DSA2016: Politics in Development
- Matthew Willner-Reid (University of Oxford) email
- Nematullah Bizhan (University of Oxford) email
- Jasmine Bhatia (Oxford) email
Development policy in Afghanistan is created within a highly politicized context and is largely the result of negotiating games between various international and domestic actors. This panel aims to explore these dynamics that are at the intersection between power, politics and development.
In few countries in the world are politics and development as closely intertwined as in Afghanistan. For understandable reasons commentary on development in Afghanistan has tended to focus on the ongoing conflict (for instance in terms of the militarization of aid policy), yet beneath the surface of the state-building enterprise lie myriad power struggles that are much less often the focus of academic study. Within a lively 'aid marketplace' government ministries, UN agencies, NGOs and private companies jostle for funding, control, prestige and influence. Donors and central government are engaged in ongoing negotiation regarding the conditionality and alignment of aid in which issues of trust, capacity and vested interests play central roles. The balance of power between the governmental centre and periphery continues to be hotly debated, often from a technical perspective that downplays or obscures the central importance of politics. Debates about how to define, prioritise and address critical needs, and to measure the success or failure of development initiatives, are all strongly contested and influenced to greater or lesser degrees by organizational interests.
Afghanistan therefore offers an interesting case study in which to examine multiple intersections of politics and development from inter-disciplinary perspectives. The panel aims to bring together both practitioners and academics with relevant experience of Afghanistan to explore various dimensions of development policy. In particular it will focus on power struggles between the various state and non-state development-oriented actors, the processes through which such conflicts are resolved, and the resulting impact on Afghan development policy.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Institutional design, neopatrimonialism, and the politics of aid in Afghanistan
The politics of aid in Afghanistan since 2001 has been fundamentally shaped by the character of the political system put in place by the December 2001 Bonn Agreement. A crucial lesson from the Afghan case is that where institutional design is concerned, one has typically only one chance to get things right.
The politics of aid in Afghanistan since 2001 has been fundamentally shaped by the character of the political system put in place by the December 2001 Bonn Agreement. A crucial lesson from the Afghan case is that where institutional design is concerned, one has typically only one chance to get things right. Once new institutions are in place, actors will likely emerge with strong interests in preserving them as the status quo, even if the institutions prove to have severely adverse effects on the wellbeing of significant constituencies within a society. Specifically, the Bonn Agreement, while admirable in many respects, left unaddressed key questions relating to the scope and strength of the state, and instead set the scene for the emergence of a neopatrimonial system of entwined bureaucracy and patronage, with the president distributing public offices as a manipulative strategy. Furthermore, low levels of civic trust meant that nepotism was in any case likely, and large inflows of aid provided the fuel for corruption on the part of those holding state offices as positional goods. These outcomes should not be seen as reflecting moral failings on the part of Afghan actors, but rather as rational responses to incentive structures with unforeseen consequences. Winding back from this unfortunate situation is no easy task, and as yet there is little evidence that either the National Unity Government in Afghanistan, or donors in the wider world, have credible solutions to offer. This presentation concludes with some reflections on what might usefully be attempted.
Aiding State Building: Afghanistan after 9/11
Post-2001 aid dependency largely shaped the characteristics of the Afghan state. Aid dependency and the nature of such dependency, however, reinforced the building of a transitional, yet fragmented, aid-based rentier state.
Post-2001 aid dependency largely shaped the characteristics of the Afghan state. Between 2002 and 2009, foreign aid on average comprised about 71 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and financed more than 90 per cent of public expenditure through the government budget (on-budget) and outside the government budget and national systems (off-budget). Four-fifths of the expenditure, however, bypassed the Afghan state through off-budget mechanisms.
The absence of a balance between short and long-term objectives and the flow of more than four-fifths of the total aid off-budget undermined the development of an effective state. Aid thus produced paradoxical institutional outcomes, with the state remaining weak and fiscally unsustainable.
The unintended consequences of post-2001 developments and aid dependency included duplication in the government institutions, the reinforcement of the politics of patronage, creation of an off-budget aid-induced parallel public sector, and deficit in aid coordination. This situation prompted the government to concentrate its political and administrative efforts on improving government-donor relationships. While this approach by the government was necessary to attract aid to sustain its activities, it along with the politics of patronage made it unable to overcome domestic problems and to foster government accountability to its citizens.
Mercenaries, missionaries and misfits: competition in the aid marketplace in Afghanistan
The prioritization of humanitarian need has important implications for resource allocation but as it is always presented externally as a technocratic process conducted by disinterested and altruistic actors the power dynamics involved are obscured and have thus largely avoided academic scrutiny.
This paper explores, from an inter-disciplinary perspective, the dynamics of competition that are inherent to the 'aid marketplace' in Afghanistan. It argues that actors within the marketplace are neither solely self-interested power maximisers, nor wholly altruistic actors, but rather seek to balance both rational agendas (maximizing financial and social capital) and normative agendas (aid goals specific to their organization or sector). They do this within an incentive structure that encourages a focus on narrowly defined, or process-related, objectives, which in turn leads to fragmentation and undermines collective action goals.
Further, the paper argues that while the marketplace is generally perceived of as hierarchical, with power concentrated at the top, the ability to exert influence is in fact more diffuse than imagined. This is particularly the case in regards to 'first tier' partners in the aid chain (Afghan government and UN). Multiple dynamics (such as co-dependence to achieve objectives, sensitivity to lobby pressure, bureaucratic inertia, and lack of coordination) weaken donor control over the marketplace, but information asymmetries play a particularly crucial role.
