The Ownership Paradox: Continuity and Change

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The Ownership Paradox: Continuity and Change Malin Hasselskog & Isabell Schierenbeck To cite this article: Malin Hasselskog & Isabell Schierenbeck (2017) The Ownership Paradox: Continuity and Change, Forum for Development Studies, 44:3, 323-333, DOI: 10.1080/08039410.2017.1384530 To link to this article:

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Forum for Development Studies, 2017 Vol. 44, No. 3, 323–333,

INTRODUCTION The Ownership Paradox: Continuity and Change Malin Hasselskog and Isabell Schierenbeck School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden Abstract This article introduces the special section on The Ownership Paradox: Continuity and Change. In the text, we discuss how the principle and requirement of ownership is accommodated and how this may affect international development cooperation, drawing upon the various contributions in the section. The article is structured around the three crosscutting themes of who is to ‘own’, what is to be owned, and how are donor-recipient relations and approaches affected by the urge to demonstrate recipient ownership. Among the issues discussed are variations across aid modalities and groups of donors and recipients, an excessive focus on the organisation of aid at the expense of its contents, and the emergence a of a shared ownership related vocabulary. Keywords: ownership; development cooperation; donor-recipient relationship

During the last two decades or more, the notion of country ownership has come to occupy a central place in international development cooperation. Yet, like most other aid-related principles – including aid itself – ownership is something fundamentally ambiguous and paradoxical. Aid involves a voluntary transfer of resources from someone who has them to someone who needs them. Ownership, then, supposedly refers to the recipients’ possibility and right ‘to set their own development objectives and define their own strategies for achieving these objectives’ and that the donors refrain from interfering with those decisions (Brolin, 2017, p.1). As much of the literature on the subject emphasises, that is not very likely to happen. This special section in Forum for Development Studies contributes to this debate by highlighting various aspects of ownership in international development cooperation: how do receivers and donors perceive and relate to the notion of ownership, and what are the implications for international development cooperation? In this introduction, we discuss how the principle and general requirement of ownership may affect international development cooperation, drawing upon the various contributions in this special section. The concern with the donor–recipient relationship was not new when the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, with its emphasis on ownership, was formulated in 2005. Ever since international development cooperation started, the relationship between donors and recipients of aid has been a key question of concern and debate – in particular © 2017 Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)


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its inherent inequality – in turn manifested in a recurring ambition to transform it, moving away from paternalistic charity towards more equal collaboration. For example, aid has been renamed development cooperation, transfer of knowledge has been replaced by mutual learning, ready-made solutions have given way for participatory planning, and the donor–recipient relationship has been rearticulated as a partnership (Eyben, 2006; Kremer et al., 2009; Mosse and Lewis, 2005). Ideals and approaches have been revised continually at a series of summits, with recipient and donor states as well as civil society represented, resulting in numerous declarations emphasising mutual interests and responsibilities (OECD, 2005; 2008; 2011). The concept of ‘ownership’ was not new in 2005 either. Its significance for aid effectiveness has been at the heart of academic and policy debates for a long time, and a 1996 OECD report conceptualises ownership as a ‘recipient-owned’ and ‘recipient-led’ development process (OECD, 1996, p.9). Indeed, the notion of ownership was crucial when, in 1999, the World Bank abandoned its policy imposition of structural adjustment in favour of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), according to which client governments were to develop and thus ‘own’ the strategy and policies supported financially by the World Bank. Yet, while not a novel idea, the Paris declaration and the ‘new aid architecture’ that emerged resulted in country ownership becoming a guiding principle in aid-related activities, reiterated in other policy texts. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for instance, further reiterate the principle of ownership and stress that ‘national ownership is key to achieving sustainable development’ (UNGA, 2015, p.13). Local residents’ participation in community development activities has also been expected to create a ‘sense of ownership’, ensuring responsibility for, among other things, the maintenance of local infrastructure (Hasselskog, 2017; Mansuri and Rao, 2013). Recipient states are urged to exercise leadership in formulating and implementing development strategies and coordinating aid, and donor countries are urged to respect such leadership (OECD, 2005; 2008; 2011). Overall, ownership in these documents concerns the efforts of recipient countries to define and implement their own development objectives and agendas. Though the implications of country ownership are disputed, it is presented as key to aid effectiveness, and levels of ownership are continuously assessed (Booth, 2012; OECD, 2016), indicating a slow but general increase. However, although ownership remains a guiding principle and requirement, the ownership era may have passed its peak. There are indications that the pendulum of preferred aid modalities has turned, moving away from general budget support (GBS) and policy advice, back towards including more of project and programme support (Gore, 2013; cf. Söderbaum, 2017 and Brolin, 2017). Budget support and core funding, generally given on longer terms, are assumed to enable country ownership. Project and programme support, meanwhile, are generally given on shorter terms, which may facilitate quick and efficient implementation, but tend to be more tightly controlled by the donors, thus potentially hampering ownership. Yet, if support to project and programme activities creates experiences of visible results and

