Next up at the Global Development Seminar Series

Semester 1 is well underway, and the first two lectures in our Global Development Seminar Series have been excellent. On 14 October we heard from IDS Director Melissa Leach on Equality, Sustainability and Security: Towards Transformations in Global Development (LISTEN), and on 21 October our own Dan Brockington spoke on The Paradoxes of Celebrity Advocacy (LISTEN).

Below are the details for the next three seminars. We’ll be posting more information about the session with Professor Sandra Halperin next week.

Read more →

LISTEN | Melissa Leach on equality, sustainability & security

The Global Development Seminar Series got off to a great start on Wednesday with a lecture by Institute of Development Studies Director Melissa Leach. Melissa spoke on Equality, Sustainability, Security: Towards Transformations in a Global Development Era.

We’ll be announcing details of next week’s seminar, with Dan Brockington later today. For now, here’s the audio from Melissa’s talk for those who missed out – or wish to recap!

The Global Development Seminar Series brings together scholars involved in cutting edge research on international development. It aims to facilitate dialogue and discussion, providing a space for leading development thinkers to share their latest research ideas with Manchester’s staff and students.

Read Aarti Krishnan’s reflections on Melissa’s talk.

The SDGs in Pictures

We’re counting down to the UN summit to ratify the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Over on Twitter and Facebook, we’re sharing an SDG a day along with a morsel of research from our academic staff and students. Below are a selection of this images, showing the breadth of The University of Manchester’s research on Development.

Ralitza Dimova's research:

Ralitza Dimova’s research:

Our research and its impact on social protection

Our research and its impact on social protection

Sharon Morgan's research:

Sharon Morgan’s research:

Diana Mitlin's research:

Diana Mitlin’s research:

The impact of our research:

The impact of our research:

Social accountability or social transformation? Working ‘with’ and ‘against’ the grain

By Sophie King

Social accountability has become an important ‘buzzword’ among development actors seeking to understand the forms of state-society relations that may be supportive of better public services. Malena and McNeil (2010: 1) define it as: ‘the broad range of actions and mechanisms beyond voting that citizens can use to hold the state to account’. The trouble is that the focus has become the mechanisms, rather than the inequality and social and political relationships shaping public goods expenditure and quality.

Some findings from my own research into NGO-led social accountability initiatives in rural Ugandaresonate with those recently published by Care International and ODI about community score card initiatives in Malawi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania. However, our interpretations of what these findings tell us may differ. Drawing on my Uganda study, but also a systematic review of how context shapes outcomes from social accountability initiatives, here are some questions which those seeking to intervene within agrarian, neopatrimonial and semi-authoritarian contexts like Uganda’s could consider:

  1. What is the history of state-society relations and popular mobilisation in this context?

The Rwenzori sub-region, where this fieldwork took place, had a long history of ethnic and religious conflict, leading to the exclusion of particular groups from social services and economic opportunities, and a legacy of resentment, which continues to shape both political and civil society relations. Civil servants are often not socially embedded within the community, being subject to frequent transfers – meaning they are not subject to informal accountability pressures on the basis of kinship or longer-term relationships. Decades of conflict and authoritarianism and state monopoly over cooperative production, followed by the collapse of the cooperative sector, has left a legacy of deference to authority and mistrust of collective action. 

  1. What is the socio-economic status of the breadth of people using the public service in question, and what relationships do they have with other social groups?

In this particular region, some of the poorest families did not send their children to school, wealthier households made use of private provision, and the socio-economic spectrum of small-scale farmers, labourers, and traders in between used state services. Few would be educated beyond primary level. In Uganda as a whole, only approximately 12 percent of school-aged children complete secondary education.  Mechanisms for social accountability require parents and service users to report problems to a community management committee, head teachers, or their village council chairperson. The village chair also presides over land transactions and the village court, while those educated enough to work as head teachers, nurses, or to occupy leadership positions, are often friends. There is also a strongly entrenched culture of conflict avoidance, which was partly linked to concerns about the use of witchcraft in response to perceived slights. This is an unpromising context for monitoring, reporting or complaint.

  1. What are the formal and informal institutional incentive structures throughout the service delivery system?

In Uganda, a system of ‘inflationary patronage’ – where ever-increasing amounts of resources are required to keep different power bases in society happy – depletes resources for public goods. Levy and Waltonprovide a helpful framework for analysing the web of relationships that shape incentive systems within particular sectoral machineries. In rural western Uganda, teachers and health workers are on low salaries and experience frequent delays in receipt of salary, with few prospects for professional development. In cases of wrong-doing, District officials simply transfer workers elsewhere, rather than enforce sanctions. MPs and councillors are focused on votes garnered through favour and the cultivation of connections to extensive kinship networks, and are not usually interested in rocking boats.