Due to imperfect information at the donor level, certain actors (e.g. UN agencies) or processes (e.g. the cluster system) are delegated authority to define and prioritise humanitarian need in particular sectors. This is done in a way that is presented externally as technocratic and disinterested but which conceals inevitable competition between different interests (both rational and normative) that seek to influence the resulting discourse. This paper seeks to shed a light on these dynamics.
Conditions for international legitimacy in indigenous policy processes: comparing Afghanistan's provincial budgeting policy and sub-national governance policy
A comparison of donors’ role in the formulation and implementation of Afghanistan’s Provincial Budgeting Policy and the country’s Sub-National Governance Policy informs a theoretically and empirically driven derivation of thresholds for international legitimacy in indigenous policy processes.
The paper examines the conditions under which foreign aid agencies can legitimately contribute to host country policy processes in the context of persistent fragility. Grounded in interdisciplinary theory borrowing from organizational sociology, political theory and management sciences, and driven by recent research in Afghanistan, the paper puts forward three hypotheses. First, alignment between foreign aid agencies' and host country political entities' priorities and preferred modalities is coincidental and does not indicate an alignment of underlying interests. Second, host country policy ownership arises only where policy agendas emanate from indigenous politics. Third, foreign aid agencies can be legitimate contributors to indigenous policy processes if both the organization of national policy deliberation and the content deliberated upon are reflective of the host country's de jure institutional framework. Structured by these propositions, the paper presents a comparative analysis of two components of an ongoing program implemented by a bilateral development agency. This program has served to capacitate sub-national governance by supporting the formulation and implementation of two policies: Afghanistan's Provincial Budgeting Policy and its Sub-National Governance Policy. Treating the political setting for this program as a least-likely case, the paper empirically establishes thresholds for international legitimacy in indigenous policy processes. For donors, the paper's findings delineate the conditions necessary for striking a workable balance between self-interested objectives and host country priorities. For host country governments, the paper provides guidance on how to manage relationships with external donors in ways that do not jeopardize the legitimacy of national governance processes and results over time.
Village level politics and the national solidarity programme in Afghanistan
The paper will explore the variability in village behaviour as reflected in the interests and actions of elite and customary authority, and their intersection with the logic of Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme
Much of the commentary on politics and development in Afghanistan has focused at national and provincial level. Less attention has been given to the micro-politics of the village where development practice has played out.
Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme has been rolled out over three phases to cover around NSP 36,100 designated communities (MRRD, 2015). The core of this community development exercise (a total budget of US$2.7 billion over its three phases) and a flagship programme of the MRRD has been a block grant and the formation of Community Development Councils (CDCs). The broad objectives of the programme has been to 'build, strengthen, and maintain CDCs as effective institutions for local governance and social-economic development' (MRRD, 2015:12). Broad claims have been made for the role of NSP including that 'community-driven development strengthens state-society relations in Afghanistan' (World Bank, 2011:133).
Drawing on a study of village context seeking to understand the variability in the relations of responsibility and accountability that exist between customary village leadership, village elites and other households, the paper will investigate the position of 'the village' in the wider network of relationships that exist between the village and authorities and power holders at district and provincial level. Findings on the variability in elite behaviour and in village levels outcomes and on diverse processes of 'bricolage' between the NSP intervention and customary practices raises challenging questions for NSP's ambitions.
Structural Violence in Afghanistan: Evidence from Herat and Kandahar
Despite 15 years of investment in Afghanistan, food security and poverty have worsened. This paper explores possibilities behind that decline, with a central focus on structural violence.
This report offers an examination of the causes behind Afghanistan's limited improvements in poverty rates, food security, and access to services. It does so by exploring the livelihood trajectories of seventy two households in five villages in Herat and Kandahar between 2002-03 and 2014-15.
This research shows the majority of households have experienced worsened poverty, while seeing an improvement in access to public services. In both study sites land ownership is segregated - in areas that land ownership is highly unequal, the land rich often comprise the local elites. They frequently have links to provincial level powerbrokers, make decisions on local development, and importantly, hold dominion over on-farm work opportunities in the village, which creates conditions for structural violence.
The politics of the labour market in Afghanistan
The paper will explore the behaviour and structuring of actual commodity and labour markets in Afghanistan, their interlinkage with the political market place and the disjuncture of actual practice with donor technocratic efforts to address employment creation.
Jobs and employment creation in Afghanistan have not been high on the reconstruction agenda and when addressed has been loaded with peace building aspirations, concerns to reduce the outflow of migrants and assumptions of agricultural led growth. The approach has been largely technical and input driven in an economy that is subject to diverse forms of social regulation. The upper reaches of the economic market place are closely intertwined with the political one and rent seeking practices limit access and returns in order to consolidate power for its key actors. In its lower reaches aspects of geography, identity and gender regulate access and returns. The one economic activity that generated income and employment was the opium poppy economy but this represented a form of economic disobedience which the international donor community found difficult to tolerate and incapable of regulating.
Drawing on four detailed case studies on commodity and labour markets (on onions, urban street vendors, saffron and rural labour markets) the paper will explore the dynamics of control, regulation and returns in the lower reaches of Afghanistan's economic life and its disjuncture with donors models. In an absence of an environment of generalised trust, networks of personalised social relationships regulate access and returns to work underpinned by a strong distributional economy and mutual need given the absence of employment opportunities.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.