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positive impact, it may, as underlined in Fredrik Söderbaum’s contribution in this special section, contribute to motivation and commitment among recipients, something that the ownership principles sometimes fail to do (Söderbaum, 2017). Furthermore, with the rise of ‘new donors’, such as China and South Korea and of public–private partnerships and philanthropic aid (Kinsbergen et al., 2017), the original Paris spirit has been partly compromised (Booth, 2012, p.538). As is well known, there is a wide range of motives for providing aid (Riddell, 2007). Yet, whether driven mainly by altruistic or self-interested motives, donors are rarely willing or able, partly for domestic reasons, to provide funds unconditionally, leaving it up to the recipient to decide how these funds are to be used. This also goes for donors that explicitly and vividly subscribe to the principle of country ownership and disapprove of donor conditionality, as illustrated by Therese Brolin’s and Sabine Burghardt’s articles in this volume. As their contributions demonstrate, despite explicit and sincere commitment to country ownership and related principles, aid is never truly unconditional. Donors will not agree on funding just anything, but will always want and need to have some influence on how their money is spent. Achieving ownership also depends on recipient countries’ interests and capacities. Since donors need to know that a recipient country is prepared to own its policies, there is a ‘selection’ of recipients, focusing on those deemed willing and able to take the lead and fulfil other demands of ownership. Thus, as Söderbaum puts it in his contribution, ‘external actors and donors simply are not neutral financiers and passive promoters of endogenous and autonomous African projects’. So then – if donors are not going to give up their influence – how is the principle and requirement of country ownership accommodated? The present introduction sets out three broader themes. The first part considers who is to ‘own’ in international development cooperation. The second part examines how recipients and donors define and set up the collaboration to enable country ownership. The third, and final, theme raises the question of what is to be owned by country ownership. The themes crosscut the more specific articles that follow.

Who is supposed to ‘own’? When it is unclear who the recipient is and thus who is supposed to ‘own’, it is difficult to demonstrate recipient ownership. Since the Paris Declaration, the ownership agenda has broadened and come to include a range of potential actors, such as local governments, civil society organisations, corporations, academia, media, etc. Hence, the actor who is supposed to ‘own’ varies considerably. For instance, in community development, as noted above, participatory activities are intended to create a sense of ownership among the local population: of a bridge or a road, for example, along with the responsibility for its maintenance. However, in many cases, aid is provided to a government representing the state and the population, in which case ownership is referred to as country ownership. During the same time as the ownership agenda established itself,


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international development cooperation became increasingly focused on national policy in aid-recipient countries (Harrison, 2004; Hout and Robinson, 2009). With this focus, ownership came to imply that aid should be allocated only if consistent with a recipient state’s national priorities as expressed in various policy documents, the most influential one being the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). Rather than being donor driven, aid should be allocated in accordance with a recipient state’s national priorities (Gibson et al., 2005; Whitfield 2009). However, recipient governments differ in their understanding of ownership in practice. In settings where governments are authoritarian rather than democratic and the decision-making power lies with limited elites, ownership becomes narrow, as a majority of stakeholders remain excluded (Hasselskog and Schierenbeck, 2015). Another question of importance is whether the recipient country is led by people, or an elite, for whom national development is a central objective. Then, we could argue, ownership already exists, and the donor–recipient relationship is more about how to facilitate it in the best possible way to reach the best possible results. Long-running national development goals, as in the case of Rwanda and Ethiopia, are deemed important for the possibility of the recipient country to exercise ownership (Booth, 2012). Regarding international development aid to a regional body, it is even more unclear who the recipient is and who should ‘own’. This is discussed by Fredrik Söderbaum, writing on Swedish support to regional organisations (ROs) in Africa. Söderbaum points to the lack of commitment by national governments, for multiple reasons, to invest in ROs’ regional policies and programmes. Though the concept of ownership is rarely mentioned in the Swedish strategy for such support, an implicit ideal is that of ‘African ownership’, making it somewhat vague who is to own. Arguably, this lack of an explicit mention of ownership may reflect a lack of willing recipients and owners. Thus, for aid effectiveness to be improved, the link between regionally and nationally based aid must be improved. While the Swedish support of regionalisation is focused on increasing the capacities of ROs and their secretariats, there is a lack of commitment and political will among member states to the regional agenda and to regional integration as such, and if there is no interest among member states, it is hard to claim there is recipient ownership of aid-funded activities. More interestingly, Söderbaum’s findings suggest that ownership on a regional level can be strengthened through project aid implemented outside the framework of intergovernmental ROs. Thus, ‘good’ and ‘successful’ project support (no matter who owns it) could potentially strengthen ownership, rendering the content of the aid more important than its form. The above indicates that the ownership ideal, with its narrow focus on country ownership, has its shortcoming for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is not clear what country ownership entails and it tends to vary with regimes and settings and the orientation and commitment of the country’s political leadership with regard to an explicit development agenda (Booth, 2012, p.552). Secondly, there are numerous actors involved in international development cooperation and these are not limited to development assistance committee (DAC) donors. In the Busan meeting in 2011, when China, South Korea,

