Unruly Politics and Rude Accountability

Unruly Politics and Rude Accountability

Rude Accountability, or why shoutiness makes for good-enough governance

This is a paper about informal modes of accountability – about why relatively powerless people with little money or social standing can sometimes hold powerful public authorities to account using no more than the sharp edge of their tongue. It is about Bangladesh, because for reasons of political history and social structure, ‘rude accountability’ works particularly well there. This is just as well, as formal accountability – good governance – is in short supply. An earlier version of this was published as an IDS working paper.

Read more…Rude Accountability

 

The Significance of Unruly Politics in Bangladesh

With the gaze of political economy and institutional analyses fixed firmly on the politics of the patron, far less attention has been paid to the politics of those whose position is mainly that of client. In fact, we know less about the contemporary ‘politics of the governed’ than of the immediate post-Independence period, because the village study tradition of class and power analysis that enriched 1970s and 1980s political sociology appears to have now more or less disappeared; the few and limited analyses of popular politics available suggest, however, that clients are not total prisoners. This paper looks at both elite and mass modes of politics. Unruliness – framed variously as informality, fragility etc – is the substantive governance issue in Bangladesh, and political unruliness is at its nucleus.

Read more…Unruly Politics in Bangladesh

 

Them Belly Full (But We Hungry): Food Rights Struggles in Bangladesh, India, Kenya

This report synthesises the findings from the four country case studies produced for the project. It is intended as a summary introduction to the main findings of the research, and a preliminary comparative analysis across the four cases. The green revolution and the global integration of food markets were supposed to relegate scarcity to the annals of history. So why did thousands of people in dozens of countries take to the streets when world food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011? Are food riots the surest route to securing the right to food in the 21st century? The research synthesised here interrogates this moment of historical rupture in the global food system through comparative analysis of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique in the period 2007-12. The core insight of the research is summarised in the title: Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) refers to the moral fury aroused by the knowledge that some people are thriving while – or because – others are going hungry. This anger rejects gross inequalities of power and resources as intolerable; it signals that food inequalities have a particularly embodied power – that food is special. Food unites and mobilises people to resist.

Read more…Them Belly Full

Food Riots and Food Rights

Food Riots and Food Rights

Food Riots research project

The period of food price volatility between 2007 and 2012 sparked what observers have called ‘food riots’, which have historically marked moments of fundamental economic change, when states have lost their ability to preserve the welfare of citizens. Food riots, however, also usher in change, often heralding new forms of public accountability for hunger. This research project explores what recent events say about this historic moment, and about the possibility of protecting food rights, by looking at the causes and consequences of food-related riots and right-to-food movements in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique.

Go here for more information on this research project.

Squeezed: Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility

Half a decade after the price spike of 2007-2008, food price volatility has become the new norm: people have come to expect food prices to rise and fall rapidly, though nobody knows by how much or when. So what does the accumulation of food price rises mean for well-being and development in developing countries? And what can be done to improve life in a time of food price volatility? Squeezed provides some preliminary answers to these big development questions, based on the first year results of a four-year project conducted across 10 countries with different levels of exposure to price rises. While high and rising food prices no longer come as a surprise, rapid price changes and the cumulative effects of five years’ worth of price rises are still squeezing those on low incomes.

Read more…Squeezed

Help Yourself!

I loved this title but I think I was alone on this one. This was the second year report from Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility and it was about accountability for hunger. We found that most people felt that they were pretty much left on their own when it came to protection against food insecurity – you have to help yourself or you will go hungry.

