The Politics of Development in Morocco

'Doing development differently' can be interpreted as redistributing power in a decentralized way, and ensuring broad participation. How do we move these ideas from paper to practice? And, are these two objectives (not explicit in the DDD manifesto, but common in the discourse) compatible? Third, are these approaches to 'doing development differently' effective pathways to arrive at the desired objectives of the DDD agenda? A useful book to engage these questions is "The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Participation in North Africa" (2017) by Sylvia Bergh. The book is based on data collection that occurred in the mid-2000s, and could have been updated for this publication. Nonetheless, it offers useful insight into the questions of decentralization and participation.

The author sets out to "assess the actual record and scope for state-society synergies in Morocco in the context of decentralization reforms and participatory development policies, particularly at the local (rural) level" (p. 18). Bergh argues that civil society, as manifested through community based organizations (CBOs), does not necessarily support decentralization, and is not necessarily supported by decentralized governance. Why? One reason is that "membership of these two spheres overlaps to a great extent. Local government councilors tend to use their simultaneous positions in CBOs to enhance their status as local patrons and increase their chances of re-election" (p. xxii). While the author does not view this conclusion as a novel one, Bergh believes the "main value lies in documenting how this phenomenon comes about, the extent to which it is happening, and the implications it has for the emergence of a strong local democracy" (p. xxii).

In many instances, the book highlights how power plays out in both the implementation of participatory policies and decentralization efforts. This included existing elite capturing resources, and/or utilizing the processes to further entrench their power (p. 19). In addition to the local level implementation problems, government officials viewed these processes as "instruments for implementing programs more cost-effectively and delegating responsibility for success or failure to the beneficiaries themselves, rather than as a vehicle to strengthen political capabilities that might, in the longer term, challenge existing power structures and thus bring about lasting change." (p. 20; also ps. 68, 79, 126 and 163 for more examples). In fact, Bergh argues, "the simultaneous implementation of decentralization reforms and "participatory" development programs may lead to increased elite capture and fewer, rather than more, spaces for transformative participation by ordinary citizens" (p. 228).

I believe one of the most interesting contributions of this book is not the processes of how, but unique insight into the challenges and limitations of civil society organizations. While these organizations are tasked with large responsibilities, their capacity is low and their resources limited to absent. Without providing support and capacity building (common in these Moroccan study areas), international organizations are setting community based organizations up for failure. Bergh concludes "the growth of CBOs following "participatory" development projects does not equate with the expansion of a "civil society" that could engage in partnerships with local governments, either for service provision or co-governance. Rather, I find that a high proportion of these CBOs lack the capacities and/or incentives to do so due to their instrumentalization by actors in "political society" for clientelist purposes." (p. 228).

As it relates to the 'good governance' agenda, and its emphasis upon decentralization and participation, this book challenges the "assumptions that citizen participation consists exclusively of involvement in NGOs and local associations, that this "civil society" can exert organized pressure on autocratic and unresponsive states, and that this is enough to bring about a democracy with substance and depth" (p. 232). In many ways, the case studies from Morocco demonstrate the opposite. As the DDD manifesto argues, altering these power structures requires a radically different approach to 'doing development', one that more often has to do with process (how), than the objective (such as decentralization). 

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Whose Reality Counts?

Twenty years ago Robert Chambers published "Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last" (1997). He challenges the academics and professionals to turn how they work upside down. His earlier book, Rural Development (1983) did similarly. In doing so, however, Chambers is not the angry dissident disowning 'development', rather he offers an optimistic vision: "That the history of development is littered with errors is, then, scarcely surprising. The other side of the coin is that if we could learn from errors and avoid them in future, 'development' would be transformed." (p. 15)

At the center of the book is an affront to who has knowledge. The assumption is the highly educated professionals. A quote summarizes a key point being made: "The following exchange was reported (1995) between a villager and a visitor after a needs appraisal for a pre-set sectoral programme: 'If we had been different people, would you have said you had the same priority need?' 'Of course not. Do you think we are stupid?'" (p. 86) If it is explicitly stated, or not, often the way 'development' activities occur conveys that 'beneficiaries' do not have knowledge. Throughout the book, Chambers focuses upon the role of "professionals" in entrenching this: "Professionalism is concerned with our knowledge, and how we learn, analyze and prescribe. In all these examples, the erroneous beliefs were embedded in the concepts, values, methods and behavior normally dominant in disciplines and professions. Those who were wrong had had long education and training, whether as macro-economists, engineers, agronomists, ecologists, foresters, administrators or social scientists. Most were highly numerate. Most were specialists… Their learning was, then, more likely to come laterally or from above than from below" (p. 31)