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and the other emerging donors were joining the final declaration, the original Paris commitments were reaffirmed but also slightly reinterpreted (Booth, 2012). In her contribution to this issue, Sabine Burghart writes about three East Asian donor countries that firmly ascribe to principles of donor non-interference and recipient sovereignty and, accordingly, are reluctant to policy conditionality. Despite such explicit ideals, closely related to country ownership, Burghart’s study shows that Chinese aid is commonly tied to China commerce and a certain economic conditionality is also indicated. Meanwhile, Japanese and South Korean emphasis on democracy, market economy, human rights, and gender equality can be interpreted as political conditionality, and the two donors have temporarily suspended official development assistance due to recipient countries’ military/political activities. The findings indicate that even though the new donors adhere to the principle of non-interference, they still conceptualise ownership as a mutually beneficial cooperation between two more or less equal partners and interpret it as ‘self-help’ or ‘self-reliance’ efforts. Differently interpreted, the findings could indicate that these three East Asian donors – as many DAC donors – are willing to compromise with the non-interference/ownership ideal in order to have their concerns met through different sorts of conditionalities. Burghart’s study also indicates that different principles and requirements are applied to different actors, and that the ownership ideal (as stated in the original Paris declaration) is mainly applicable to DAC donors and national governments with a strong sense of country ownership.

Ownership through ‘dialogue’ Another issue addressed in this special section is how the actors ensure ownership throughout the policy process. As we have discussed elsewhere (Hasselskog et al., 2017), the policy formulation process in aid-recipient countries has widely been interpreted as an instance of negotiation between recipient and donor representatives (Beswick, 2013; Brown and Harman, 2013; Feyissa, 2011; Greenhill et al., 2013; Hayman, 2009a; 2009b; Kragelund, 2014; Whitfield and Fraser, 2010). Included in this understanding of policy formulation as an instance of negotiation is the assumption that donors and recipients have divergent interests and preferences (Gibson et al., 2005, p.68). During the policy formulation stage, a recipient government has the possibility to influence its future national development strategies and policies (Whitfield and Fraser, 2009, p.40). This is the stage where the recipient government could make the most out of its ownership potential through the process of ‘policy dialogue’, a part of most development cooperation today. It could be argued that much of this dialogue is about claiming ownership: to cede control over the policy process and to make sure that the preferred interests or preferences are being articulated and accommodated by the other part. In the literature, recipient states are assumed to behave strategically (Greenhill et al., 2013; Whitfield, 2009). The dealing includes making conscious calculations and trying to shape donors’ perceptions of a recipient, for example by


