How do we understand the hybrid forms of governance that occasionally emerge when rights-based approaches (RBAs) are introduced into contexts of extreme poverty? This paper from the Institute of Development Studies looks at the impact of RBAs on poverty in rural Peru. It argues that to be a useful theoretical framework, RBAs should incorporate intermediate categories, mixing rights with seemingly opposed principles such as those of clientelism.
Poverty is multidimensional; spanning economic, social and political aspects. Responses to poverty must consistently consider each of these dimensions. Both clientelist strategies and RBAs do, but clientelism reproduces poverty while RBAs transform the social order. In rural Peru, poverty is endemic and clientelism has thrived. In the vacuum of formal authority, elite patrons maintain clientelist networks and are extremely difficult to dislodge. RBAs offer the hope of real advance and escape from poverty, but in practice clientelist elements have been very resilient.
Patronage networks do address questions of economic, cultural and political exclusion. However, they are also inefficient, unequal, unjust and unfair, reproducing and exacerbating conditions of poverty. RBA offers an alternative:
- RBAs imply a web of responsibilities and rights that tie individuals to states in mutually accountable relationships: such collective citizenship is denied with clientelism.
- To combat economic exclusion, RBAs offer a pro-poor and universalist approach. They secure material resources through varied alliances, distribute material benefits to the poor and strengthen pro-poor participatory mechanisms that resolve conflict and structure decisions.
- To combat cultural exclusion RBAs offer an alternative set of moral and cultural tenets. They engage citizens in participatory activities, build social capital and are guided by principles of equality and democracy.
- To combat political exclusion, RBAs offer a set of governance institutions that do not rely on coercion and exclusion. Authorities are accountable and participatory.
RBA-guided responses to poverty transformed civil society and local and regional authorities in a very short time in Peru. However, clientelist patterns remain and there is now a hybrid pattern of governance mixing the RBA with elements of clientelism.
- RBA-guided efforts may push for social change, but they can be reversed or watered down by clientelist networks and behaviours. RBA-guided principles can be manipulated by clientelist actors as a weapon to oppose incumbents. They can also be advanced by using clientelist techniques.
- RBAs should be moved forward as an objective of development assistance, but to do so they must address how to take advantage of clientelist networks.
- RBA and clientelist approaches should not therefore be seen as discrete categories, but part of a continuum. Then RBAs can mix successfully to produce intermediate hybrid forms of governance.
- Urban NGOs working in rural areas can be transformative, with poor citizens gaining a new awareness of their rights and ability to articulate demands. They also provide an alternative to traditional clientelist political alliances.
- To make an RBA-guided agenda nationally viable, political parties will need to take it on board.