WFD and CPA UK, together for Gambian National Assembly

Less than one year after democracy was restored to The Gambia, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, agreed a partnership programme with the National Assembly at a function in the House of Commons in the presence of the Rt. Hon John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, Hon. Mariam Jack-Denton Speaker of the National Assembly and Sir Henry Bellingham MP, Chair of WFD.

The partnership will share UK parliamentary experience to support members of the National Assembly in The Gambia with establishing effective parliamentary oversight of the executive, making better laws and engaging the public. It follows early programmes launched in response to demand for support following the general election of April 2017.

Over the last nine months, WFD and CPA-UK:

  • Organised a four-day induction programme for new members of the National Assembly in Banjul.
  • Enabled the parliament of Sierra Leone to share lessons in Banjul and inform a review of the official record of parliamentary proceedings (Hansard), based on recent training they received from the Parliament of the Isle of Man (Tynwald). Tynwald also assisted directly with an induction session on the use of digital equipment.
  • Facilitated an inward visit from the leadership of the National Assembly to Westminster and Cardiff to learn more about legislation, devolution, constituency outreach and the committee system.

Taking part in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Assembly and CPA UK, Sir Henry Bellingham MP said:

“We have never had anything but a great deal of mutual understanding and indeed respect for the Gambian people and Gambian parliamentarians, who during difficult years consistently stood up for democracy and human rights.

“We [UK parliament] are not perfect by any means, but where we do have knowledge, skills and experience, we want to impart that to other parliaments and maybe you can learn from some of our mistakes.”

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New parliamentary benchmarks endorsed by Commonwealth Conference

On 6 November, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, endorsed a recommendation by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)  that “Parliaments should use updated Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures as a tool to ensure their contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (on inclusive and accountable governance)”.

The launch of the Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in 2006 by CPA and partners was a ground-breaking step to strengthen parliaments through the creation of a set of standards for parliaments across the Commonwealth.

Now, at a time of increased scrutiny of parliaments and of parliamentarians, the focus on measuring impact and the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of legislatures is even more relevant.  However, the original Benchmarks were conceived as minimum standards rather than performance benchmarks and there has been limited take up by parliaments.

A decade on, SDG 16 offers a unique opportunity to revisit the expectations of an effective and democratic parliament. Last year, WFD and CPA convened a study group of leading experts in the field of parliamentary strengthening to review the Benchmarks and continue with this seminal work in setting standards for parliaments. The group discussed the development of a tool to help parliaments craft their reform agenda in line with the aspirations of the Commonwealth Charter and the SDGs, and more frequently self-assess their effectiveness and the extent to which they are becoming more transparent, inclusive and responsive institutions.

In the first half of 2017, WFD and CPA prepared updated Benchmarks that reflect these new international frameworks. In November, WFD’s CEO, Anthony Smith, was invited to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka to present this initiative and seek the endorsement of parliamentarians for their implementation. In the panel discussion, parliamentarians from Nigeria, Malaysia, Australia, and Canada noted that the use of self-assessments by Parliaments to demonstrate their performance and to highlight areas in which the organisation can improve was useful. It was also made clear that the Benchmarks are not about ‘shaming’ Parliaments as there is no grading system but that the Benchmarks allow Parliaments to consider their own culture and history in development and use the results to improve their own processes.

Conference delegates enthusiastically endorsed WFD’s recommendation on the updated benchmarks as well as three other recommendations related to the adoption and implementation of the Benchmarks. This strong support for the initiative reflects a growing appetite among parliamentarians for tools to measure their effectiveness and impact.

Going forward, WFD and CPA will convene a reference group comprising representatives from the nine CPA regions to finalise the updated benchmarks. These will be accompanied by a set of indicators of impact that would refer particularly to SDG 16 and a field guide for parliaments to use when conducting assessments using the benchmarks and indicators. WFD will use its parliamentary support expertise to advise Commonwealth parliaments throughout the process and assist in effecting improvements as they are identified.

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“It does what it says on the tin” – Reviewing laws to advance equality

What do a 1994 TV advert for wood stain and the legislative process have in common? The importance of delivering on a promise.

Opening a Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) expert seminar to explore a gender-specific approach to scrutiny of legislation, the Scottish Parliament’s Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame said:

“There is an obligation on governments when passing legislation to allow it to be put into practice and see if it does what it says on the tin.


