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Donor principles

A role for regional institutions

Good governance cannot be imposed by external agencies, but must arise from a government’s will to reform, concludes Franz Nuscheler in a new study.

The assumption that good economic performance was proof of good governance was propagated in the early months of the Bush administration. Development aid became conditioned upon the rule of law, free markets and investment in education and health care – leaving “bad perfomers” and collapsed states, such as Somalia, to fend for themselves. These countries only gained attention again after the events of 9/11 2001. They are now regarded as breeding grounds for terrorism. The promotion of good governance has come to be considered a matter of human security.

The belief that economic and political stability are interdependent proved wrong. Kenya, for instance, slipped back into political instability in spite of strong economic performance. As the Kenyan economist James Shikwati points out, providing aid to authoritarian government apparatuses may actually have adverse effects on development.

Good governance is variously defined by aid organisations and other sources. The term normally relates to policies and practices concerning human rights, the rule of law, transparency, administrative efficiency, accountability to the people and their level of participation in decision-making. An underlying risk of rankings, however, is that they tend to foster an unthinking distinction between good and bad performers.
As Franz Nuscheler, the political scientist, elaborates in a recent study, the term “good governance” was first used by the World Bank in reference to a “crisis of governance” in sub-Saharan Africa that hindered economic development. Critics of the good-governance notion point out that it lifts a great deal of blame off donors’ shoulders, as the causes of failure are believed to lie in the developing countries themselves.

The UNDP took up the good-governance agenda, making it a core aspect of the Millenium Development Goals. Donors have made reforms towards good governance a condition for aid. North America and Western Europe served as model cases of governance, but reports of blatant torture by US soldiers sharpened doubts on the validity of the theory.
Nuscheler nevertheless contends that good governance is a worthy cause. He is in favour of promoting human rights, the rule of law and transparency of government actions. However, he argues that the right way to do so is through regional institutions and procedures, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). According to Nuscheler, the best way for donors to promote good governance in specific programmes is support to civil-society groups and the media, enabling them to serve as watchdogs.

The noted scholar urges donor countries to focus less on geostrategic and commodity interests. He also states that reforming discriminatory international trade rules and changing consumer habits in donor countries would contribute to true economic development in poor countries.
Sella Oneko