The challenge of supporting democratization

In Metroland, by Julian Barnes, Barnes mentions how there’s a reason why autocratic dictators banned books. Books contain ideas, and absolute power is threatened by ideas.

Money can be a precursor to ideas because money provides resources and opportunities. Take this graph below (Dupuy, 2016) for example, it depicts the rise of governments’ restriction on foreign aid flows to domestic NGO’s:

Hands Off My Regime Governments’ Restrictions on Foreign Aid to Non Governmental Organizations in Poor and Middle Income Countries

Civil society organisations that receive external funding can eventually develop into threatening dictatorial power (Dupuy et al). Zimbabwe, for example, restricts foreign funding being used on voter education. What’s the point in having elections?

I agree with Powers’ (2015) observation that it’s what happens between elections that strengthens the political process.

In an earlier post I wrote that parliamentary and electoral assistance was a good thing for development practitioners to be involved in. I don’t think this is the case anymore.

In Power’s article he discusses what I’d suspected, politics is a necessary component to development and long neglected. In the first seminar we were asked why politics was important and why it’s been neglected. I’d thought then that it was too complicated but I hadn’t really articled how complicated. I know now that it’s difficult not least because of the conflicting interests involved and governmens can’t get too involved because you don’t want to appear to be taking sides.

I enjoyed Power’s article and I found that he expressed many of the feelings I now harbour for how political development is conducted. He cites how in novel democracies it’s commonplace for parliaments to radically alter their make-up, with a great number of parliamentary candidates each with their own beliefs of how things should look. He also refers to traditional ways of measuring progress such as through logframes as redundant by way of comparison to the kaleidoscopic reality.

There isn’t one formula for democratisation. You can’t always rely on those at the top wanting to devolve their power, and social movements – the bottom-up- have the potential to facilitate free-riders into the vacuum of power that emerges post-revolution which may leave things worse off. Outside intervention doesn’t always facilitate much change and the risk is always reversing progress. The rules of the game are different wherever you go (as mentioned earlier, Zimbabwe doesn’t allow for electoral education because it contravenes the rules) and I think if you want change you need to understand the rules and politics dictates those rules.

Dupuy, K., J. Ron, and A. Prakash. (2016). Hands Off My Regime! Governments’ Restrictions on Foreign Aid to Non-Governmental Organizations in Poor and Middle-Income Countries. World Development 84 (August 2016): 299–311. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

Power, G. (2015). The Politics of Parliamentary Strengthening. The Political Quarterly 86(3): 434–39. (Links to an external site.)

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