The only way to do that in my view is through post-legislative scrutiny, where we can ask: is this doing what our parliament intended?”

Christine Grahame’s question is particularly important when it comes to matters of gender equality. Globally, substantial legislation has been passed that should lead to better lives for women and girls. Sadly, many of these laws are not being implemented.

As a young institution with a strong commitment to inclusion, the Scottish Parliament provided the perfect setting for the 10 November investigation into whether a more gendered approach to post-legislative scrutiny can help bridge this growing gap between what a law commits governments to do and what actually happens. 

The seminar brought together leading experts in parliamentary procedures, policy development and gender equality from more than six countries to explore what best practice might look like in integrating gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny – two key aspects of good governance. Together, they identified six recommendations to lawmakers in every country.

  1. Start early

Rather than waiting until a law has been passed and then trying to assess who it might have helped or hurt, gender analysis should be embedded in the policy development and legislative processes from the very beginning.

Restructuring these processes to ensure an equality lens is applied from the earliest stages is not only good practice, but saves parliamentarians from the most dreaded of fates: legislating in haste, but repenting at leisure.

Equality impact assessments (EQIAs) are used by many parliaments as an ‘early warning system’. While they’re not perfect, they do offer a useful mechanism to identify and address potential problems at the outset of the policy development cycle.

  1. Get the numbers right

Measuring equality and inequality is a developing science and it depends on high-quality data, which isn’t always there. Identifying what data needs to be collected and in what forms is an important part of getting both gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny right.

Equally important is having people in the relevant institutions who understand how to read and use the data – not just what the figures say but what this means in terms of peoples’ ‘lived experience’. As Dr Angela O’Hagan remarked, “Just because you have a gender doesn’t mean you understand gender.” Collaboration among parliamentary committees and/or government departments can help improve the range of evidence used for gender analysis of legislation, as can pro-active collection of useful data by statistical agencies.

  1. Impact assessments should have impact

Interestingly, there were differences of opinion as to whether the findings of an EQIA obligated legislators to act, or if bad news from an EQIA was little more than a ‘heads up!’

The majority agreed that when potential inequalities are found, members of parliaments and other legislatures should be compelled to either address these or change the course of the policy or law.

  1. Outreach and inclusion should be deliberate and active

One of the reasons that legislation has historically created disadvantages for women and girls – and other groups as well – is that they are vastly under-represented in decision-making processes. Addressing this is not just about getting more women elected, but it is also about making sure women are integrated into all aspects of the policy process. This means actively ensuring that they are called as expert witnesses by legislative committees, that they are fully engaged in policy consultations, and that they have a chance to help decide what the most important issues are.

Achieving this requires parliaments and government departments to seek out women and girls of all backgrounds – pensioners, disabled young people, recent immigrants, rural women, and so on – to ensure their experiences inform decision-making processes. They should not be invited to engage only when what are perceived to be women and/or family issues on the table, but no matter the issue under consideration.

  1. Money offers profound evidence of commitment

Want to know how genuine a government’s commitment to equality is? Follow the money.

Gender budgeting is often misinterpreted to mean spending more money on policies that will help women. But it is really about measuring impact and ensuring that government is spending and raising money in ways that are fair and that advance equality. Austerity measures, for example, frequently have a vastly disproportionate impact on women’s income.

  1. Political will makes a difference

Both equality and good governance make real progress when there is strong leadership behind them. Even if this type of leadership is not present at the top, government departments, legislative committees – the executive and parliament – can find ways to collaborate to advance equality through legislation, policy and good practice. Sharing techniques to monitor and report on equality-related issues is essential for progress to be made quickly.

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How strong democracy can help make development sustainable

This month we interview Tina Fahm, Commissioner at the Independent Aid Commission and recently appointed WFD Associate.

Establishing effective and legitimate multi-party democracy, is not something one organisation can help achieve in isolation. That’s why we are building a community of associates who can contribute advice and support to our programmes. With a background as an auditor, Tina brings over thirty years’ experience in governance, transparency and anti-corruption to WFD.

Tina, how did you start out working in international development?

