Like it or not: coercive power is essential to development

By Erwin van Veen, Lead Levant Research Programme, Senior Research Fellow, Conflict Research Unit at Clingendael

Understanding the political economy of coercion is essential to achieving developmental gains in countries at the lower end of stability and institutional performance. Surprisingly, this matter rarely features on the development agenda, which means the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals continues to suffer in such countries.

If national development is defined as the long-term, collective pursuit of the highest level of wellbeing for the greatest number of citizens, it is a deeply political and highly contested process by default. That is in part because all these components are subject to varying definitions. What is the collective? What is wellbeing? Who is a citizen and what are their rights? Different countries offer starkly different answers to such questions. But beyond definitions, there are also more commonplace reasons for development being such a political undertaking.

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Democracy is a public good. What is the development community doing about it?

By Anthony Smith, CEO of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)

Democracy has been undervalued by the development community. I understand why – I am a child of decolonisation and its political economy of liberation, and my introduction to international development was through the target-driven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But I have come down firmly on the side of Amartya Sen’s view on the timing of democracy.  He said: “A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy.” For too long, some in the donor community have been ambivalent about this, wanting proof that development goals would be reached faster in democracies than in autocracies and implying that democracy could wait. For too many of us, the politics of our partner country was just a factor to be navigated around to avoid disrupting our programmes.

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