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THE GLOBAL CAPITALIST FANTASY OF AUTHORITARIAN “GOOD GOVERNANCE”
Vital to this process is the empowering of the state as an authoritarian actor for the sake of “good governance.” This conforms to the more fundamental authoritarian dynamic of capitalism discussed throughout this work, that the increase of marketization produces formally and informally the need for a stronger state for its safeguarding and reproduction. Moreover, it is underpinned by a similar fantasy of capitalist development. The promotion of “good governance” stands as an affective discourse for justifying not only neoliberalism but also the enhancement of a coercive national and trans-national sovereign power to implement and protect this status quo.
Importantly, governance is now predominantly associated with the governing of and for capitalist interests. Whereas it was previously linked to internationally accepted ideas of decolonization, localization and human rights (Weiss, 2000) it has presently come to be inexorably linked to neoliberalism. More than just a set of guiding principles, good governance is currently a hegemonic idea. It exemplifies how “powerful states (notably the USA), powerful organizations (such as the IMF) and even, perhaps, powerful disciplines (economics) exercise their power largely by ‘framing’: which serves to limit the power of potentially radical ideas to achieve change” (B0as and McNeill, 2004: 1).
This direct expansion into politics is a significant departure from the past. Previously, foreign aid was not contingent on political conditionalities. Rather, it was linked to the geopolitical considerations of the superpower donor or focused on the completion of specific development projects. “Cold War era aid programs rarely ventured beyond economic and social development projects into explicitly political affairs ... so good governance was a new sector for traditional aid donors” writes Carapico (2002: 381). It represented the extension of the scope of international organizations and foreign powers on those they were subsidizing. This enhancement of their sovereign power was cloaked in the language of rather universally accepted political and welfare goals. Indeed “most development assistance agencies adopted democracy promotion, rule of law, and civil society projects in the 1990s, alongside loans and grants in traditional aid sectors like agriculture, communications, and health” (ibid.: 381).
Despite its touted development objectives, this discourse of “good governance” perpetuated a troubling and potentially dangerous image of these developing countries. It portrayed them as chaotic and weak, therefore implicitly requiring the guidance and possible intervention of stronger external actors. As Mercer (2002: 11) contends:
[I]n highlighting the “incivilities” within NGOs and civil society (such as ethnic and regional tension, undemocratic practice and weak capacity), much of this critical NGO literature runs the risk of reinforcing the widespread perception that civil societies in poor countries are indeed “fragmented,” “weak” and “unorganized.” The assumption is that civil society (in its familiar western guise) has somehow gone wrong in the developing world; that these societies are incapable of becoming “civil.”
On the basis of these assumptions, the World Bank and other international financial institutions reserved the right to dictate the national politics of donor countries. Economically, this entailed allowing “market forces and competitive pressures” to guide “resources into activities that were consistent with comparative advantage and, in the case of labor intensive exports, laid the foundation for learning international best practice and subsequent industrial upgrading” (World Bank, 1993: 325). The adoption of these neoliberal strategies would ensure long-term national development and a stable international financial order.
Such development discourses, thus, reflected prevailing ideas of what constitutes good governance. These narratives “embody particular theories about rationality, institutional embeddedness, and agency, as well as a historical story” (Bevir 2003: 200). Two dominant governance narratives were “neoliberal” and institutionalist “governance as networks” (see Bevir, 2003), as well as an “Anglo-governance school” (Marinetto, 2003) According to Richards and Smith (2002) the “story of governance” has three parts: (1) “government,” where governments took the lead in implementing policy following World War II; (2) “governance,” where multiple actors took initiative in implementing policies; and (3) “joined up government,” where governments sought to re-establish a more central role for government. Tellingly, this reinforcing of the state’s role helped to entrench a redefinition of politics as primarily focused on proper economic management (McGregor, 1993; Doornbos, 2003).
Present, in turn, was a new modernization narrative based on the partnership between international organizations, non-governmental actors and the state for correctly implementing neoliberal reform. In the 1990s, NGOs were increasingly touted as important actors for ushering in democratization (Farrington and Bebbington, 1993; Ndegwa, 1996; Dick- litch, 1998). Notably, such democracy promotion was confined to that of liberal democracy, as it was understood that there were “no other games in town” (Baker, 1999). This was soon transformed, however, into a stronger focus on reforming the state so that structural adjustment policies could effectively improve the economy and popular welfare. This represented a shift in international development discourses from “getting prices right” to “getting institutions right” (Choudhary, 2007). As declared by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development” (Annan, 1998).