  1. Over which public goods has a strong social contract emerged among citizens? How have the terms of delivery of particular services been framed?

Universal Primary Education has been framed in Uganda as a gift from the President. Where once parents kept schools running during Amin’s reign of terror, in rural western Uganda, few parents are now prepared to contribute anything to the running of the school and have interpreted the policy – framed in populist terms in advance of successive elections – as meaning that everything about school attendance is free. Children go to school without lunch, falling asleep in lessons after eating nothing all day; buildings and premises are not maintained; children lack books and pencils to work with; and PTAs – in this area at least – were all but defunct.

  1. What forms of autonomous collective agency exist among low-income groups in this context, and are there any examples of effective collective organising specific to this context?

In such a context, where social stratification, unequal power relations and adverse incentive structures work so strongly against inclusive development expenditure and downwards accountability, those interested in changing things for the benefit of lower-income groups cannot think about service accountability in a vacuum. While shifts within the wider political settlement and wider structural transformation are of course critical to substantive change, there is still much that can be done at the grassroots to build democracy from below.

With the landholdings of middle- and low- income groups shrinking in Uganda while those of the higher socio-economic groups increase, and the great African land-grab continuing seemingly unabated, it seems to me that smallholder farmers can only accumulate the socio-economic and associated political power to advance their interests in social provisioning terms by acting collectively. Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union is an inspirational example of what can be achieved when farmers adopt a social justice and savings-based approach to social, economic and political change.  Smallholders here are transforming relations between men and women; between farmers and the state; and between farmers, traders and buyers. Ben Jones also describes a range of associational forms that are alive and well in Uganda, including clan structures, Pentecostal churches, and burial societies. Other forms of self-help group are increasingly present in rural villages and a gradual revival of the cooperative sector is taking place… can smallholders be supported to exploit these opportunities in progressive and inclusive ways, or will such opportunities be lost to competition and clientelism?

  1. What is the history of external intervention in this context and what opportunities exist for accountable alliances to be built between professionals and low-income groups?

That donor-driven development interventions have frequently undermined rather than catalysed and strengthened grassroots agency and autonomy is surely no longer in question. So the question now becomes what forms of intervention can offer marginalised and low-income groups support and solidarity without creating dependency or reinforcing clientelist relations?

One Ugandan research and development institute I worked with had moved away from channelling donor aid and towards information provision, knowledge generation, networking and relationship building, convening alternative spaces for multi-stakeholder dialogue, and attempting to convene channels through which context-specific grassroots experiences could reach senior decision-makers. This was only possible with the partnership of a Northern co-financing agency with the room for manoeuvre to create space for experimentation over the long term. This agency’s financing has been seriously cut, in response to negative public attitudes to aid.

Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union have had guidance from an activist-consultant for over a decade, who has supported them to develop their own home-grown gender justice methodology without becoming directive. The BJCU Coordinator has been adept at managing relationships with external actors – taking loans not grants, or only accepting donor aid in support of those in extreme poverty, or for international learning exchange. Mitlin and Satterthwaite offer another case study of how IIED have worked with Shack/Slum Dwellers International and donor agencies to break down the hierarchy of donor aid. There are many good examples out there.

In summary, perhaps as well as ‘working with the grain’ and working through elites, we need to think about how to integrate such strategies, with a focus on strong, value-driven local associations that also have tangible economic benefits for their members. Associations that can federate, that can ally with professionals while remaining autonomous, and that can have the kinds of ripple effects that, as an increasing number of studies are beginning to show, can contribute towards building democracy from below. This requires arethinking of the role of external actors in such contexts, and new modalities of aid and development finance, but it also, critically, requires a change in public attitudes internationally.

Understanding the politics of inequality

By Sam HickeySophie King and Sarah Hunt

History has much to tell us about the politics of inequality, but the moral of the story depends upon the lens through which we choose to interpret its lessons. The recent DLP conference on this theme raised many of the questions that ESID is attempting to address, as well as demanding some considered defence of the ‘political settlements plus’ framework that constitutes our analytical lens for understanding the politics of inclusion.

Through which theoretical lens should we be seeking to understand the politics of inequality?