Following my studies in politics at university, I developed a deep interest in geopolitics particularly that which related to emerging democracies. I was delighted to be appointed to the WFD Board by the Foreign Secretary. Though I had no prior experience in international development, my skills and expertise in corporate governance, organisational and leadership development were quickly made use of in WFD’s programmatic work and I soon found myself supporting the development of parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisations working alongside MPs and parliamentary colleagues in Europe, MENA and Africa.

Working at WFD helped to clarify my understanding of what constitutes effective governance, which I have come to regard as a dynamic framework encompassing leadership, culture, standards of conduct, risk management, internal control and democratic accountability in decision-making involving service users and stakeholders. I believe it is a key determinate of institutional effectiveness and of the quality of services provided. This way of thinking continues to inform my work in international development.

In 2017, we heard a lot of talk about the failure of democracy. Should we accept other forms of government can also deliver?

Sure we are living in interesting times! The rise of populism has triggered a global debate that has put democracy under considerable scrutiny. To some it may seem as if democracy has failed, to others recent events have highlighted the need to remain vigilant and not take democracy for granted and for governments to ensure inclusion and shared prosperity for all. I think there can be no better way to achieving this than through accountable and responsive democratic institutions mandated to meet the needs of citizens.

Personally, I don’t believe that any other form of government is able to deliver as well as democracy. I agree with an often quoted remark by Winston Churchill in which he says that ‘democracy is not perfect and unlikely to provide all the answers’. However recent research reported that the majority of people around the globe are still in favour of democracy as the best form of government. We just need to find ways to make democracy work for everyone.

Then, what role should democracy-strengthening organisations play?

Fostering improved democratic processes, bringing together individuals and institutions and encouraging them to work together to solve concrete problems based on democratic values and practices should lie at the heart of democracy-strengthening organisations.

But let’s not underestimate the enormity of the task. Democracy strengthening is complex and multifaceted and rightly involves a wide range of different interests including parliaments, public institutions, political parties, electoral commissions, audit authorities, anti-corruption agencies, civil society, universities, traditional authorities, media and increasingly the private sector. Each actor has their own culture, understanding of governance, different power structures working through formal and informal frameworks. Democracy building organisations need to remain agile, flexible and adaptable. It goes without saying that an ability to bring people together and create spaces to foster enlightenment and understanding is vital.

When I was a member of WFD’s Board we recognised and accepted that democracy building takes a long time. There are no short cuts. But if you get it right the benefits are enormous. Democracy can be its own return on investment.

Understanding local context in emerging democracies is key to the success of any initiative. Unfortunately, in many cases women are excluded from the political process. What is the best way to help address inequality?

Though many constitutions ban discrimination on grounds of gender, it frustrates me that women continue to face barriers to political participation across the world, and nearly every country (including our own) has yet to achieve gender parity in the political process.

There are a number of  ways to help address inequality and support women, starting with more emphasis on building skills, competencies and confidence, working with political parties to help promote greater participation of women in politics, working with women at a local level through civil society organisations and facilitating engagement with government.  Working directly with parliaments and legislatures to address issues of structural reform, especially those relating to legal and human rights can help secure long term changes that deliver a future where women are treated as equals in society, the political process and in public life.

WFD has made great inroads in tackling gender inequality and I have had the privileged of working on a range of programmes since 2007 including, in the MENA region working with the Coalition of Arab Women MPs on changes to laws on domestic violence, and with civil society organisations in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of Congo which resulted in an increase in the number of women entering politics.

The nature of democracy means that one election can change everything. That’s why we work with political parties as well as civil society. Does politics matter or should we focus on less transient and politically-neutral institutions?

I agree, one election can change everything, but isn’t that the nature of democracy?

Politics matters because it affects the daily life of every citizen. In order to have a well functioning democracy it is not an either or consideration, we need both. Democracy building is not easy, particularly in fragile states and countries that have undergone conflict, which is why the input of a specialist organisation like WFD is so important for state building and sustainable development. As an Associate, I am delighted to once again have an opportunity to support WFD in the attainment of its vision ‘the universal establishment of legitimate and effective, multi-party representative democracy’.


Photo: Tina Fahm (centre) with participants of a WFD workshop for women leaders in DRC in 2014.
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WFD launches new Strategy at 25th Anniversary Conference

On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.

The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.

Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World

WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.

Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:

  • Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
(Video: Message from Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, opens the WFD conference.)

Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).

The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:

  • The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
  • Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
(Photo: Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP from Jordan addresses the WFD conference on 12 September.)

WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.

Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is critical but rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.

As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.


In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.

Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:

  • Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
  • Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
  • Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)

The Future of Democracy Support

With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.

Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.

Presentations were given on:

  • Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
  • Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
  • Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
  • Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
  • Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
  • Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.

Conference proceedings

(Photo: Delegates discuss outcomes from the ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ in a parliamentary committee style session.)
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Contributing to the development of democracy across the globe

Patrick Grady MP

The development of inclusive democracy worldwide is a monumental task.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy staff and partners, as well as my fellow parliamentarians and governors, do an incredible job working to promote effective parliaments and multi-party politics in countries transitioning to democracy.

Taking on the role of SNP Governor for WFD is an unexpected, and somewhat bittersweet, opportunity. I’m following my SNP colleague, and former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Tasmina, and Alex Salmond, sat as Governors for the SNP as it became the third largest party in the House of Commons in 2015. They oversaw a significant scaling-up of our work within the Foundation and deserve our thanks for their efforts over the last couple of years.

As WFD nears a quarter of a century, we all have a renewed opportunity to ensure we do all we can to provide international partners with the expertise in developing parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisation – the vital institutions of a functioning democracy. I’m looking forward to supporting the continuing growth and development of our WFD funded SNP programmes, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Kurdistan and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, contributing to the increasing integrated work of WFD parties, and collaboration with likeminded organisations and stakeholders such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Much of my professional career has been spent in development, with stints in the charitable and public sectors, most recently as Advocacy Manager for the Glasgow based Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). Through this time, I was aware of and impressed by the activities undertaken by WFD and I have greatly enjoyed working with colleagues from the organisation since my election as Member of Parliament for Glasgow North in 2015.

Some of the most memorable moments from my career in development come from my time spent living in Malawi where I taught at St Peter’s Secondary School in the northern capital, Mzuzu. I was touched by the warmth of the welcome I received from the community in which I lived and I feel both lucky and proud to have retained close friendships with many of those I met. It has been a pleasure to welcome some of those – including teachers, pupils, priests and even a Bishop – on reciprocal visits to Scotland and the rest of the UK. The connections between Malawi and Scotland, in particular, go deep and demonstrate the importance of developing people-to-people relationships to complement those between institutions. I am very pleased that Malawi is now considered a priority country for WFD this year.

During the last Parliament, I was SNP International Development Spokesperson and was pleased to lead our case for the sector. I look forward to bringing this experience to bear as a Governor of WFD and am confident that my successor as SNP International Development Spokesperson, Chris Law MP, will continue to make the case for funding work in international development to ensure that we can alleviate poverty and, more broadly, meet the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Patrick Grady is MP for Glasgow North, SNP Chief Whip in the House of Commons and a Governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, having been SNP International Development Spokesperson in the last Parliament.


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Soft power: a culture of governance

Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive

‘Successfully communicating the attributes, values and outputs that gain for the UK both attractiveness and respect in the eyes of people abroad will be vital in maintaining the UK in positions of influence’ concluded a 2014 parliamentary report. However, the debate about how seriously we should take the notion of soft power isn’t settled.

A new report launched on 12 July by the think tank ResPublica argues that the two core elements of Britain’s soft power are, first, the attractiveness of our culture and institutions and, second, the level of our engagement with others. The report also argues that civil society rather than government is best placed to generate soft power. I agree with most but not all of that argument.

Take democracy. There is no doubt that Britain’s democratic culture is admired by many people in many countries, whether or not they share some part of Britain’s history, such as through the Commonwealth. I confess that in my close to three years at WFD I have been slightly surprised by the extent of that admiration and, in some cases, affection. Legislators from countries with presidential systems, with federal structures, and even from some one-party states, have all told me how much they like our parliamentary democracy with its strong scrutiny of government performance, its adaptability, its lack of corruption and its relatively inexpensive electoral system. Our democratic values are clearly of fundamental importance to us as a country and an attribute that makes us attractive in the eyes of others.