Emerging was a capitalist fantasy of good governance, in which “getting institutions right” served as an affective promise for resolving all of the country’s social, economic and political problems. The World Bank’s limited view of governance was merely “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a county’s economic and social resources for development” (World Bank, 1992: 1). Yet this rather narrow perspective was coupled with a quite heightened rhetoric about the need for change and reform. In 1989, the World Bank declared “a crisis of governance” underlay “the litany of Africa’s development problems” (World Bank, 1989: 60-61). Nanda (2006: 269) observed that “good governance ... has assumed the status of a mantra for donor agencies as well as donor countries.” Indeed:
From the early 1990s onwards, the call for less state has gradually been substituted by a call for a better state. This new approach should not be confused with a plea for a return to the strong (Keynesian or socialist) state. Rather it implies better and transparent governance of what is left of the state after neoliberal restructuring has been implemented. (Demmers et al., 2004: 2)
Here the traditional modernization narrative was turned on its head, as such good governance would provide the required market economy for gradually achieving liberal democracy (Leftwich, 1993: 605).
Nevertheless, this global capitalist fantasy of good governance legitimized authoritarianism. In particular “this new governance paradigm represents a market/private sector model of development which signifies the current era of globalization” (Choudhary, 2007: 3). Yet, while this definitely constituted the move away from centralized national economic planning it was not a shift away from centralized policing or social regulation. To this end, governance as a discourse promotes a “managerial” notion of democracy in which democratic aspects are a concession to the broader correct management of society (Jayal, 2007). Other values must therefore conform to this overriding drive for structural reform, empowering governments to do what it deems necessary for putting in place and preserving this neoliberal agenda. As the then World Bank President Barber Conable put it, “[i]f we are to achieve development, we must aim for growth that cannot be easily reversed through the political process of imperfect governance” (quoted in Doornbos, 2003).
This affective discourse of authoritarian good governance disciplined populations in the name of achieving development through enhanced marketization. For instance, “through the good governance agenda, human rights advocacy, far from adopting an outsider or independent critique to the neo-liberal economic policies of the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF) ... [instead] adopted an approach based on finding complementarity and compatibility between human rights advocacy and the economic and financial policies of the World Bank and IMF” (Gathii, 1999: 107-8). More broadly, it signified a potent combination of political authoritarianism and self-disciplining, the mixture of coercive governance from “above and the governance of self” that “compels state and policy structures in individual countries to conform to the norms set by global institutions” (Doornbos, 2003: 6).
In this context “governance,” therefore, designates “the application of power and authority in a way that commits relevant political actors to managerial decisions” (McGregor 1993: 182), a process entirely consistent with the World Bank’s agenda. In effect, this amounts to the seemingly paradoxical outcome of de-politicizing the exercise of political power - a point made by a number of scholars in the literature on economic development (e.g. see De Alacantara, 1998; Jessop, 1998; Jose, 2007; Kiely, 1998; Doornbos, 2003). The effect of this, note Demmers et al. (2004: 10), “is the seemingly paradoxical coincidence of this type of democratisation with nothing less than a depolitisation of democracy . the state, and politics itself has disarmed, paralysed or even brain-washed most of capitalism’s previous critics and reformers, such as socialists, social-democrats, nationalists and communists.”
Vital to this authoritarian development was the affective promise of good governance. It provided international organizations with not only greater scope in guiding a country’s politics, it also served as the foundation for the coercive regulation of these reforms by trans-national and national actors. Consequently, the fantasy of good governance re-established sovereign power, though in a somewhat new neoliberal direction. It limited the state’s influence within the economic sphere while simultaneously empowering it, and if necessary its international partners, to politically police the implementation and maintenance of these marketization policies. Under the banner of promoting good governance, what is emerging are authoritarian “self-disciplining states” as well as the authoritarian right of international organizations to discipline states that refuse to act “responsibly.”