There was little disagreement among contributors at the DLP conference that the politics of inequality should be understood through a social justice lens. Frances Stewart’s opening address showed that social justice thinking offered the most coherent philosophical framework for thinking about the politics of inequality, not least as it enables us to place our concerns over inequality in the broader context of what kind of ‘good society’ we value. Thinking in terms of social justice demands that we consider the political arrangements required to secure good societies, and also that we confront the trade-offs that this involves, most notably between the sometimes competing priorities of challenging inequality whilst protecting freedom.

A key sticking point raised by ESID research director Sam Hickey was how to reconcile this normative philosophical framework with the much more ‘realist’ perspective of political settlements analysis that a number of conference participants were engaging with in their work. There is an obvious case for thinking about the politics of inequality from a political settlements perspective, a key tenet of which is that socio-economic inequalities will harden as a result of the elite capture of institutions that systematically occurs within clientelistic settlements and ‘closed access’ orders. This institutionalisation of elite privilege, which theorists like North, Wallis and Weingast hold to be key to maintaining stability, can be very difficult to challenge, and this has encouraged some to advocate for a more modest, less transformative approach to development that involves ‘going with the grain’ of existing power relations. This creates a tension, not only at a philosophical and theoretical level, but also in terms of development policy and practice: how to square a desire to support progressive causes with this more cautious and potentially inequality-promoting approach?

Some at the conference suggested that political settlements analysis did not necessarily contradict a social justice perspective, and could be used to identify openings for supporting progressive change. For example, some participants were using political settlements analysis as a means by which to navigate the complexities of vertical, horizontal or spatial inequalities within developing countries and the politics of redistribution. ESID’s conceptual approach attempts to move political settlements analysis forward for these purposes through research into the politics of social provisioning, social protection and spatial inequality, or the ways in which successive political settlements shape the redistribution of extractive industry rents. Rather than moral philosophy or a purely pragmatic ‘working with the grain’ approach; the ESID framework draws oncritical political theory and critical feminism to integrate considerations of transnational actors, resources and ideational flow, and agency, especially from non-state actors within the structural and institutional accounts that have taken centre-stage in recent debates.

What strategies and solutions should we be working towards?

Much discussion of what this means for policy and practice resonated closely with emerging findings from ESID research into the politics of women’s inclusion and influence – particularly in relation to contentious policy issues such as domestic violence. Throughout the day the power of global norms to become diffused and shape political realities emerged as a critical lever for more inclusive development. Sarah Hunt’s work onpolitical settlements in Central America makes clear, however, that diffusion is neither automatic nor guaranteed: rather it will depend on contingent political dynamics. Significantly, global norms shape not only elite decisions and interactions, but also the societies they must engage with.

The importance of marginalised groups forming coalitions and movements and then being ready to exploit moments of crisis or ‘critical junctures’ was another prominent theme throughout the conference and has come through across each of ESID’s country cases: Bangladesh, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. So too has the need for political analysis (and those seeking to use it for progressive ends) to engage with the informal incentive structures and interests underlying formal institutional arrangements.

During her illuminating opening presentation, Frances Stewart suggested that changing the politics of inequality and distribution will require getting people to think about ‘the other’ in a different way. This has been critical within the gender equality movements that ESID researchers have been tracing – framing men as protectors rather than perpetrators, and domestic violence as a constraint on household economic development rather than a question of ethical judgement have been key to attitudinal change.

However, efforts to ‘go with the grain’ can be a risky strategy for those seeking to promote social justice. ESID research led by Sohela Nazneen reveals that women’s movements promoting legislation against domestic violence tend to frame their policy messages within acceptable discourses around ‘family values’ and protective versions of masculinity, rather than women’s rights, in order to avoid antagonising powerful opponents and even gain their support. Although this does help secure policy change, it can also lead to more critical concerns being omitted (e.g. around marital rape and female control over assets), and legislation so compromised that it lacks the coherence required for enforcement.

The challenge of how to reconcile the concepts and strategies required to understand and navigate political settlements, on the one hand, with the wider notion and pursuit of social justice, on the other, remains open. Efforts to reconcile the two, we argue, can usefully start from recognising that both political settlements theory and more radical theories of social justice take power relations to be their central focus. It is in adopting a relational perspective, rather than one driven by a concern with institutions or resources per se, that the intractable problems of inequality and the politics required to challenge them comes more clearly into view.

How do Rural Labour Markets Respond to Shocks?