"It is then the reductionist, controlled, simplified and quantified construction which becomes reality for the isolated professional, not that other world, out there. There is an analogy with Plato's cave in The Republic. Unwitting prisoners, professionals sit chained to their central places and mistake the flat shadows of figures, tables, reports, professional papers and printouts for the rounded, dynamics, multi-dimensional substance of the world of those others at the peripheries. But there is a twist in the analogy. Platonism is stood on its head. Plato's reality, of which the prisoners perceived only the shadows, was of essences, each simple, unitary, abstract and unchanging. The reality, of which core professionals perceive only the simplified shadows, is in contrast a diversity: of people, farming systems and livelihoods, each a complex whole, concrete and changing. But professionals reconstruct that reality to make it manageable in their own alien analytic terms, seeking and selecting the universal in the diverse, the part in the whole, the simple in the complex, the controllable in the uncontrollable, the measurable in the unmeasurable, the abstract in the concrete, the static in the dynamic, permanence in flux. For the convenience and control of normal professionals, it is not the local, complex, diverse, dynamic and unpredictable reality of those who are poor, weak and peripheral that counts, but the flat shadows of that reality that they, prisoners of their professionalism, fashion for themselves." (p. 55)

However, Chambers does not, in the process of criticizing a particular approach and type of engagement, suggest it is valueless: "Top-down centre-periphery transfers are found worldwide. They have benefits as well as costs. At their best, they can lead to huge gains like the elimination of smallpox, the sharp reduction of polio, and the spread of literacy. At their worst, Model-Ts, whether technologies or of time-bound procedures, demoralize staff and harm people" and yet "inappropriate Model-T approaches have proved robustly sustainable. On a wide scale they continue to override local priorities, inhibit participation, obliterate diversity, and disseminate technologies which do not fit the local needs of the poorer" (p. 74-75). Chambers thus does something many find difficult to do: radically critique and challenge while also offering praise. Later, the author addresses this point: "In seeking to do better, criticism is easy. To be constructive is harder. Taking responsibility and accepting risk by actually doing something is hardest of all. But much of the best learning is through self-critical commitment to action, to engagement with the world, to learning by doing." (p. 100). This position contrasts others, like Tania Li, who prefers to stand aside and provide the supposed rational, external diagnostics.

Something that resonated with me, having struggled to convey the challenges of data collection, metrics and analysis to others, was Chamber's deconstruction of the questionnaire: "Typically, questions and categories are thought up in some central place, far removed from the field. A research funding body may even set conditions that make this mandatory…To my shame, in the early 1970s, I sat with colleagues in Cambridge (England) and drew up a questionnaire to be applied in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. At the time it did not seem wrong. Nor is this behavior exceptional, even in the 1990s" (p. 93). To which I will emphasize, nor is it exceptional in 2017, unfortunately. Numerous parts of the book explore the challenges of determining what is best to measure, and how to measure it, and what it means (e.g. p. 177), which is a good reference for anyone struggling to convey the important of relevant questions, measures, metrics and analysis.

Chambers concludes: "The challenge presented by this book is to uppers, to the powerful, to the structures of power. It is to upend the normal, to stand convention on its head, to put people before things, and lowers before uppers. Imbalance is needed to establish balance. So children come before adults, women before men, the poor before the rich, the weak before the powerful, the vulnerable before the secure." (p. 211). A call to equity, a challenge to us – researchers and practitioners.

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Global Inequality

Inequality is headline news. Recently Oxfam reported that only 8 individuals own as much as the poorest half of the world's population. In 2014, Piketty published a widely read book on the subject, taking a historical economics approach. But, this question is not new. Amin addressed it in his 1976 book "Unequal Development", the greater level of attention and sense of urgency, along with improved data and new approaches, make the more recent publications unique. Branko Milanovic, in his 2016 book "Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization", also attempts to address the causes, and potential remedies, of inequality. He author looks carefully at both national inequality and global inequality, and argues that "a study of global inequality over the past two centuries, and especially during the past twenty-five years, allows us to see how the world has changed, often in fundamental ways" (p. 2).

This book responds to Piketty, and builds on Kuznets. Rather than a cycle, Milanovic focuses upon Kuznets waves: "I think that it is more appropriate to speak of Kuznets cycles, or waves, and to view the current upward swing in advanced countries as the beginning of the second Kuznets wave. Like the first wave, it is the product of technological innovation and change, of the substitution of labor by capital ( the "second machine age"), and the transfer of labor from one sector to another. In the first Kuznets wave, the transfer was from agriculture (and thus rural areas) to manufacturing (and thus urban areas); in the second, it is from manufacturing to services… this second wave is also driven by pro-rich changes in economic policies" (p. 93). On global inequality: "The world where location has the most influence on one's lifetime income is still the world we live in. It is the world that gives rise to what we might call a "citizenship premium" for those who are born in the right places (countries), and a "citizenship penalty" for those born in the wrong places (countries)." (p. 131).

