Will developing country elites always be against pro-poor policies? Can development organisations design interventions in isolation from a country’s political context?
A working paper commissioned by the UK Department for International Development considers the need to assess the political context in which policy interventions are taken in the developing world. Aid donors should undertake political impact assessments before implementing programmes and recognise that they are themselves political actors within their working environment. An understanding of the political system and expert local knowledge must support country-level operations. There is a wide range of potential pro-poor political alliances but their creation often depends on the political circumstances in which they exist. There are many reasons why non- poor groups are willing and able to support pro-poor policies.
The ability for the poor to organise and the way they do are highly interdependent with the character of the state/regime, the shape of public policy and the behaviour of ruling elites. The economistic poor/non-poor dichotomy is misleading since these groups often have common interests and/or are internally divided groups.
Other conclusions from the paper are that:
- Effective government is a condition for the emergence of popular organisations with the potential to influence public policy.
- Fragmented, unstable and personalistic party systems tend to produce governments with lower commitments to the poor than those where parties are stable, disciplined and programmatic.
- Civil society organisations should help increase the political capacity of the poor towards creating institutionalised political parties which are better able to shape public policy.
- Where the state is ineffective, social movements are rare and weak, and social organisations are often exclusive, localised and sometimes closely connected with armed secessionists and smugglers. li>
- Governments have more scope to take policy initiatives where civil society groups are weak and fragmented.
- The poor governance and anti-poverty policies of many developing states partly stem from the lack of a tax-mediated social contract, since these governments are largely independent from their citizens for their revenue.
Better governance and pro-poor policies are often complementary. Democracy can provide competitive politics and civil society organisations, which in turn can contribute positively to poverty alleviation. Other policy implications are:
- The most important role for external agencies may not be to directly support the mobilisation of the poor, but to create an environment in which the poor have an incentive to mobilise. li>
- The development of political capacities should be a key objective of anti-poverty policy since sustainable improvements to the position of poor people will depend on their collective capacity to defend and build on achievements.
- Domestic political mobilisation and education, rather than conditionality imposed from outside, could make accomplishments in poverty reduction a criterion for the legitimacy of democratic parties and governments.
- Rather than promoting pro-poor policy, donors should first encourage governments to eliminate current anti- poor policy and practice.
- The use of NGOs to implement public programmes is likely to de-mobilise the poor since they are not legitimate objects of popular political mobilisation in the way governments are.
- Poverty should be presented in terms of deprivation rather than low income/consumption levels as this has more moral content that will encourage sympathy among the non-poor and more constructive political implications.