Working Differently in “Politically Hostile Settings”

CCSI set out to explore why some political settings might be more hostile ground for existing approaches to GEI reforms and consider how practitioners might work more effectively in such settings. To this end, CCSI drew on preliminary desk research, a range of practitioner interviews, an expert meeting co-convened with the Oxford Martin School Programme on African Governance in 2020, and a follow-up meeting around the rise of authoritarian behaviors among governments during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The discussion paper, Supporting Good Governance of Extractive Industries in Politically Hostile Settings: Rethinking Approaches and Strategies, by Leila Kazemi and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, captures some preliminary reflections on these issues. Moving beyond observations of the discrete challenges posed by “constraints on civic space,” “authoritarianism,” “kleptocracy,” “state fragility” or “state capture,” the analysis seeks to more systematically shed light on how such circumstances relate to each other and shape outcomes of GEI interventions. The authors suggest that when realities on the ground depart significantly from three implicit assumptions underlying the general theories of change animating much of the GEI field’s work to date – namely, that host contexts are characterized by 1) fairly open/democratic governance;            2) leaders who prioritize broad social welfare over narrower interests; and 3) functional and independent government agencies and authorities – traditional approaches to trying to improve governance and development outcomes through technical assistance and efforts to foster transparency, accountability and participation are likely to yield little progress and may even prove counterproductive. We discuss how progress can be hamstrung by the mismatch between such assumptions and realities characterized by more closed and repressive governments, powerful actors whose interests lie with personal or particularistic gains rather than social welfare, and formal institutions that are weak or subject to interference. We also share expert recommendations on how GEI practitioners might improve their impact by recognizing such mismatches and focusing on pursuing governance and development goals through the specific openings and constraints of a particular PHS.