Position Paper: Aid, Governance and Fragility

UNU-WIDER / March 2014

Governance, or the exercise and organization of political power to manage a country’s affairs, has become a major concern for both donors and aid recipient countries since the late 1980s. Good governance in particular, which refers to efficient and transparent public sectors, stable and effective institutions, and support for citizen engagement and participation in political processes, is widely seen as an important objective in and of itself, as well as a critical influence on economic development. Relatedly, very poor quality governance is one of the defining characteristics of state fragility, and social unrest and violence may both exacerbate and be caused by weak institutions. Given that 1.5 billion people live in fragile states, fragility clearly affects a large share of the world’s population.

© UN Photo/Hien MaclineThe commitment by donors to promoting good governance and addressing state fragility was reaffirmed at the 2011 Busan High Level Forum, which emphasized, among other things, ‘Strengthening of the role of parliaments and local governments (point 21)’ and ‘Support for civil society organizations (point 22).’ The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, which was also announced at Busan, elaborated broad principles for donor engagement in fragile contexts (see, e.g., Naude 2012; Nussbaum, Zorbas, and Koros 2012).2 In addition to commitments to economic development and humanitarianism, donor countries’ policies thus far towards fragile states have been guided by national security strategies given concerns over the relationship between weak states and terrorism, particularly since September 11th. Increasingly, the donor community has further highlighted the importance of ‘whole of government’ approaches to addressing governance and fragility challenges (Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) forthcoming; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2006).

Yet, the exact relationship between governance and development, as well as between fragility, conflict, and ‘good’ governance, is subject to considerable debate (see, e.g., Addison 2003; Anten, Briscoe, and Mezzera 2012; World Bank 2011b). One of the challenges to cumulating knowledge in this area is the considerable confusion in the literature over basic issues of definition and measurement, as well as causality (see, e.g., Andrews 2008; Engberg-Pedersen, Andersen, and Stepputat 2008; Hagmann and Hoehne 2009; Keefer 2009; Weiss 2000). This conceptual confusion poses significant problems because donors have varying ideas not only about how best to design and implement reforms, but also about what constitutes success, as discussed further below. Focusing on this conceptual ambiguity, Gisselquist (2012) argues that future research should focus more on disaggregated analysis of various components of governance, rather than on ‘good governance’ as a whole. This position paper therefore disaggregates interventions in the domains of governance and fragility. It begins with a brief discussion of economic governance and public sector management, drawing on the considerable work that has already been done in this area. This discussion highlights three key areas in which major work remains to be done: taxation, regulation, and public sector management. It then focuses on key issues of political governance and fragility: democracy assistance, human rights, the rule of law, and fragility.

© UN Photo/Tim McKulka

The position paper first briefly discusses two preliminary considerations central to the task at hand, (1) the methodological and conceptual challenges in identifying and assessing successful interventions and (2) the challenges of taking context into account in addressing questions of transferability and scalability. Next, it turns to issues of economic governance and public sector management. It then examines the area of democracy assistance. Where applicable, we highlight where donor-funded projects could be transferred to post-conflict states. Next, we respectively examine various donor interventions to support human rights and the rule of law. This is followed by a discussion of approaches to support state-building in fragile contexts. We conclude with a summary of our findings on political governance and highlight broader lessons for development assistance in the area of governance and fragility.

This paper has been prepared as part of a series of ‘position papers’ developed under UNU-WIDER’s ReCom programme.3 Like each of the position papers, this paper speaks to vast topics and diverse bodies of research. It is not intended to be a systematic review or summary of all of the major topics in these large literatures – such an undertaking could occupy multiple articles and books – but rather a relatively brief expert guide on key issues for donors to pay attention to in this area, based on our research and assessment. It builds on the extant literature and draws in particular on some 80 papers and studies on Governance and Fragility prepared for ReCom by members of UNU-WIDER’s global network and 10 papers prepared by DIIS, many of which are cited and summarized directly in the text below.

Please find the full position paper in the pdf file below