By Ralitza Dimova

The occupational portfolio choice of small farmers in rural environments is among the most high profile areas of research and policy debate in development economics. One key focus area is the choice between relatively risk-free – though less profitable – activities such as subsistence farming and higher-risk and higher return activities like livestock and cash crop production. The consensus is that relatively asset-poor and risk-averse households are likely to opt for subsistence farming and out of higher value cash crop alternatives, thus potentially going down the slope of further destitution. By contrast, off-farm (especially non-agricultural) labour market opportunities tend to be seen as an escape route for farmers out of poverty, especially in the event of shocks. However, most of the related literature highlights lack of availability of such opportunities for households that have failed to reach a certain wealth and education threshold.  In both cases, the policy advice is in favour of asset reallocation from relatively wealthier to relatively asset poor households.

The paper on Off-farm labour supply and correlated shocks: New theoretical insights and evidence from Malawi, published by Ralitza Dimova and co-authors in the January 2015 issue of Economic Development and Cultural Change challenges this policy consensus. The paper explores intriguing cases of labour market dynamics in the face of correlated shocks – namely shocks experienced by the majority of households in a village – and examines cases of deepening poverty even when there are no obvious barriers to entry in the off-farm labour market.

The starting point of the analysis is the phenomenon of off-farm ganyu labour in Malawi, namely low skill and poorly remunerated labour that farmers supply off their own farms. Approximately half of the rural people in the country supply ganyu labour and there are virtually no other (better remunerated) off-farm job opportunities in the rural areas. To learn more about the ganyu market, we build a theoretical model that explores labour allocation of farmers between low risk and low return food crops (such as maize), higher risk and high return cash crops like tobacco and groundnuts and off-farm ganyu labour. The main focus is on identifying the determinants of these livelihood choices and exploring the general equilibrium (demand and supply) conditions of the ganyu labour market in the event of correlated shocks, namely shocks in the form of drought, flood or pest that affect all villagers simultaneously.

In keeping with historical analyses on Malawi, the statistics presented in Figure 1a indicate that land distribution is very skewed: while large farmers (plantations) hold average land sizes of approximately 40 hectares, smaller farmers (in the first and second quintiles of the land distribution) are practically landless, while even farmers in the fourth quintile hold average land sizes of approximately 5 hectares.

 Figure 1a: Land distribution in Malawi

land in malawi

Source: Authors’ calculations, based on the Second Integrated Household Survey on Malawi

Larger land endowments are a key determinant of entry into the higher risk, but significantly more profitable cash crop market, especially that for tobacco and groundnuts. For instance, the statistics in Figure 1b indicate that while almost none of the farmers in the lowest quintile of the land distribution is involved in tobacco production, approximately 30% of the farmers in the highest quintile produce tobacco. Similarly, approximately half of the largest farmers produce groundnuts, while only 20% of the smallest farmers are involved in the production of this cash crop.

Figure 1b: Crop choice of farmers by quintiles in the land distribution

crop choices malawi

The most interesting finding from our rigorous theoretical and econometric analysis is that while during shock- free periods, smaller and asset poor farmers are by default reliant on the (low return) off-farm ganyu market and larger farmers are large buyers of ganyu labour, the situation changes dramatically in the event of a shock. Large farmers, who have opted for the more profitable and higher risk cash crops (the production of which is more likely to be affected by a negative shock) are disproportionately affected by the natural disaster. They have no other choice but to leave their own farm production, reduce the intake of ganyu labour and enter the low skill and low return ganyu labour market themselves. This leads to a reduction of ganyu wages, which – in turn – reduces the number of hours supplied by smaller farmers.

Our theoretical results, backed by evidence from Malawi, provide at least some ground for re-thinking policy advice. On the one hand, we observe that larger land endowments do not ensure better off households against risk in uncertainty ridden environments. On the other hand, we find evidence that challenges the consensus of much of the focus of the off-farm labour literature that dismantling entry barriers to the off-farm market may be a panacea to poverty and income inequality. This may indeed be a viable prescription in contexts where good non-farm jobs exist and there are high (wealth related) access barriers to these jobs. However, we find that even when there are no barriers to entry, the off-farm labour market may still struggle to provide successful consumption smoothing and poverty alleviating occupational alternatives to poor farmers. In such conditions, direct interventions as in the case of public works programs could be a preferable policy agenda.

Learning from Dhaka’s BusteeBashees

By Sally Cawood

In March 2014, IDPM PhD Student Sally Cawood boarded a plane to Dhaka for her first taste of urban life in the Bangladeshi capital, dubbed one of the most ‘unliveable cities’ in the world. In this blog Sally describes how this two week trip fundamentally altered her views on urban slums (bustees), their residents (busteebashees) and her PhD.

