A matter of long-term commitment

Development Policy04 Feb 2008Leo de Haan

Let me start by acknowledging the perfect timing of this evaluation. Development strategies on Africa are currently deadlocked, while the continent is changing rapidly. Moreover, this evaluation is a kind of meta-study, making use of information from previous evaluations and new data at the same time. Such an approach should be encouraged in future evaluations whenever possible.

1. At first sight, Dutch development policies in Africa in the recent past seem not to have been very coherent, not least because they are less driven by objective needs in Africa but by African needs perceived from a Dutch political context in which each new minister is forced to leave her/his own mark. Politics in the Netherlands matter more than Africa matters. Against this backdrop, it is surprising that the study can point to some – admittedly modest – successes, for example in education and health. A partial explanation of this discrepancy was given during discussions surrounding the commemoration in 2007 of 50 years of Dutch development cooperation: while above deck (bovendeks) the captain may wish to change course, below deck (benedendeks) the bureaucracy holds a steady course. Dutch development policies have indeed held a steady course for decades. Without mentioning it explicitly, the IOB evaluation clearly confirms that Dutch development policies complied with the Washington Consensus. It took leave of the developmental state in Africa as it emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. That state was discarded as ineffective and inefficient because it was stranded in corruption, patronage and clientelism. All the development interventions the IOB is evaluating are oriented towards the formation of a slimmed-down night-watchman state, the reinforcement of civil society and the functioning of economic markets. The state has had to become accountable and deal with donor funds efficiently as aid was shifted from projects and programmes to budget support.But donor funds turned out to be an important – sometimes the most important – fuel that was, in fact, keeping the patronage system going. This is the principal reason why the ‘neo-patrimonial state’ has become such an important issue. To get out of the driver’s seat, donors needed accountable and efficient states that would do on their own what the donors wanted them to do anyway. But most African states are considered to be neo-patrimonial and were thought to be doing different things with donor funds than the donors themselves wanted. The IOB evaluation makes it clear that Dutch development policies with respect to Africa mesh perfectly with the neo-liberal premises on the African state. It is high time they were adjusted. What is needed is a reconsideration of the points of departure of the role of the state in Africa in the development process. That role can no longer be limited to security, social services and enabling the functioning of economic markets. The African state should again take on a leading role in productive sectors, not least with an eye to Africa’s position in global markets.2. This perspective of a revaluation of the developmental role of the African state should also be prominent in policies with regard to so-called fragile states, because if the long-term perspective is not clear, unfeasible neoliberal premises will remain. However, fragile states are said to have only a limited institutional capacity to absorb aid effectively. The risk is high that the money will end up running the patronage system. Only by ring-fenced, long-term investments in human capital (McGillivray) and aid through civil society and the private sector will the capacity to absorb aid gradually increase. The (fragile) state itself cannot be trusted, but the state can never be left out.Donor money may fuel the patronage system, but ‘no money’ weakens the position of the elites and increases political instability. This is not to say that corruption should be taken for granted. It simply means that it would be much more helpful to look into local perceptions of legitimizing and representation. How do citizens view the state? What do they expect from it? What should it deliver to be recognized as legitimate by its citizenry? Rethinking processes of legitimizing and representation in African states and local concepts of accountability are necessary. Then it will become clear that corruption cannot be dealt with as a one-dimensional issue. What will also become clear then is that democratization, reinforcing political parties, elections, etc., are just a few ways of styling processes of legitimization and representation. What is more important is political inclusiveness and there are other ways of accomplishing it. ‘Development cooperation is politics,’ said Bert Koenders. Setting aside the fact that poverty alleviation thus has to attack the pillars of power inequalities and put political capabilities to the fore, it means that even in fragile states, development cooperation cannot escape engaging in political coalitions.

3. One should, of course, be aware that one-size-fits-all solutions are questionable because every state, fragile or not, is the result of a unique articulation of internal and external processes. To achieve this, we need searchers more than planners (William Easterly). But searchers are supposed to work ‘in the field’, and this is a weakness in current development cooperation. Budget support chased development workers from the field and into the embassies and offices in the capital cities. Few really know what is going on in the country, and the security situation in some African countries is not encouraging either.

4. Engaging with fragile states to restore stability and security and start reconstruction shows political courage. But if this is justified by a moral obligation based on values of democracy and freedom, then political pitfalls are always close. Morality easily becomes detached from reality in fragile states. Nowhere else is the gap between objective and result stated in these terms more difficult to achieve. It would be wise to keep expectations to a minimum. Engaging with fragile states is, more than elsewhere, an innovative process which is pragmatic rather than moralistic, and sometimes not even primarily directed at conflict resolution and security. It is, beyond any doubt, a matter of long-term commitment.