Alina Rocha Menocal discusses current research and thinking on the usefulness of a political settlements approach.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Development - getting our story straight

As a narrative specialist, I listen to the stories people tell about their work and their organisations. I help them find out whether their audiences are hearing what they want them to hear, or whether they need to tell the story differently or even find a new story to tell. And I think the development narrative is facing a big challenge just now – what we say we do often doesn’t reflect what we actually do.

Opinion by Alex Frankel20th April 2016

Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed – or attitudes?

Unsurprisingly, when people are asked about corruption, they say they are against it. But that doesn’t tell us what they really think about it, or what they do when confronted with it.   

Opinion by Nieves Zúñiga29th June 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

Guest post for From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015

From objects of care to controllers of lives: governance, development and disability inclusion

Over the past decade or so, Australia’s efforts to support disability-inclusive development have begun to move from a charity approach to a rights-based approach. We now recognise that positive changes for people with disabilities are best brought about by – oddly enough – people with disabilities.

Opinion by Luke Arnold25th May 2016

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Last week was a big one for the Australasian development community, particularly for those interested in the politics of development. The Australasian Aid Conference at the Australian National University (10-11 February) included a packed session on 'Putting political thinking into development practice'. And DLP’s Annual Conference at La Trobe University focused  on Power, Politics and Positive Deviance.

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

A few years ago I was involved in a research project that looked at state-business relations and economic growth in post-independence Africa. One of our findings was that several African states had been able to grow strongly, for 15 years or more, despite the absence of what most people would describe as ‘good governance’. In states such as Kenya, Malawi, and Côte d’Ivoire, post-independence strongmen, ‘fathers’ of their nations, had presided over strong growth by curtailing multi-party democracy, centralizing economic rents via the patronage system and carving out some space for long-term technocratic planning. We called this ‘developmental patrimonialism’. 

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Do donors have realistic expectations of their staff when it comes to 'thinking and working politically'?

Is learning to ‘think politically’ like learning a new language? 

Opinion by Heather Marquette9th June 2014
Opinion by Orlanda Ward7th March 2017

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Thinking and Working Politically presents development to us as an endeavour embedded within power structures. This is so important.

It helps us see clearly that we need to understand domestic politics to deliver development outcomes. Who are the players? Who makes decisions? Who will stand to lose from a proposal and how can they block progress?

Opinion by Sally Moyle6th August 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The political settlements framework can seem a distraction to some practitioners, many of whom have been thinking and working politically about development for a number of years. They find the term difficult to define with any precision and, in any case, quite unnecessary. In the real world, progress towards better understanding of and engagement with the political conditions which help and hinder development has been ticking along nicely, independently of the academic debates.

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Resources and reflections on gender and thinking and working politically

Next week's meeting of the Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice will focus on gender at an opportune time. It follows a spate of interesting papers, blog posts and talks about the relationship between 'thinking and working politically' and gender issues. 

Opinion by Chris Roche12th June 2015

Gender and power: six links and one big opportunity

Donors have recently made great efforts to understand power in partner countries. Yet they have largely ignored one of the most pervasive power relations – gender.

Opinion by Diana Koester21st May 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Having presented evidence to the UK's International Development Committee, what of the final report?

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

One of the most important issues facing Pacific democracies is how to realise democracy’s promise to support inclusive development. I have been struck by the many common challenges that emerging democracies face, regardless of region, as outlined in Alina Rocha Menocal’s discussion on the complex relationship between democracy, state-building and development. However, I think her insights also bring to the fore some of the unique problems that the Pacific region faces.

Opinion by Julien Barbara8th July 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal29th March 2016

Uncounted: has the post-2015 data revolution failed already?

Counting matters. As the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report puts it: What we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted…. [I]f metrics of performance are flawed, so too may be inferences we draw.

