pdf The Politics of Poverty: Elites, Citizens and States

Title: The Politics of Poverty: Elites, Citizens and States
Author: DFID Research and Evidence Division
Institution: Department for International Development
Publication Date: 2010
Keywords: Political Settlement, Governance


This paper looks at the importance of understanding political dynamics in order to ensure development can happen.  Based on evidence and research carried out from 2001-2010, the paper explores the importance of constructing interventions based on understanding the local and national contexts and the challenges donors face as a consequence.  There is a focus on the difficulties within fragile and failed states and on the importance of understanding the incentive structures of key interlocutors.

Key Issues:

The paper's focus is on the key political considerations needing to be borne in mind when designing development policy in fragile states.  It recognises projects should not be seen in a vacuum and for a governance programme in particular to be effective the wider political landscape needs to be understood.  There are useful case studies of projects in a variety of countries, which help put the findings of the research in context.

The paper looks at the incentive structures affecting key decision-makers in a country and the role of informal institutions in a society.  It gives insight into DFID's concept of a fragile state and the need to focus on horizontal as well as vertical inequalities (that is, differences within groups as well as between them).  It provides an interesting commentary on the difficulties measuring effect through established indicators for governance - as many are inherently flawed particularly when measuring fragility in a state.  The paper provides a brief introduction to academic debate regarding the ‘greed and grievance theory’ around the incentives for violence.

The role of the citizen in fragile states and the issues that need to be considered in relation to citizen participation when creating a governance project are covered, along with an insightful discussion of the role of civil society.

Taxation and the link between governance initiatives and wider economic reform are also explored, with a clear recognition of the political context with which economic policies such as taxation are implemented needed to addressed, in order for the programme to be successful.  It also helpfully outlines areas where more research is needed, such as what institutions build effective citizenship.

With 'lack of local political will' identified as one of the most common causes of project failure in fragile and conflict affected states, this paper offers some welcome remedies for making local political will more likely.  

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