Read more…Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility

Delicious, Disgusting, Dangerous: Eating in a Time of Food Price Volatility

The third year results of the study Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility uncover the realities of what people on low and precarious incomes are eating. For the consumer, there are undeniable benefits from the integration of world food trade: more stable supply, wider choice. Changes in food habits mean people are finding new ways to enjoy food and new foods to enjoy, often with greater convenience and ease. There is much to savour in the eating landscape as new markets for purchased and prepared foods open up. But the loss of control this brings has detrimental impacts on wellbeing. Most people feel they understand little about how new foods affect their health and nutrition; knowledge that they had accrued over generations and longer with respect to their customary cuisines. People have real worries about a new culture of fast food and fake food; they worry about additives, nourishment and food hygiene, and they feel that governments do too little to protect them from the risks.

Read more…Delicious, Disgusting, Dangerous

Them Belly Full (But We Hungry): Food Rights Struggles in Bangladesh, India, Kenya

This report synthesises the findings from the four country case studies produced for the project. It is intended as a summary introduction to the main findings of the research, and a preliminary comparative analysis across the four cases. The green revolution and the global integration of food markets were supposed to relegate scarcity to the annals of history. So why did thousands of people in dozens of countries take to the streets when world food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011? Are food riots the surest route to securing the right to food in the 21st century? The research synthesised here interrogates this moment of historical rupture in the global food system through comparative analysis of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique in the period 2007-12. The core insight of the research is summarised in the title: Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) refers to the moral fury aroused by the knowledge that some people are thriving while – or because – others are going hungry. This anger rejects gross inequalities of power and resources as intolerable; it signals that food inequalities have a particularly embodied power – that food is special. Food unites and mobilises people to resist.

Read more…Them Belly Full

A Common Sense Approach to the Right to Food

Despite the growing activism and debate around the right to food in the past decade, there has been little exploration of what the right means in everyday life and in the routine encounters between states and citizens. This paper draws together original qualitative research in nine African, Asian and Latin American countries on how people talk about the right to food. It does so on the assumption that accountability for hunger depends on people being aware of that right. The paper explores what people at risk of hunger have to say about what the right to food means in their location; its source and origins; and responsibilities for upholding it. It concludes that while ideas of the right to food do not generally use international human rights language, an understanding of innate or natural rights to food is ‘common sense’: shared across contexts and groups, and part of how people negotiate their right to food in everyday life. Among other findings, the paper concludes that in a period of rapid economic and social development, the right to food of older people looks particularly fragile, and merits special attention.

Read more…The Right to Food

Who Wants to Farm? Youth Aspirations, Opportunities and Rising Food Prices

Based on analysis of interviews, focus group discussion and household case studies with almost 1500 people in 23 rural, urban and peri-urban communities in low and middle income Asian, African and Latin American countries in 2012, this research digs deeper into some of the established explanations as to why youth in developing countries appear reluctant to enter farming, and identifies conditions under which capable and enterprising youth are being attracted to farming, and entry-points for youth participation in policymaking around agriculture and food security.

Read more…Who wants to farm?

Elite Politics

Elite Politics

The 1970 Bhola cyclone, nationalist politics and the subsistence crisis contract in Bangladesh

The Bhola cyclone, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones the world has ever recorded, struck the Bay of Bengal in what was then the eastern wing of Pakistan in November 1970. At least a quarter and possibly up to half a million East Pakistanis perished, and livelihoods and landscape were decimated. The response by the Pakistan military government was widely deemed inadequate. The cyclone struck three weeks before the first democratic elections in the country, and campaigning on the back of the callousness of the ruling Pakistani elite, the Awami League won a landslide victory in its home province of East Pakistan, which should have placed their leader Sheikh Mujib in power. But the Pakistani elite had no intention of allowing this, forcing the Awami League into a declaration of independence. Pakistan responded with a vicious attack of genocidal intensity and intent, and within nine months, after a guerrilla war and an Indian intervention, Bangladesh was born.

Read more…The 1970 Bhola cyclone

 

Elite Perceptions of Poverty: Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi national elite are distanced from and unthreatened by poverty and the poor. Medium-term solutions to poverty, resting on a belief in the importance of ‘increasing awareness’ through education, rather than in direct public action, are favoured. The poor are viewed as homogeneous, and generally deserving. These benign perceptions may not accord direct anti-poverty action a high priority on the national agenda, but they also suggest little of the fear which can lead to repressive measures against the poor. The authors conclude with a discussion of means through which national elite support for more direct anti-poverty programmes may be built.

