International Donors’ Inability to Prioritize in Kenya

While anti-government demonstrations that erupted this week against the Kenyan government have numerous political, security and social implications for the entire international community, they further draw light on the complications between international donors and receipt governments. In particular to Kenya, multilateral/international donors have possessed a long complicated relationship with the Kenyan government which has been largely fueled by media accusations and huge cuts in health aid.

Theoretically speaking, international donor agencies and democratic advocates have long argued that aid leverages political and social reform while also promoting economic growth and greater equality. Therefore, in order to build their democratic intentions in receipt governments, they have principally relied on broad techniques that seek to establish liberal entities in a variety of sectors. While these activities have proven to uphold and progress democratic ideals in Sub-Saharan countries such as Botswana and Mauritius, multilateral/international donors have failed to prioritize their policies in Kenya.

For instance, international donor agencies have supplied both training and funding to the Kenyan government and civil society where activities have ranged from security, health, education, conflict prevention, agriculture, women’s empowerment and other areas.

While other underlying factors could be incorporated in this causation dynamic such as a lack of understanding or lack of commitment, the failure of multilateral donor agencies to provide a minimized and focus-oriented aid policy is the fundamental factor that has guided donor malfunctions in Kenya.

Abiding by Stephen Brown’s contention in Foreign Aid and Democracy Promotion: Lessons from Africa, adopting a broad multi-layered foreign aid approach lends donor agencies to draw less on strategic goals while also constraining themselves financially and politically.

Therefore, in order for international donors to progress in Kenya, they must adopt a “less is more” approach that still promotes democratic ideals and institutions but focuses more on their underlying priorities.

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3 Responses to International Donors’ Inability to Prioritize in Kenya

  1. To make a counterargument from an entirely foreign policy perspective, do you think if behooves bilateral development agencies to take a “less is more” approach and focus on just one sector? I would make the argument that this could have negative consequences. You linked to an article regarding accusations against USAID supporting civil society groups protesting against the Kenyan government. US democracy assistance is constantly accused of these sorts of things, especially in Africa when elections are approaching (notably in Zimbabwe). I think having a broad approach to democracy and development assistance that supports multiple sectors allows USAID to counter some of the criticism. If USAID only supported elections or certain civil society groups while ignoring the health, education, agriculture, and business sectors, then it would be much more difficult for the US to demonstrate that its aid programs are not based solely on its own “selective” political interests (even if that may indeed be the case).

  2. kyleedigregorio says:

    The anti-government protest in Nairobi demonstrates clearly the tensions that still exist between the political and developmental approaches to democracy assistance, and, more importantly, how such are perceived and received by host states. The predisposition toward a developmental approach is obvious, as many donor nations and western-based development organizations are hesitant to appear too confrontational or explicit in their pressures toward democratization– a consideration that proves understandable given the Kenyan Government’s response to the protest and, more specifically, to the U.S. Government and USAID. Counterproductive retrenchment behaviors spurred by African states’ perception of excessive political assertion on the part of external agents only fuel the contentiousness often characterizing already fragile relationships between host state and democracy “assistant,” and have the capacity to halt or even reverse democratization.

    However, the more politically assertive approach to democracy, while appearing more combative, may, in fact, prove to more effectively enhance the relations between state and society as compared to the developmental approach, doing so in a manner that celebrates and further consolidates democratic principles of reciprocity and accountability. The developmental approach frequently supports democracy indirectly through the advancement of social and economic reform. However, if democracy assistant nations or agencies fear being “too political” to the point of “depoliticizing” their objective, the link between socioeconomic enhancement on the one hand and the political and constitutional obligation of the state to provide and foster such on the other, may prove insufficiently explicit. In this sense, democracy assistants become development actors, with an agenda that does more to blur lines of intention than to strengthen governance capacity and consolidate democratic principles. In this sense, external actors may exist parallel to the state in question, serving to substitute for, or fill in the gaps of, the state’s obligations (regarding public service provision, for example) rather than critically engaging with, and pressuring, the state to more adequately fulfill such obligations through the employment of the democratic process. In other words, the developmental approach may give way to a situation in which democracy-aid providers accomplish the development mandates that would be realized by the state itself if democracy was sufficiently present.

    As is usually the case with such complex issues, there is no definitive answer to the question of which approach to democracy assistance is superior. Rather, as the events in Nairobi convey, a nuanced perspective must be adopted that is conducive to context specificity and flexibility. While it is encouraging to see that democracy-aid providers are slowly abandoning the one-size-fits-all policy toward democracy assistance and the means by which such translates to state-owned democratization, western actors would do well to more comprehensively survey the political environment of the state in question in order to better anticipate the array of outcomes and potential risks that could manifest from the implementation of each respective approach. The factors that will most accurately determine which democracy assistance approach ought to be implemented to more efficaciously facilitate democratization are the social, political, economic, and institutional nuances which distinguish the state in question.

  3. cjforster says:

    To add to Kylee’s comment and Drew’s initial posting, the circumstances described show the limitations of an over-focus on the ‘political’ approach, outlined by Carothers. The initial comments by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson that a vote for Kenyatta in the 2013 elections would lead to ‘consequences’, was surprisingly sharp language for a U.S. diplomat, and unsurprisingly led to anger amongst Kenyatta’s supporters who claimed U.S. ‘interference’. The pressure by the U.S. government was a clear part of an overly political approach in relation to the elections. As a result, U.S. leverage in Kenya, particularly in the fields of human rights and democracy promotion has been reduced subsequently.

    The protests this week perhaps highlight the failure to follow-up the largely successfully managed 2013 elections with sufficient programs aimed at promoting wider improvements in governance, as the ‘developmental’ approach of democratization aid would call for.

    The link to Carson’s comments are linked here http://elections.nation.co.ke/news/-/1631868/1687566/-/p86h8fz/-/index.html

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