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expressing commitment to donor favoured ideals (Beswick, 2013). Recipients’ capacity, development commitment, and assertiveness in taking the lead along with donors’ trust in the recipient state and willingness to cede control are analysed. Recipient states are found to have varying degrees of leverage and autonomy, and varying capacity to resist donors (Fraser, 2009; Greenhill et al., 2013; Lie, 2015; Rocha Menocal and Mulley, 2006; Whitfield, 2009). A recipient state that successfully uses its sources of leverage and ‘negotiation capital’ can thus manage the donors and increase its policy or development ‘space’, i.e. its room to make its own decisions and thus promote its own preferences and assumed self-interest (Beswick, 2013; Cheru, 2006; Hayman, 2009a; Kragelund, 2014; Whitfield and Fraser, 2010). The question about ownership in policy dialogues and the emphasis on policy have changed the ways donors engage with recipient countries. Policy-making capacities and resources are commonly scarce, and therefore technical assistance is provided, often in the form of foreign advisors in national ministries. Donors have come to be considered ‘stakeholders’, and regulations stipulate that they should be involved in regular discussions and coordination as part of a continuous policy dialogue (Abrahamsen, 2004; Whitfield and Fraser, 2010). The result has been interpreted as more or less permanent donor presence, with scholars talking about far-reaching ‘enmeshment’ in policymaking, ‘institutional entanglement’, ‘transgression of the internal realm’, intervention as an ongoing process, and development practices ‘beyond intervention’ (Harrison, 2010; Lie, 2015; Whitfield and Fraser, 2010). This is illustrated in the contribution by Stephen Brown, who explores the case of international development cooperation in Mali and Ghana. Both countries claim a high level of country ownership. Yet, Brown’s study suggests that donors have embedded ‘their own’ officials in government and ministries, often trained in donor countries or in multilateral development agencies leading to what Brown refers to as a form of ‘co-governance’ (Brown, 2017, p.17). Donors, meanwhile, are seen as actively seeking to retain control and promote their preferred policies. Hayman (2009b, p.593), for example, questions donors’ ability and willingness to cede control. Lie (2015) argues that when donors concede power in one way, they seek to retain it through other means, which has produced a new set of tacit and indirect governance mechanisms part and parcel of the ownership discourse itself. A major strand of critique of the ownership discourse is that, in practice, it has come to imply that recipient states embrace agendas already set by the donors (Abrahamsen, 2004: Hayman, 2009a; 2009b; Hughes and Hutchison, 2012; Whitfield and Fraser, 2009; 2010). According to critics, recipient states not only adopt policies preferred by the donors but also take responsibility for their implementation. This indirect form of power has become widely known by the Foucauldian notion of governmentality (Harrison, 2010), while Abrahamsen (2004, p.1460, cf. Hansson, 2014) also talks about ‘responsibilisation’ and Lie (2015) uses the term ‘developmentality’. However, rather than an instance of negotiation and strategising, policy formulation in aid-recipient countries can also be understood as a joint process taking place on a transnational arena. Prolonged donor presence and enmeshment indicate that the

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distinction between national and external actors may be blurred. Rather than contestation between two clearly demarcated groups of actors, policy formulation may be jointly conducted by a group of interconnected domestic and expatriate professionals (Harrison, 2010; Whitfield, 2009). Such interconnections can be expected to contribute to discursive convergence, further distorting the distinction between, and discrete agendas of, internal and external actors (Harrison, 2010; Whitfield, 2009). While recipient civil servants may, for example, adopt the language of international development and embrace internationally favoured policies, new shared vocabulary and preferences are also likely to emerge. Whether policy-making in aid-recipient countries is seen mainly as a matter of negotiation between competing interests or as a joint process, the actors involved share certain interests. For instance, they all want to come to agreements, to maintain the partnership relation and have aid funds dispersed. Moreover, both national and external actors share the urge to depict aid-funded activities and programmes as successes (albeit for different reasons), and given the focus on ownership, such notions of success include that aid is presented as nationally initiated and managed. In Rwanda, for example, a number of development programmes are labelled ‘home grown initiatives’ in order to underscore their claimed origin in traditional Rwandan practices (Hasselskog, 2015; Hasselskog, 2017). The concept of ‘home grown’ is increasingly used in other countries too, and not least by donors, as indicated in Söderbaum’s article on donor support to ‘home-grown African integration agenda and homegrown African ROs’. Apart from the specific vocabulary, as we have shown elsewhere (Hasselskog et al., 2017), an apparent tendency can also be discerned, among national as well as external actors in Rwanda; to emphasise – despite indications of donor influence – national initiative and management while playing down donor influence. This indicates that the existence and dominance of the ownership principle may lead, among recipients as well as donors, to claiming stronger country ownership than can be substantially demonstrated (Hasselskog et al., 2017).