Read more…Elite Perceptions of Poverty

 

Engaging Elite Support for the Poorest

This paper describes and draws lessons from the experience of engaging village elites in support of the ultrapoor through the Gram Shahayak Committees (GSC), as part of BRAC’s CFPR/TUP programme. The paper addresses the following questions: under what conditions can elites become engaged in support of interventions for the ultrapoor? What are the risks and benefits of engaging elite in antipoverty programmes? After describing the origins and motivations behind BRAC’s Specially Targeted Ultrapoor (TUP) programme, the paper goes on to explain how an important lesson from the programme as it evolved included the need for on-site, village-based protection and support for TUP participants and their newly-acquired assets. The paper goes on to explore some of the early impacts of the Gram Shahayak Committees which were formed to fill this need, and to assess the motivations and factors underlying their effectiveness and success. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the lessons from the experience, including their implications for assumptions that dominate scholarship and programmes relating to the rural politics of poverty in Bangladesh.

Read more…Engaging Elite Support

The Aid Lab

The Aid Lab

Elite commitment matters

If we really want to understand why Bangladesh sets the global standard for poverty reduction we need to properly understand the role of politics — not only as a fig leaf for when times are hard, but also to explain what has worked. More specifically, we need to make sense of the political settlement, or effective agreements between the elites as to how to share the spoils of power, and what those mean for poverty and inclusive development. As Mushtaq Khan has convincingly argued, Bangladesh’s development success owes much to how the elites managed to coordinate enough to permit broad-based economic growth.

But Bangladesh’s pattern of development has been poverty-reducing, partly because of its strong emphasis on human development, particularly for women. And to explain that, we have to understand why Bangladesh’s elites agreed that it was so vital to tackle poverty head-on, and to ensure that the poor rural masses got at least some modicum of protection against the elements and the vicissitudes of life on the Bengal Delta. I tell the story of this elite settlement in my book The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success, available from Oxford University Press.

The emergence of the aid lab

My own analysis of the politics of Bangladesh’s unexpected development success is less congratulatory of the aid industry and its clever prescriptions. It is also an altogether uglier story of how the international community applied “lifeboat ethics” to justify their neglect of the 1.5 million victims of the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, and of the violent aftermath of that particularly tragic period in Bangladesh’s history.

My reconstruction of the political history of that time concludes that an elite consensus emerged that committed the Bangladeshi ruling class to protecting the rural masses against the crises of subsistence and survival that so frequently swept their way. This elite consensus included accepting the painful conditions that came with foreign aid, because without external support, the short-term survival of the country, let alone of the political elite, looked bleak.

And it meant letting aid experts treat Bangladesh as a kind of laboratory for aid, in which they often treated as the targets and objects of development, instead of as people with rights, agency, and autonomy. It may have got the Bangladeshi people into the global market, but it has done so on terms that are precarious, at best.

And so the World Bank, and the aid community in general, has little to congratulate itself for treating Bangladesh as the world’s aid lab. It should instead look again at the politics that underpin successful transitions. And it should take more seriously not only where development is taking us, but the ethics of how we are to get there. If Bangladesh was really the test case for development, what does that say about development?

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Alex Kelbert and I wrote this for a great symposium called Undressing Patriarchy back in 2013, but it is also based on the Life in a Time of FPV projectI realise now other people had already made these points and more elegantly and cleverly. But I think its a good paper because it connects food insecurity to masculinity. It is always women being referred to when experts talk about ‘gender and food security’, but global patriarchy means there are few societies in which men are not seen as ‘the breadwinner’, no matter how families are configured. So food crises are always crises of masculinity.

Poor Man’s Patriarchy