25 June 2012

Governance conditionality in South Sudan

Howard French makes the case in the Atlantic for governance conditionality in South Sudan.
In South Sudan, in fact, the major complaint is that the West failed to impose conditions on the country's fledgling leadership when it clearly had the power to do so. These conditions might have included strong press and freedom of speech laws, a powerful independent audit agency, signature of EITI, guarantees for political opposition, a limitation on presidential mandates, etc. 
All of which sound like pretty sensible ideas to me. 

He quotes Nhial Bol, editor of Juba-based newspaper the Citizen
"Why can't the West learn from its previous mistakes? Why have they supported us and imposed no conditions?"
Actually the West has learnt from its previous mistakes. It has just learnt the wrong lesson. Giving aid with conditions attached is pretty thoroughly out of fashion these days, following the widespread backlash to structural adjustment programmes in the 1980s and 90s.

But that nasty 80s conditionality was all about which particular policies to pursue. Governance conditionality isn't about imposing particular policies, but demanding democratic government.

As Paul Collier put it a few years ago (here and here):
"The essence of governance conditionality is that aid is being used to increase accountability not to donors, but to citizens." 
And the final word to Michela Wrong:
If you cut all aid to Kenya, people are going to die. So I don’t think that’s a solution. But I will say that aid donors have to look very closely at what they do. If you have a government whose ministers are setting out to steal the equivalent amount of money that they receive in aid, then you have to wonder why western donors are continuing with that relationship. I don’t think the answer is to cut them off, but the answer lies very much in doing what Edward Clay, the British high commissioner of the day, was doing. Which is to be very confrontational, to humiliate these people in public, to call them to account, to deny them visas. The aid relationship needs to be less automatic, less lazy, less complacent, and much more abrasive.

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