Opinion by Alex Cobham12th May 2015

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre / DLP paper 

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

A couple of years ago, Cote d’Ivoire’s government erected striking black and orange billboards around Abidjan that carried messages like “It destroyed my region” and “It killed my son”

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

Innovation has become a popular word in international development. In Australia today, Bjorn Lomborg helped to formally open DFAT’s development innovation hub innovationXchange, which is designed to ‘identify, trial and scale up successful approaches’. Other donors, including the US and the UK, are also promoting innovation through initiatives like the Development Innovation Ventures programme.

Opinion by Chris Roche23rd March 2015

'Sticky’ change: What international development can learn from adaptive management

One of the most significant failings of international political assistance has been the tendency to focus too much on institutional structure and process, and not enough on culture and behaviour.

Opinion by Greg Power2nd December 2016
Opinion by Heather Marquette10th November 2014

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014

Where do inclusive institutions come from? Lessons from Asia

Inclusion is the new buzzword in international development. The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals are perhaps the most ambitious articulation of this consensus, with Goal 16 in particular calling for building more ‘effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal27th February 2017

From functional governance to sustainable peace: Making the space to reflect, learn and adapt

Last month, UNDP co-hosted a Global Meeting in Jordan on supporting core government functions in fragile and conflict-affected settings. It brought together over 60 colleagues and practitioners from the UN system, World Bank, donors, and government representatives from around the world.

Opinion by Aditi Haté 22nd February 2017

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

We tend to look through the political settlements lens only at places experiencing either conflict or deep poverty – or both. Yet we would know much more about how useful the lens is if we examined more successes with it. Areas of stability and calm, especially in regions where near neighbours seem to be struggling to resolve strife, might teach us something about how historical experiences do or don’t chime with contemporary donor practices.

Opinion by Sarah Phillips20th July 2015

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Guest post for the World Bank

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Development cooperation and fighting corruption: thinking differently

Everyone associates Brazil with football and the World Cup. Brazilians pouring out onto the street last summer to protest the competition being hosted in their country was last thing many of us expected to see.

Opinion by Heather Marquette24th June 2015

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

The Developmental Leadership Program will host its 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne on 8 February. Its theme is ‘Power, Politics and Positive Deviance’.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

How quality secondary and higher education can improve national leadership: lessons from Ghana

International leaders and experts have just gathered at the Global Education and Skills Forum to try to defuse the 'ticking time-bomb' of 57 million children not in primary school. But is this focus on the education crisis at primary level too narrow? Amir Jones reflects on new DLP research into education and developmental leadership in Ghana.

Opinion by Amir Jones25th March 2014
Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

Different development: walk the talk

Spent the day at a ‘Doing Development Differently’ event recently and, while it offered a great opportunity to meet and hear from fascinating, dedicated, thoughtful people, I came away somewhat disheartened. Why? Because:

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher14th April 2015

Gender analysis, and thinking and working politically – bridging the gap

Guest post on Devpolicy  introducing panels at this week's Australasian Aid Conference

Opinion by Chris Roche14th February 2017

The curious case of Indian autocracy and what it tells us about 'thinking and working politically'

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s declaration of a national emergency in India, which led to an 18-month period of autocracy. Civil rights were suspended, political opponents and journalists were arrested without the right to trial, censorship was imposed, elections were cancelled, non-Congress state governments were dismissed, the constitution changed.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi25th June 2015

Being 'there': reflections on fieldwork in the DRC

Fieldwork in fragile places part 1: the security dilemma

Opinion by Suda Perera5th November 2014

The practicalities of change - positive deviance and land reform in Vanuatu

This guest post by Anna Naupa draws on her Adrian Leftwich Memorial Lecture, presented at the DLP Annual Conference 2016: Power, Politics and Positive Deviance. It is the perspective of Anna Naupa and not that of any organisation with which she is, or has been, affiliated.

Opinion by Anna Naupa13th April 2016

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

When your office is in Jakarta, you get a lot of time to day-dream in taxis while going from hotel to office and back again. I am just back from a couple of weeks working there and I marvelled at the traffic, the tech-savvy population and the profusion of swanky hotels. On one long journey I got to musing about the challenges facing Indonesia’s efforts to shift itself upwards in the World Bank’s country classification database.

Opinion by Graham Teskey17th July 2015

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014