At points, Milanovic draws attention away from globalization and toward the rules structuring it, similar to how Reich (2015) has done in addressing questions about capitalism. "It is this fundamentally ambivalent nature of globalization that I hope to bring out in this book. The reader needs to be constantly aware that globalization is a force both for good and bad" (p. 30). He continues, "As is nicely illustrated in Europe and the United States for the period after the Great Depression and World War II, the strength of trade unions, the political power of socialist and communist parties, and the example of military threat of the Soviet Union all curbed pro-rich policies by constraining the power of capital. But once these political limitations weakened or disappeared and economic factors became more favorable to capital, including skill-biased technological change and the large expansion of global labor that came with the opening of China and the fall of communism, the situation reversed, and the advanced economies entered a period of rising inequality, the second Kuznets wave, which is still in force" (p. 87).

What are the forces enabling inequality to rise in this second wave, particularly within the higher income countries? Milanovic explains that "middle class and poor people are being diverted, largely by design, from looking after their own economic interests into caring about other concerns, especially social or religious ones that are often divisive. This diversion does not necessarily arise from any sort of backroom conspiracy, but rather from a collectively manufactured elite consensus. It is, to some extent, an understandable (and acceptable) strategy because voting decisions are multidimensional: people do not vote solely on economic issues and many care deeply about such matters as migration, religion, and abortion. But given the enormous amount of private money that is used in politics and media, one cannot but think that the aim of these investments is very similar. In one case (politics), influence is sought directly; in the other case (the media), influence is created through shaping public opinion so that it agrees with the opinion of the funders. The creation of a false consciousness takes place through ideological matraquage (a French term that means a breain-beating as if by a nightstick), where newspaper readers, TV viewers, and internet surfers are bombarded with issues – running from abortion and gun control to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism – that distract popular attention from the basic economic and social problems like unemployment, the incarceration rate, war profits, and billion-dollar tax loop holes for the rich. In other words, the culture war has a function, and that function is to mask the real shift of economic power toward the rich." (p. 202).

Predicting the future in economics does not have a great track record. Milanovic points to three key challenges: "the belief that the trends that appear to be the most relevant at a particular time will continue into the future, the inability to predict dramatic single events, and an exaggerated focus on key global players, especially the United States. All three problems, even if accurately diagnosed, seem to be very difficult to solve" (p. 158). But, he offers some: "The great middle-class squeeze (which I discussed in Chapters 1 and 2), driven by the forces of automation and globalization, is not at and end. This squeeze will in turn further polarize Western societies into two groups: a very successful rich class at the top, and a much larger group of people whose jobs will entail servicing the rich class in occupations where human labor cannot be replaced by robots" (p. 214-215). And, that it is "hard to imagine that a system with such high inequality could be politically stable. But perhaps inequality will decline, and the problem of instability will disappear. What happens next depends on (1) the nature of technological progress, which might evolve in a pro-poor way, as by the replacement of people in some occupations that are very well paid now, say, professors, with lower-paid workers, and (2) the ability of the "losers" in this system to organize themselves politically. If the losers remain disorganized and subject to false consciousness, not much will change" (p. 217).

On a slightly more positive note: "Policies that would work toward shifting this long-term equalization include (1) high inheritance taxes (as Piketty calls for), which would keep parents from being able to transfer large assets to their children, (2) corporate tax policies that would stimulate companies to distribute shares to workers (moving toward a system of limited workers' capitalism), and (3) tax and administrative policies trhat would enable the poor and the middle classes to have and hold financial assets. Also fitting with this proposal is de Soto's (1989) call for much broader ownership of assets the poor already possess, such as properties that in many countries are held without legal title and so cannot be used as collateral for loans. But these policies would not be sufficient" (p. 221).

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Most read in 2016

As is tradition on most blogs, the most popular stories / articles / posts of the year are summarized. I am somewhat late in reporting, nonetheless, the most read posts on this site of 2016 were:

  1. PhD Reality Check
  2. Conducting Research in Ethiopia, Read This.
  3. Systematic Change (Healthcare)
  4. Essential Development Studies Books (Review)
  5. Effective Aid (Agriculture)

Popularity was largely a result of other people's influence. Most commonly a Twitter mention resulted in a noticeable spike in traffic. Subscribers will have noticed I stopped posting graduate funding opportunities – for the moment there appears to be limited interest in this type of information, and will focus more on the review of books and longer posts on specific topics (which are what readers have been most interested in). Open to feedback and input on that decision. 

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Logan Cochrane

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