Development Aid and Democratisation
Does development aid help or hinder democracy in recipient countries? How can aid better develop and strengthen democracy? Should donor countries give up when democratisation slows or goes into reverse?
Martin Dahinden, Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), joined a Live Policy Debate on these issues at the Graduate Institute last week.
Policymakers, practitioners, professors and students gathered for a lively debate between Ambassador Dahinden and Geert Laporte, Deputy Director of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).
Ambassador Dahinden argued that democratisation is inherently political and that local power relationships need to be understood in order for it to be successful. The current profile of Swiss democracy promotion is strongly guided by the experiences of decentralisation and local governance in Switzerland, including the accountability and transparency of the state at the local level, but also in the support and capacity building of civil society.
Nevertheless, he thinks that in order to deepen democracy and build a democratic process in the long-term, the SDC should move towards new frontiers. How can the substance, rather than the form, of democracy be strengthened with regard to the norms, values and behaviour of public officials and citizens? Who are the drivers of change and how best to support them is the key question to consider.
Mr Laporte argued that democracy building is a long-term process and we need to avoid being overly normative, but instead be flexible, pragmatic and patient. Changes can be very slow but development agencies should never quit a country because of non-respect of democracy, even in the most difficult countries. Aid can support democracy, even with very modest means of support for local processes and drivers of change.
The debate was moderated by Graduate Institute Professor Gilles Carbonnier, Editor-in-chief of International Development Policy, and drew upon the e-debate Aid and Democratisation with inputs by Martin Dahinden (SDC), Olivier Roy (European University Institute), Jean Bossuyt (ECDPM) and Didier Péclard (swisspeace), which was published in International Development Policy in 2013.