Category Archives: Unit 3 – Neo-liberalism and governance

Promised good governance

We have started this unit with Colclough (1991) asserting that the government in a developing country should be similar to that of an industrialised one. And we ended the unit with Grindle (2004) arguing that developing countries only need so much – at a time, at least. There’s a whole evolution in between.

Structural adjustment programmes (SAP) produced dim results for the expectations they created. Leftwich (2000) argues that this happened because these were delinked from a political framework.
The neo-liberal sympathisers of the early 1990s were left without any option but to find an explanation for this failure. The justification fell on the “quality of governance” and mal-administration of public policy (booklet pp. 20-21). Both reasons marked the emergence of ‘good governance’ as a condition for donors’ aid disbursement and a means to achieve economic growth.

The orthodoxy of the moment was that democratic countries, respectful of basic human rights, did grow healthy and peacefully (Leftwich, 2000b, drawing out from Doyle, 1983; Hurd, 1990; Chalker, 1991; Short, 1997).

Leftwich (2000c) rightly summarised the expectations over democracy during the 1990s:
“Democracy therefore came to be seen as the political process that would institute and sustain good governance, hold the state and its officials accountable and demand the best and the highest standards of public service from the lot, while ensuring an improving standard of human rights”.
The author correctly concluded that this vision was “naive and simplistic”. In 2000, this author said that democracy was not enough to hold developing countries to the good “exercise of political power” (The World Bank, by Leftwich).

For Hyden, Court and Mease (2004) governance is about achieving certain goals, but also about how to achieve them. Donors believe there is a direct relation between “development performance and aid effectiveness”.
According to the same authors, donors didn’t assess effectively governance in recipient countries neither did they link aid allocations to the countries that performed better in these evaluations. Despite that fact,Moore (2001) argues that “poor governance and national poverty are connected”. Ineffective, arbitrary, despotic and unaccountable regimes – what he calls political underdevelopment – are the “major cause of poverty”.

I agree with Moore when he says that bad governance is a product of the manner that state authority was created from the interaction between developed and developing countries. But I disagree that bad governance is nothing but a result of that interaction. From my point of view the responsibility for this outcome has to be shared among Northern and Southern countries exactly why he points to be his “specific argument”: countries that perform worse in governance are those that have direct sources of finance and don’t feel the urge to bargain with their citizens. Or use aid to rule over people. From my point of view, this is an option of the recipient country. As a consequence citizens won’t hold their government authorities accountable and neither will donor states.

Grindle (2004) put some order in the good governance agenda by making a distinction between what is “essential and merely desirable”. There’s a call to evaluate “who needs to do what” and what’s the payoff for each policy area in any given developing country. She also points to the usefulness of observing what is functional in a poor country. Some institutions are working effectively, it is therefore important to find out which ones and how these got to that point. It will actually shed some light on the dynamics of the country.

Grindle’s approach to the good governance agenda didn’t emerge as a theory in itself but it is instrumental, from my point of view. It can be the basis or the starting point for any research regardless the development theory we’re approaching.


Colclough, C., 1991, Structuralism versus Neo-liberalism: An Introduction, in: States or Markets: Neo-liberalism and the Development Policy Debate, Colclough, C., Manor, J. (eds.), Clarendon Press,Oxford 

Grindle, M., 2004, Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries, Governance, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 525-548

Hyden, G., Court, J. and Mease, K., 2004, Making Sense of Governance: Empirical Evidence from Sixteen Developing Countries, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, CO.

Leftwich, A., 2000, States of Development: On the Primacy of Politics in Development, Polity Press,Cambridge 

Moore, M., 2001, ‘Political Underdevelopment: What Causes “Bad Governance”‘, Public Management Review, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 385-418