What is to be owned? Excessive focus on organisation and form is a recurring issue in the aid sector (Booth, 2012). Which aid modalities dominate changed continuously, and is mainly a matter of how aid is set up. Also, as already mentioned, there are strict regulations for how policy dialogue should be arranged, donor coordination set up, stakeholder consultation ensured, and for how to develop a PRSP and how to monitor, evaluate, and report aid-funded activities – all dealing with procedures rather than content. Even with the results agenda, which could be expected to imply an emphasis on substance, donors paradoxically tend to focus on how a recipient state’s national budget is executed, rather than what it contains and achieves. The principle and requirement of ownership may thus reinforce a prevailing focus on the form and organisation of aid, possibly at the expense of its contents and achievements. Brolin illustrates this trajectory in her


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article in this section. Brolin discusses Swedish GBS to Mozambique. GBS, i.e. a financial contribution to a country’s national budget, is the aid modality that is most associated with country ownership. Since donors have limited control over how the GBS is spent, it is considered to both manifest and contribute to country ownership. Still, though a strong proponent of country ownership, Sweden and other donors have put pressure on the Mozambican government at instances of perceived political and economic mismanagement. Despite their recognition that country ownership is undermined, GBS has at times been withheld due to the Mozambican government’s failure to follow underlying principles and fulfil results requirements. The findings suggest that the results agenda has limited recipient countries’ ownership, and that it can be seen as a possible way for donors to control both development processes and implementation. As highlighted above, since the Paris Declaration, it is clear that the principle and requirement of ownership concern the organisation of aid-related activities, rather than their contents. The level of ownership is determined by who initiates, formulates, and manages something, and has less to do with what is initiated, formulated, and managed. Sometimes ownership has been mixed up and intermingled with all sorts of good things, such as democracy, participation, and equality. Obviously, however, not everything that is ‘owned’ by a recipient state, or ‘home grown’, is democratic, progressive, or generally ‘good’. Thus, the ownership ideal itself tends to guide aid to a great extent, and thus risks becoming more important than the actual contents of the aid. In addition, the heavy focus on form rather than content has resulted in recipient governments formulating programmes and policies according to required procedures with the aim to receive funding. This is shown in the many procedures and institutional settings, such as policy dialogues and arrangements of consultations, which have been set up in international development cooperation since the millennium. Ownership of an aid-funded activity or programme can be validated by showing that it has been nationally initiated and is a national priority. This in turn can be done by referring to various planning and policy documents in a recipient country. Brown, in this special section, strikingly shows the potential impact of this on development planning in aid-recipient countries. He suggests that the assertion of ownership may be facilitated by the existence of multiple and/or comprehensive development plans. In Mali, especially, but also in Ghana, development planning has turned into the formulation of unrealistic wish lists. Numerous and all-inclusive plans make it possible for donors to find something that they want to support, and for recipients to not risk missing a funding opportunity. With over-exhaustive plans, almost any activity can be said to be a national priority and nationally initiated, nothing can be said to be imposed, and any aid-funded programme thus deemed nationally owned. Brown’s findings suggest that recipient governments are concerned only with the organisation and procedures of aid, for instance, by focusing their work on designing multiple plans, while lacking in strategic prioritisation between the plans and in implementation. Brown argues that the reason for this is not only lack of capacity or will but also the

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desire to maximise access to donor funding. However, such wish list planning may undermine strategic planning and the use of limited resources, meaning that, contrary to its intention, the ownership agenda may dissuade recipient governments from making political choices and strategic prioritisations. Finally, the focus on form is also shown in the very use and rhetorical articulation of the ownership discourse by both donors and recipients. One example is the continuation of programmes and policies initiated and driven by national governments despite donor disagreement or dislike, under the label of ownership, announced by both national governments and international donors. The donors tend to look another way, as long as the procedure and dialogues are in place, and both national governments and donors claim national ownership to be in place (Hasselskog et al., 2017). The recipients set the priorities and get along with contested programmes and policies as long as they are framed, by both the donor community and recipients, as nationally initiated and owned. It could be argued that it is important what sort of policies and programmes that are promoted and implemented for sustainable development, but not who initiated them or who owns them. There is a risk that the content is lost with the current practice of the ownership ideal and its obsession with form and organisation in accordance with the ownership ideal.

Acknowledgements The authors are grateful to Fredrik Söderbaum and Jon Harald Sand Lie for constructive comments on earlier versions of this introduction.

Funding This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council under Grant SWE-2012-136. First versions of the articles included in the special section were presented at a panel, organised by Hasselskog and Schierenbeck, at the Development Research Conference 2016, organised by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Swedish Research Council, and the University of Stockholm.

Notes on contributors Malin Hasselskog is a senior lecturer at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, and holds a PhD in peace and development research. Her research focuses on national and international development policy and the donor-recipient relations entailed, with a focus on Cambodia, Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. Isabell Schierenbeck is a professor of political science at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. Her current research focuses on international development cooperation and the donor-recipient relationship, with a focus on Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. She has recently co-edited a special issue, ‘The ‘Local Turn’ in Peacebuilding’, in Third World Quarterly.


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