Promoting Democracy?

Comments provided to the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, 10th July 2013 as part of their inquiry into Democracy and Development

1. Democracy matters for development. Democracy may not be necessary for economic growth – Rwanda and Ethiopia are perhaps the most prominent examples of African countries that are witnessing impressive economic growth, with what, by any measure, amount to only partial democracies. Indeed the causal arrow may well run the other way, with democracy a result rather than a cause of economic growth. But for development that is sustainable, equitable and inclusive, citizen participation and effective political representation would seem to be essential.

2. “The West” should be modest and cautious in promoting democracy. External players should recognise that in Africa as elsewhere, domestic dynamics are the primary driver of political change. They also need to acknowledge that the political systems that they favour in their own contexts are unlikely to work effectively in different contexts – one-size will not fit all. And they should be mindful of the patchy success of programmes focused on strengthening parliaments and political parties rather than the wider accountability ecosystems – including civil society and the media – of which they are part. “The West” must also accept that democracy will sometimes deliver outcomes that they are uncomfortable with and must be mindful on questions of legitimacy.

3. “The West” should nevertheless consider its impacts. Promoting democracy and exporting specific models of democracy is problematic. And the scope for shaping domestic political dynamics is limited. But, as money, ideas, goods and people cross borders, external players can and inevitably do have an impact and can play an important role in supporting reformers or helping to protect and create the space for reform. In terms of aid, donors need to remember that all aid has political impacts, even when it is not used explicitly to encourage political change. “The West” must also give attention to the impacts of its non-aid policies as it thinks about whether and how to nurture development in Africa. External players – while maintaining realistic and respectful ambitions – must be mindful of the impact of their actions and inactions.

4. Donors should be realistic and cautious on conditionality. Donors have a long and chequered history of attaching conditions to aid. Such efforts have rarely succeeded in influencing governments who have no interest in democratisation or better governance and can undermine the country ownership that is fundamental to aid effectiveness. The availability of non-western sources of finance and the fact that aid is for many countries a diminishing slice of the pie, should give further pause for thought.

5. However, donors may wish to attach conditions because they, or taxpayers with concerns about aid being wasted, feel it is fundamentally wrong to provide funds to a country or government if particular conditions – on human rights, for instance – are not met. If donors do attach conditions – and many will and do – they should make sure that such conditions: i) are transparent, adapted to country context and based on country-level dialogue; ii) include both minimum standards and a graduated approach to promote improvements; and iii) are part of a package aimed at promoting greater reform.

6. The transparency agenda may hold more promise. Putting our own house in order is the best thing that “the West” can do in terms of promoting better governance in African countries. This should include making aid transparent (reporting information about aid flows is reported in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative), making the extractives industry more transparency (e.g. requiring extractives companies publish what they pay to African governments to exploit their resources), tackling Phantom Firms (ensuring that information about who owns and controls companies and trusts is publicly available) and tax transparency (ensuring that tax authorities automatically share information). The G8 Summit made very good progress on these issues.

7. However, the ability of external players to promote transparency and better governance in developing countries is limited. There are no silver bullets. But taking a more micro focus on transparency and accountability in relation to particular sectors, empowering people with information to better see and collaboratively solve problems in ways that work in specific contexts, offers more promise – perhaps supported by innovative mechanisms for accountability and incentivising better service delivery (cash-on-delivery aid; social impact bonds). In this way external players can encourage experimentation, feedback and learning, responding positively and constructively to citizens’ demands for greater transparency, openness and more effective governance.

8. The Open Government Partnership and the Post-2015 process are key opportunities. The development debate in the UK remains dominated by discussions about aid. Too much so. There is value in considering whether and how aid can be used to promote better governance in Africa. Sometimes, in some contexts, done right, it can. In others, while there is no doubt that aid provides an indispensable and effective means of supporting the delivery of essential services, it risks undermining domestic accountability and exacerbating governance problems.

9. Looking beyond aid, there are two key opportunities for the UK, acting at the international level, to promote more effective governance. First, the Open Government Partnership. This forum with 60 countries signed up, including a growing number from Africa, provides an excellent forum for joint learning (in all directions) and action to improve governance and promote prosperity in Africa and across the world. The UK should do what it can to ensure that the OGP builds on the transparency wins secured at the G8. Second, the post-2015 process. Here too, the UK should continue to use its influence to make sure that governance – and specifically transparency and accountability – are central to the post-2015 development framework.

Recommended Reading

Matt Andrews (2013) – The limits of institutional reform in development (book review by Alan Hudson)

Owen Barder (2012) – Development and complexity

Hilary Benn, Sec. of State for International Development (2006) – Making politics work for the poor: Democracy and development

David Booth (2011) – Aid effectiveness and country ownership, bringing politics back in.

Thomas Carothers (2013) Politically smart aid? Of course! Political aid? Not so sure!

DFID (2011) – Implementing DFID’s strengthened approach to budget support

Marta Foresti (2012) – Human rights as conditions for aid: How long is a piece of string?

Alan Hudson (2009) – Aid and domestic accountability

Alan Hudson (2012) – The Golden Thread development narrative: What’s hot, what’s not and how it can be improved.

Alina Rocha Menocal (2007) Analysing the relationship between democracy and development.

Richard Youngs (2010) The end of democratic conditionality. Good riddance?

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