The donor's dilemma and the political effects of aid

This research project looks at the implications of the unintended political effects of development aid. It focuses on how donors should respond to rights abuses committed by governments they provide development assistance to. Giving aid to governments that are committed to achieving development seems desirable, yet such assistance can also be seen as condoning or even supporting rights violations committed by non-democratic regimes. 

Our first paper develops a framework for understanding the different contexts that donors are faced with and how they should respond. It suggests that there are three types of ‘donor’s dilemma’: 

  • a complicity dilemma, when an agent acts to achieve a desired outcome but others do wrong while progress towards that outcome is underway;
  • a double effect dilemma, when the agent’s pursuit of the desired effect has foreseeable side effects which, in most other contexts, would constitute a wrong;
  • a dirty hands dilemma, when 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. 

A politically realistic approach to these conundrums, sensitive to context and political complexity, need not be normatively silent. Rather, it is important for donors to be able to acknowledge that they face a dilemma, to recognise which kind of dilemma it is, and to work towards transitioning away from the context generating it. By explicitly acknowledging and addressing these dilemmas, donors could make the case for responding differently to normatively distinct situations, strengthening the public legitimacy of development aid.

The research will be developed by looking at empirical cases in more detail, and by considering donors’ existing responses to the unintended political effects of aid. 

Researchers: Niheer Dasandi (DLP) and Lior Erez (University of Cambridge)

Related blogs:

 

Image: Kyle Pearce/Flickr.

Related items

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

The unintended consequences of raising awareness of corruption

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer 12th August 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 24th November 2014
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 26th April 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 29th March 2016

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

Given the fascination with 'innovation' in the field of development, it's time to discuss what the word might mean.

Opinion by Chris Roche 23rd March 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania 21st July 2014
Opinion by Heather Marquette 9th March 2015

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Why bring gender into Thinking and Working Politically?

Opinion by Sally Moyle 6th August 2015

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The 'donor's dilemma' is discussed in a new DLP paper.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi 10th September 2015

Being 'there': reflections on fieldwork in the DRC

Fieldwork in fragile places part 1: the security dilemma

Opinion by Suda Perera 5th November 2014

Corruption: do we target the servant or the paymaster?

Guest post for The Guardian on UK aid watchdog report

Opinion by Heather Marquette 5th November 2014
Opinion by Heather Marquette 10th November 2014

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

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

Opinion by Tam O'Neil 9th February 2015
Opinion by Dan Hymowitz 3rd February 2017

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

The value of the political settlements framework

Opinion by Edward Laws 15th July 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

Guest post for From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche 15th April 2015

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

'Power, politics and positive deviance' is the theme of DLP's 2016 annual conference.

Opinion by Chris Roche 1st December 2015

Overcoming premature evaluation

Guest post in From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche 15th November 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 Marquette 9th June 2014

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 Roche 14th February 2017

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from two conferences

Opinion by Chris Roche 19th February 2016

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall 27th November 2014

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

News

'How Change Happens': Birmingham seminar with Duncan Green

Monday 9th January 2017

What works in achieving progressive change? How do power and systems shape change, and how can you influence them? Join Oxfam's Duncan Green on Thursday 19 January to discuss the themes of his new book 'How Change Happens'. The presentation will be followed by a drinks reception and book signing.

Read more

Islands of integrity: funding award for DLP corruption research

Friday 2nd December 2016

DLP research on how to effectively fight corruption has won funding from the British Academy's Sustainable Development Programme, part of the UK government's Global Challenges Research Fund.

Read more

Follow: @dlprog