When I hear the word ‘culture’….

Dispatches has a thought provoking post on aid effectiveness, culture and tired expatriates:

[T]alk of culture, that amorphous word dripping with generalizations and contradictions, is often a sign of desperation, the thing you blame when you don’t know what else to do, when you’ve given up, when you’ve resigned yourself to ineffectiveness and failure. Culture is an excuse, in other words, for not dealing with the troubling fact that there are many things rich countries could do today to address poverty but are not.

And she is in some ways right. Unfortunately, the tired and intolerant aid workers that she quotes are not unusual. And their fatigue  and intolerance lead to the dangers of apathy and anomie. This is undesirable. But trying to understand a society’s norms and values and coming to challenging conclusions should not be avoided.

In this regard, Dispatches seems to take a similar stance to that taken by Owen Barder in his Beyond Planning paper: the problem lies in the delivery of aid and aid bureaucracies. There are many challenges in the delivery of aid but the political economy of aid goes beyond that of aid agencies alone.

Avoiding this won’t help. It has already led to a failed ‘dialogue’ between government and donors in Tanzania,  and public sector reform programmes, anti-corruption drives and support to ‘civil society’ that often go nowhere. Their failure is not simply the fault of the delivery system but the presumption of shared incentives and motivations that is often misplaced.


2 responses to “When I hear the word ‘culture’….

  1. Thanks for the shout out, and I totally agree with you. There is indeed a presumption of shared motives that is often misplaced.

    But I think donors recognize that their being here (in countries) distorts incentives, but no one knows what to do about it! I suppose efforts like Twaweza are part of trying to do something new — puncture a hold in teh quantifiable order of things (even though it is certainly still donor-driven).

  2. Pingback: Deep Into The Heart of Darkness « Serengeti Advisers Media

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