I also agree that engagement is critically important in generating soft power. Britain’s parliaments – in Westminster as well as in Scotland, Northern Ireland and in Wales – get a steady stream of visitors from other parliaments around the world. That on its own is worth something to the UK, but the depth of the relationships and the extent of the influence is even greater as a result of the willingness of our parliaments to engage more deeply with their counterparts. Through WFD’s programmes, the UK’s parliaments have sent staff and parliamentarians to share experiences, lessons and support with scores of their peers in other countries. They have never told their hosts what they should do, or to be what we are. That would be foolish and pointless. But they do want to talk, debate, listen and learn. That engagement leads to stronger relationships and, indirectly, influence.

The issue I disagree with in the report is that only civil society can generate soft power. Of course it is true that soft power is often associated with culture, especially pop culture, that is way beyond the scope of government (K-pop is, by the way, probably the single biggest driver in the rising demand to study Korean, at least at my daughter’s school). But there is also a culture around governance that can become part of the framework of values of a country, resonate with people in other countries, and consequently have real influence. Parliaments might have an advantage over governments in the soft power area since they are cross-party and have an identity that transcends the reputation of any single government. So at least in our corner of the state, I think that the official sector can hold its own with civil society. As it happens, our parliaments are also brilliant examples of the positive relationship between legislatures and civil society.

(Photo: Anthony Smith speaking at the launch of: Britain’s Global Future: harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions on 12 July 2017.)
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What does power asymmetry mean for decentralisation?

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

An organic milk factory in the rural heartland of Ukraine may seem an unusual place to contemplate the impact of power asymmetries. However, on the way to a workshop on the local experience of decentralisation, I witnessed a sense of physical exclusion that was connected to a feeling of political disempowerment among participants.

This location provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the forms of power asymmetry identified in the 2017 World Development Report: exclusion, capture and clientelism.

We were greeted by the local mayor, newly elected following the process of community amalgamation that was the subject of our visit. He was clearly proud of his town but also acutely aware of its limitations and challenges. There were ambitions among the local council to use decentralisation as a means of reducing the impact of exclusion, but this would not be a simple endeavour. Early evidence from surveys in Ukraine suggest that initial reforms are improving service delivery and increasing citizen trust in local government. Yet, despite this progress, the process of decentralisation remains incomplete, with key legislation stalled in the national parliament.

The main stumbling block for decentralisation in Ukraine is clearly the conflict in the east. The process has now become linked with the implementation of the Minsk II Agreement, meaning that action in any direction is bound to alienate either the Russians or significant sections of the Ukrainian public who don’t wish to see any concessions made to the separatist regions. Below these context-specific headlines, however, the political manoeuvrings around the rollout of existing decentralisation legislation are all too familiar and illustrate two further elements of power asymmetry explored by the WDR17: capture and clientelism.

There is a temptation among development actors to perceive decentralisation as principally a technical exercise, to be addressed through the provision of capacity-building. Ukraine’s experience suggests another approach is needed. While there is undoubtedly a need for expertise in local structures to manage the new financial and service provision responsibilities, the main obstacles to the institutionalisation of decentralised governance are largely political. Different sides of the debate believe that the other is trying to capture the decentralisation process. Proponents of decentralisation see the government’s plan to appoint ‘prefects’ as local executives as a power grab by the central state, designed to undermine local power. By contrast, critics of decentralisation argue that local elites will or have already captured the existing financial decentralisation process and are undermining efforts to reduce inequality and exclusion. Reconciling these competing visions will require political, as well as technical, support.

But this is complicated by the kinds of clientelism highlighted in the WDR17. At the local level, Ukrainian politics is dominated by prominent individuals who shop around for a political party with which to campaign, based on likelihood of victory not ideology. As such, the relationship for constituents operates at a personal rather than party institutional level, facilitating the formation of patron-client linkages. Many of these emerging leaders are likely to play a prominent role in the 2019 elections. At the national level, politics is immensely expensive, not only excluding vast swathes of the population but also distorting the incentives of politicians once in office. A WFD report on the cost of politics in Ukraine found that while the situation was improving from its nadir in 2012, there is still a long way to go. In the past, the Ukrainian legislature has passed a modest number of relatively well thought-out laws that were supposed to prevent the spread of political corruption in the country. Unfortunately, many of them were never implemented.

