Why State Cohesion and Ideology Matter to the Poor – and to International Aid Programmes

Background paper to the ERD 2010


Seth Kaplan , Alpha International Consulting


Paper prepared for the Conference on “Experiences and lessons from social protection programmes across the developing world: what role for the EU?”, organised by the European Report of Development in Paris, France, 17-18 June, 2010.


In the majority of less developed countries, the people most likely to be poor are those who are socially excluded because of their ethnicity, religion, clan, caste, gender, or region. Disadvantaged by who or what they are, or where they live, such people are discriminated against in schools, in courtrooms, in where roads are built, and in the families and communities in which they live. Born into poverty, they usually die in poverty, their talents and hard work unrewarded or stifled by the societies into which they were born.
This kind of discrimination and exclusion is endemic in states that lack cohesion. Politicians and officials of states with fractured identities rarely feel any responsibility to assist the poor, whom they see not as compatriots, but as competitors for the spoils of government.
Such attitudes are exacerbated by weak accountability mechanisms that leave self-interested élites free to dominate their dis-enfranchised countrymen. With elections rigged, the media starved of resources, civil society weak, government officials unresponsive, and the poor limited in their ability to organise, rulers have little incentive to pay any heed to the interests of the poor.
Notwithstanding this, international aid programmes intended to help the poor often pay little attention to the political and social dynamics that keep people in poverty. Consequently, many aid programmes either fail in their objectives or have only a fleeting impact. The enduring success of efforts to reduce the depth and breadth of poverty in the developing world depends on changing the socio-political dynamics of exclusion – changing how politicians, administrators, judges, community leaders, and other powerful members of society perceive the poor.
Such a change in attitudes cannot, of course, be imposed from outside. It must, instead, arise within the developing world itself, and be driven primarily by domestic forces. But what can we, the international community, do to support and to encourage such a shift in perception?
Two strategies are likely to yield good results, especially if they are inter-linked. One strategy is to look for ways in which to promote social cohesion at the national level and to de-centralise government authority to a level at which the population feels a sense of common affinity and destiny. The second strategy is to seek out and to work with leaders and élites who are actively promoting political and social inclusivity – or whose culture, religion, or political ideology has the potential to favour an inclusive policy.
The first part of this essay examines the roots of social exclusion and its impact on poverty. The second part describes how governments in socially-divided countries discriminate against the poor and the vulnerable, worsening their plight. In the third part, the spotlight falls on social inclusion. It explores, in turn, the two factors that promote inclusiveness, growth, and economic development: 1) social cohesion; and 2) inclusive ideologies (both religious and political). The fourth and final last part looks at what the international community can do to help unlock the two doors to inclusivity.

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