In Dhaka, at least 5 million people live in slums known as bustees, with thousands more joining the world’s most crowded city every day (See Banks et al, 2011; Ahmed, 2012; Cox, 2012; Shikdar, 2012). As opposed to passive vehicles of hyper-urbanisation, I argue in my PhD that bustee residents are highly networked and active agents, a view shared by others (see Roy and Hulme, 2013; Slum/Shack Dwellers International; Asian Coalition for Housing Rights). My research focuses on the drivers, forms and outcomes of grassroots collective action among this neglected group.

Like many first year PhD students, I’ve had my head stuck in a book (well, many books) and stared at a computer screen for the past six months. However, with support from the Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI), I ventured into the real world to attend the CITICON (Cities in a Connected World) workshop on Urbanisation and Sustainable Cities in Bangladesh and ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) one-day workshop on access to water and green spaces for the urban poor living in Dhaka and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. While highly insightful, I saw little of Dhaka in these first few days of hotels and workshops. I was eager to get out and explore, walk among and observe the hustle and bustle on the streets below.

Unexpected Diversity

After three days inside, I visited two bustees located on privately owned land. You can read all you like about a place, or the idea of a place such as a ‘slum’, but no book, photograph or workshop presentation could capture the diversity of these settlements. Despite all their negative and homogeneous connotations bustees are highly diverse and vibrant places. Each settlement faced significant social, economic and political challenges, with threat of eviction being a major concern. However, each varied in terms of history, services available (water, electricity and sanitation facilities), housing and land type, security of tenure, household number, population, social structure, level of community organisation and NGO engagement. This, I did not expect.

Now You See Me…The Paradox of Visibility/Invisibility

During my first week, I visited a further three bustees, one on the western embankment, another in a narrow side street, and one in a graveyard, where we met with community leaders who openly shared their concerns. The small settlement on the river embankment was surrounded on all sides by diggers and building works. Eviction seems inevitable in such a place, yet, where would its residents move to? Will they claim their right to adequate resettlement? Who will ensure resettlement takes place? These questions are often left unanswered. I hope that my PhD research will shed light on the role that coordinated and ‘strategic’ collective action can play in seeking answers.

I began to see how bustees and busteebashees are both highly visible but also deeply invisible. Often located on the doorstep of, or opposite large NGOs and research organisations (such as 40 year old Karail slum opposite BRAC), these settlements are at the heart of urban development and for many, are a stark visual expression of urban poverty in Dhaka. This may be so, but the picture that emerged for me was much more complex. As opposed to separate manifestations of poverty, these bustees are deeply integrated within Dhaka’s economic, social and political landscape.

Days Numbered?



The pictures above show land clearances, with shacks left on stilts and others surrounded by rapid development. Ironically, much of the cheap construction labour will come from these informal settlements

(Sally Cawood, 8/03/14)

While many NGOs are working on water provision, micro-credit, informal education and micro-enterprise, there was little longer-term, progressive engagement with community groups. Why? I began to see how the complex and dangerous story of housing and land markets in Dhaka affects collaborative action. Regarded as ‘too complicated, too political, too hot an issue’ many NGOs prefer to work on ‘tidy, easy’ micro-credit, water, sanitation and capacity building projects, that are ‘unlikely to ruffle any feathers’ (ACHR, 2012: 50). The most valuable interventions seemed to be those in which NGOs facilitated community action (i.e. self-help, savings and credit groups), yet these seemed few and far between.

PhD Pathways 

Despite the contradictions emerging in the urban landscape, I met many inspiring individuals both within and outside of these settlements. I met with community architects, who are facilitating community planning and self-builds, talked with researchers who conducted the largest slum survey in Dhaka to date. I was helped enormously by friends at BRAC University and learnt a great deal from UNDPs Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) team. By the end of the trip, I could walk around with confidence and felt my Bangla was improving!

The experience helped me to refine my PhD focus. I found that busteebashees rely on their friends, family, neighbours and local musclemen (mastaans) to a significant degree. Social networks, kinship ties and clientalist relationships dominate lives characterised by insecurity and uncertainty. People organise and help each other, as one might expect. Yet, this organisation varied from more mundane, everyday functions such as waste collection, sorting and disposal, to longer-term community savings, planning and self-builds.

To other early career researchers I would say take every chance you get, apply to conferences even if they seem ‘above your head’, take the initiative and don’t be afraid to get out there. I learnt more in this two week trip than months of reading…some things you just have to see.