This is a common theme in Ukraine. The parliamentary culture is very legalistic, with even minor changes to process or policy requiring legislative action. WFD’s recent work providing research and evidence to the parliamentary committee on local self-government is likely to result in a flurry of bills; the extent to which they will be implemented in is less clear.

So what about decentralisation in Ukraine in the coming years? The mood on the ground is mixed. Local and international actors are pleased with the progress made on fiscal decentralisation and the community amalgamation process that has begun. There are concerns, however, that even these gains are under threat as the 2019 elections approach. As long as the outstanding constitutional amendments remain stalled, the sustainability of Ukraine’s reforms seems tenuous. Those looking to move the process forward will need to operate within the tight confines of international diplomacy dictated by the Minsk II Agreement. But they will also have to consider the power asymmetries that operate beneath this top-level, whose influence is likely to play a far greater role in determining whether even the existing decentralisation reforms will last.


(Photo: embroidery festival and organic milk factory in a local community outside of Kyiv, Ukraine)
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Hope for democracy: young people and politics in sub-Saharan Africa

George Kunnath, Regional Director, Africa and Europe

Sub-Saharan Africa has a youth population of 265 million. By 2045, the population of people under the age of 25 across the African continent is expected to rise by over 40%. Africa is full of young men and women with huge potential, eager to help build the continent’s future.

The continent’s young leaders are inspiring, ambitious and passionate. However, many of them are denied any real political voice or influence. Yet their role is essential in addressing the continent’s major problems of youth unemployment, underemployment and the lack of education, healthcare and basic social services.

According to the World Bank, Youth account for 60% of all African unemployed. While most African economies are growing, they are not growing fast enough to solve the problems of unemployment. The outlook is not much better for those in employment, as the region continues to report the highest youth working poverty rates globally at almost 70 %. The number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80 per cent since 1991.

That’s why WFD is committed to supporting young people to engage in politics. To borrow the words of Mohamed Jalloh, who runs our programme in Sierra Leone: ‘we have a generation of young people facing the harsh realities of unemployment, limited space in decision making, exposure to sexual risks, crime, violence and a lack of opportunities for quality education. The energy, talent and determination of youth can be used to sustain development.’

“Despite making significant progress in the last five years, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the lowest levels of youth development in the world. All of the ten lowest-ranked countries in the 2016 Youth Development Index are from Sub-Saharan Africa.”

2016 Global Youth Development Index

The problems of unemployment are linked to education. Young people in Africa are receiving education in industries that have stagnated and have not kept up with global trends. Structural unemployment remains a major problem and governments need to start linking the education system to match the demands of the labour market.

Unless young people have a voice in the legislatures and the spheres of influence their needs will continue to be ignored until the problem spills over into conflict. Critical to giving the youth a place at the table is the reform of political parties to become more inclusive. Parties that offer the youth real leadership opportunities. This is a major challenge as the status quo has served the aging political elite well.

Yet, all is not lost in Africa. The youth of Africa has shown increased political awareness and a willingness to make their voices heard. Credit must be shown to youth of the Gambia who played a significant role in protecting the outcome of the 2016 elections. And let’s not forget, that in 2012 the Senegalese opposition mobilised the youth around the issue of unemployment to defeat President Abdoulaye Wade. Young leaders are waking up to realise that in a few years the youth vote will determine the outcome of every African election.

A window of opportunity exists to help mainstream youth into the governance structures of African countries. Unless the investment is made to support Africa’s youth, there is the ever-increasing risk that many will be led away into tribal, ethnic, religious or political conflict. That is why WFD’s Africa team considers strengthening youth political participation and inclusion as the key pillar of our African strategy.

As our Country Representative in Nigeria, Adebowale Olorunmola put it: ‘Democracy thrives when citizens, regardless of age, gender, and social status, are involved in decisions that affect their lives and the society they live in.’ This is why young leaders must get a seat at the decision-making table and why WFD programmes in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda are working to do just that.





Photo: Jo-Ann Kelly

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Re-thinking governance for development

Graeme Ramshaw, WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, participated in the European Partnership for Democracy launch event of the World Development Report 2017  in Brussels last week. Here are his takeaways on what this means for democracy support.

