Governance describes the way countries and societies manage their
affairs politically and the way power and authority are exercised. For
the poorest and most vulnerable, the difference that good, or
particularly bad, governance, makes to their lives is profound: the
inability of government institutions to prevent conflict, provide basic
security, or basic services can have life-or-death consequences; lack of
opportunity can prevent generations of poor families from lifting
themselves out of poverty; and the inability to grow economically and
collect taxes can keep countries trapped in a cycle of aid-dependency.
Understanding governance, therefore, is central to achieving development
and ending conflict.
During the 1990s donors came to realise that development required better
'governance', and DFID recognised early on the need to work with the
research community to identify ways of improving governance for better
The Centre for Future States and the Citizenship, Accountability and
Participation Programmes (Institute of Development Studies, Sussex); the
Crisis States Research Centre (London School of Economics); and the
Centre for Research on Inequality and Ethnicity (CRISE, Oxford
University) have been funded by DFID over the past ten years. This paper
provides a brief overview of what these different programmes have told
us about governance, fragility and conflict in the developing world.
The key message from all four research programmes is that to understand
development we must understand the politics that shape it. Ultimately it
is political decisions that will shape whether or not the Millennium
Development Goals are reached, revenues are raised to fund investment,
and growth occurs.
The research argues that the political settlement is central to all
development; and one that does not exclude powerful players is more
likely to prevent conflict. But settlements also need to work at the
grass roots level, representing the interests of social groups. Security
is a precondition for development; this is a matter of survival and must
be prioritised in countries recovering from conflict. Evidence presented
here shows that in countries where cultural or ethnic groups feel there
is economic, political and social inequality, wars are more likely. The
future face of insecurity is not restricted to civil wars - more and
more people are dying in social violence, particularly in cities
[Chapters 2, 3 and 4].
The research looks at how governments can become more inclusive, and
therefore more stable. States that are accountable only to some groups
or that do not regard some members of society as 'citizens' create
inequalities that can fuel conflict. When citizens actively participate
in society through local associations and movements outside the state,
there are benefits to both state and society [Chapters 5 and 6].
The poor, more than any other group, rely on basic public services. For
vulnerable families, access to education and healthcare are important
routes out of poverty. The politics matters: services work better for
the poor when poor citizens participate in reform of service delivery
and the research looks at how this can be most effectively achieved. In
conflict affected states the provision of services is very sensitive.
Service delivery targeting excluded groups can reduce political tensions
and improved security [Chapter 7].
DFID-funded research has made a key contribution in drawing attention to
the importance of taxation in building effective states. Taxes, raised
in ways that encourage economic growth and promote political
accountability, build the political legitimacy of the state and offer
the eventual 'exit strategy from aid'. Tax revenues allow states to
provide security and public services while prioritising their own
(rather than donor) policy concerns. Tax reforms can encourage interest
groups in society to mobilise politically - an important bargaining
process between state and citizen-taxpayers who perceive they may have a
genuine stake in better government [Chapter 8].
Economic growth allows people to escape cycles of poverty and countries
to end dependency on aid. But the findings shown here question some of
the blueprints donors recommend for achieving growth. Some of the most
successful examples of rapid economic growth in the developing world,
such as China and Vietnam, have certainly not followed the 'investment
climate' prescription. Donors may need to acknowledge the political
dynamics of growth, including that some forms of informal relationships
between business and state in developing countries can succeed in
generating and sustaining high levels of growth [Chapter 9].
The report concludes [Chapter 10] with a proposal to improve how the
international community commissions and uses governance research,
indicates why further governance research is needed, and how DFID plans
This research adds depth to our understanding of development as a
political process, provides rich evidence based on country experience,
and points to the questions which aid agencies must address in order to
be effective - including in more fragile countries. It demonstrates that
durable reforms need to be constructed, nationally and locally, in a way
that fits each political context and it challenges donors to build the
capacity to contribute to this effectively.
DFID, London, UK, 97 pp.
The Politics of Poverty: Elites, Citizens and States: Findings from ten years of DFID-funded research on Governance and Fragile States 2001-2010