Why do development efforts continue to fail?
Guest blogger Jina Moore explores the background behind failed development projects, and why many organizations make the same mistakes over and over again.
If you haven't seen it yet, Stephen Walt's piece ("Where Do Bad Ideas Come From?") in the new issue of Foreign Policy demands a read. He starts with the obvious – that we never learn from our mistakes – but asks, when it comes to our policy decisions about the world, why?Skip to next paragraph
Latest leader to redefine term limits: Senegal's President Wade
US troops against the LRA? A war worth winning
Congo election aftermath: some possible scenarios to avert crisis
Africa Rising: Carbon credits save Sierra Leone's Gola Rainforest
Eastern Congo braces for election results
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The possibilities are probably endless, but Walt narrows them down. They come from age, a willful amnesia about what the generation (or more) before us learned from doing the same thing. They come from our optimism, or our naivete, that we can do better this time around. (David Rieff tackles narrows this particular blunder to our 21st century believe that we can technologize our way to success, a path he damned pretty persuasively recently in The New Republic.) They come from silence, imposed by political power in undemocratic regimes and by social taboo in democratic societies. They come from the strange inertia created by success. And they come from, and back to, good old interest: behind the policy that's chosen, there's always someone (or many someones) with political or, often, financial upside. (If for some reason you need any reminder of that, check out the NYT story on the Boeing-State Department, um, "synergy.")
Most of Walt's examples are about warfare – we could have learned from the French, but we went ahead and fought Vietnam anyway. And we could have learned from what we experienced in Vietnam, but we went regime-changing in Iraq and Afghanistan anyway. It's interesting that the architects of the latter policies were also involved in Vietnam and therefore the generational argument – that new generations resist internalizing past generations' mistakes – don't apply. Maybe that makes the "we can do better" argument all the stronger?
But there's another idea that begs to be part of this conversation: development. We've been at "development" for 50-odd years – or longer, depending on how you feel about the historical evolution of the whole thing. Maybe you don't think development is a "bad idea" – Walt chose clear liberal targets for a reason, I'm guessing – but it certainly shares the characteristics of other ideas he raises, namely, something we've done over and over that hasn't worked.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.