The World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report “Governance and the Law”, encourages its readers to rethink governance for development. The authors are upfront in admitting that very little of its content is new and draws heavily on the efforts of those who have been arguing for a more political approach to development for more than a decade. But that the World Bank has taken the leap in endorsing a thinking and working politically framework is highly significant. For institutions like EU, the principal audience for the launch event last week, the opinion of the World Bank carries weight in ways that we as smaller implementers do not.

For those of us already converted to the political approach to development, the report offers a useful framework for challenging commonly held assumptions around the challenges of institutional reform. How many times have we heard these phrases?: ‘the reform failed because it didn’t follow best practices,’ ‘the reform failed because of a lack of capacity,’ or ‘the reform failed because of a lack of political will.’ These are the go-to excuses for many unsuccessful governance programmes and are littered throughout the copious evaluations of this sector. But how explanatory are they?

According to the WDR, not very. These statements do little to interrogate the underlying causes of stalled reform efforts and paper over serious gaps in our understanding of problems and our perceived solutions to them. By allowing ourselves to stop our analysis at this level, we are depriving ourselves of the real learning and depth of engagement that might bring about real change in future programmes.

To remedy this, the WDR suggests three principles for rethinking governance for development:

  • Think not only about the form of institutions, but also about their functions.

  • Think not only about capacity-building, but also about power asymmetries.

  • Think not only about the rule of law, but also about the role of law.

The WDR’s assertion that function matters more than form, in many ways is intuitive. In nature, form generally follows function, yet we, as development practitioners, have laboured for years on the premise that function follows form, particularly in parliamentary strengthening. This WDR asks why ineffective policies persist; a useful corollary might be why ineffective approaches to institutional development persist. For the democracy assistance community, the answer is likely to be one of the following:

Form is simpler than function: We don’t have an ideal parliament in terms of function; there is too much variation in how effective parliaments around the world conduct their business. What we do have are models of what effective parliaments/parties look like. This ‘good form’ is used as a proxy for ‘good function’ to reduce complexity.

“Form is simpler than function: We don’t have an ideal parliament in terms of function”

‘Best practice’ is more measurable/predictable: Work with parliaments and political parties is already viewed with scepticism by many in the development field, particularly in some donor agencies. Being able to present ‘best practice’ provides some reassurance that we can justify our programming and be held accountable for its performance in the context of heavy scrutiny of aid.

Nevertheless, the WDR argues that to see improvements in policies/outcome we need to change people’s behaviour. Rather than view institutions as monolithic entities, organisations like WFD should conceive of them as a conglomeration of individual actors, each with their interests, assumptions, and incentives. Change is likely to come not in transformational bursts but in hundreds of tiny shifts in how individuals think and behave. This is a welcome statement from an institution like the World Bank and validates a lot of what democracy assistance organisations have been arguing for some time. Incremental change is sustainable change.

So, how should WFD and others respond to these recommendations?

The WDR suggests three functions that institutions should master: commitment, coordination, and cooperation. These resonate with a lot of what WFD has highlighted in our theory of change:

  • Commitment – This is about building relationships, creating environment conducive to change. WFD has put this at the heart of its work for a long time, investing its relationships with parliaments and political parties; our new monitoring and evaluation tools now provide opportunities for these activities to be captured more rigorously.
  • Coordination – This is about changing expectations across institutions and individuals: change is the new normal. Parliaments, in particular, have a certain amount of inertia about them. Some new planning methods that WFD is piloting create opportunities for parliamentary leaderships to think creatively about the change they want to see. Our focus on bringing different groups together through networks and communities of practice also helps build momentum for change.
  • Cooperation – The goal of institutional reform is to induce voluntary compliance, encouraging scale up of change out of direct beneficiaries. WFD’s experience is that parliaments and parties respond best to peer learning and learning by doing. We have been working on mentorship programmes that link MPs and political party leaders with counterparts elsewhere. Following this up through alumni networks encourages these participants to share their experience more broadly.

What the World Bank’s WDR is proposing is not revolutionary. The Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice has long been championing a programming model that emphasises process and function. But if we apply the WDR’s logic on reform to changing development practice, this report represents a rallying point for progress toward coordination and cooperation around a political approach to governance work.

Prioritising function over form requires a change in programming for many democracy support organisations. Capacity-driven models, while remaining part of the toolkit, can no longer be the default option when designing interventions.  Rather we must move toward more adaptive styles that look to improve function by whatever means, in whatever form that emerges.

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