Governanace and sustainable livelihoods

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Governanace and sustainable livelihoods challenges and opportunities
Hydâen, Gèoran, 1938-
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University of Florida
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Natural resources -- Africa ( lcsh )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 15-16).
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"This paper has been prepared for the Workshop on Sustainable Livelihoods and Sustainable Development, jointly organized by the United Nations Development Programme and the Center for African Studies, University of Florida, in Gainesville, October 102, 1998."
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2 83

Challenges and Opportunities

Goran Hyden1
University of Florida


As we approach the next millennium we have just completed half a century of trying to
make sense of development theory. Beginning soon after the Second World War the concept of
development took on an international dimension as the United States, and later Western European
states, launched assistance programs aimed at accelerating the modernization process in countries
which remained largely unaffected by industrialization, urbanization and the modern market
economy. Fifty years later -- a very short period in the history of all countries affected -- we have
explored a range of different paradigms, only to find that none of them really provides sufficient
answers to the complex questions that the task of development raises. Analysts and practitioners
alike continue their search for concepts and instruments that provide evidence that we are finally
on the right track in order to catch the elusive ghost of development. The uncertainty and
ambiguity that are associated with this chase have already turned the more impatient of us away.
For example, international development through foreign assistance no longer enjoys the same
level of support in North America and Western Europe as it used to do precisely because promise
has rarely been backed by practice. Although we would like to believe that we are all engaged in
a learning process and try to avoid the policy mistakes of the past, the new paradigms and
approaches that we continue to develop have really failed to provide satisfactory answers. It
seems as if we are caught more in a vicious circle than in a creative spiral when it comes to
understanding what development is and how it can be promoted on an international level.

The best hope that we currently have for escaping the vicious circle is that we have finally
become more circumspect and more humble in our pursuit of development. To some extent, this
may be read as acknowledgement of our past inabilities. The main point, however, is that we have
come to accept that development cannot be done for people, not even of or with them.
Development is potentially effective only when it is done by people themselves. They are the
primary "stakeholders" -- they must own the activity -- for it to become reality. This also means
that development is viewed more as the outcome of local micro action -- by individuals, groups or
communities -- than by formal institutions such as the state. As we ponder the meaning of
sustainable livelihoods and sustainable development, it is important to recognize that the
pendulum has swung full length from where development discourse began some fifty years ago.

The purpose of this paper is to trace the evolution of this discourse over the years and
what the implications are for our quest for better and more constructive answers to the

1 This paper has been prepared for the Workshop on Sustainable Livelihoods and
Sustainable Development, jointly organized by the United Nations Development Programme and
the Center for African Studies, University of Florida, in Gainesville October 1-3, 1998.

contemporary challenges in the global arena, notably the poverty of most Third World countries.
Drawing on these insights, the paper continues to define the concept of governance and placing it
in the context of other concerns that people have with sustainable livelihoods (SL) today. It points
to the specific challenges and opportunities that governance brings to SL. The paper ends by
suggesting a few indicators that are necessary for understanding governance in an operational
sense. In so doing, it also provides examples of possible governance activities that may be
appropriate to support in order to promote an SL approach to development.

Shifts in Development Thinking

Much water has flown under the bridge since the concept of development was first
domesticated for use at the international level in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Spurred by the
success of Keynesian interventions in the economies of Europe immediately after the end of the
Second World War -- the Marshall Plan being the single most important such measure --
economic analysts generated a new field within the discipline called "development economics". In
the perspective of these economists, development in the emerging states of what has since become
known as the Third World would be best achieved through transfers of capital and technical
expertise (Rapley 1996). This philosophy prevailed in the last days of colonial rule and the early
years of independence in Africa. It was also applied to Asia and Latin America with few
modifications. Being lodged in a modernization paradigm, this approach to tackling development
issues was characterized by great confidence and optimism. Development did not seem difficult,
defined as it was largely in technocratic terms. Little attention was paid to the specific contexts in
which development was being attempted. Instead emphasis was laid on transferring those
institutions and techniques that had proved successful in modernizing the Western world.
Intellectual efforts were concentrated in two directions. The first was to help produce
comprehensive national development plans as guides for what should be done in more concrete
terms. These plans stated the anticipated macro-economic conditions under which specific
program and project activities should and could be developed. Projects acquired a special status
as instruments for realizing development objectives. The second effort, therefore, was to
emphasize the importance of good projects. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in the first phase
of development thinking that lasted into the mid-1960s, the project level was regarded as most
important. Good project design was the key to success. Such design, however, involved only
technical experts. It was done for the potential beneficiaries. Government and other public
institutions were responsible for ensuring effective implementation. Development, then, was
thought of as being something done by public agenciesfor the people.

The second phase began in the latter part of the 1960s, when analysts and practitioners
had begun to realize that a singular focus on projects in the context of national plans was not
adequate. First of all, projects typically had as many unanticipated as anticipated outcomes.
Secondly, they were often "enclave" type of interventions with little or no positiveexternalities.
Projects, therefore, did not meet the increasingly impatient temper of the international
development policy community as it realized that little development, especially for the poor, had
been achieved in the 1960s -- the first UN Development Decade. Convinced, therefore, that
something else had to be done to reduce global poverty, development analysts evolved a greater

page 2

sectoral trust in their approach. In operational terms, this meant substituting project for program
as the principal concern. The important thing now was to design integrated programs that
addressed not only a single dimension of human needs, but a whole assemblage thereof. For
example, integrated rural development programs became very fashionable instruments. As a
sequitur, it also became common for governments to institute administrative reforms that stressed
the value of decentralizing authority to lower levels of government organization in order to
enhance coordination and management of development programs. The result was a growing
emphasis on integrated development under the auspices of decentralized government structures.
The other thing that happened during this period was the growing importance being given to
capacity-building. Although this had started already in the 1960s, education and training was
confined to a relatively small number of people in government employment. In the 1970s, adult
education and universal primary education indicated the value of capacity-building writ large.
That is why during this phase, development was seen as being of the people.

At the end of the 1970s, there was another shift, this time of even greater consequence
than the first one. It was becoming increasingly clear that governments could typically not
administer the heavy development burden that had been placed on their shoulders. This was most
apparent in Africa, where the state lacked technical capacity but it was recognized also elsewhere
because of other bureaucratic shortcomings. Placing all the "development eggs" in one basket
was increasingly being questioned. So was the role of the state in comparison with the market as
allocative mechanism of public resources. It became necessary, therefore, to go back to the
drawing-board. The challenge was no longer how to manage or administer development but to
identify the incentives that may facilitate it. The strategic focus was moved to the level of policy.
The World Bank, mandated by its governors, took the lead on this issue and with reference to
sub-Saharan Africa produced a major policy document (World Bank 1981), which was to serve as
the principal guide for economic reform -- structural adjustment -- in Africa in the 1980s. These
reforms became necessary in order to free up resources controlled by the state that could
potentially be better used by other institutions in society -- voluntary or private. In combination
with financial stabilization measures drawn up by the International Monetary Fund, these efforts
to bring in private and voluntary sector groups and institutions into the development process
constituted the most significant changes in the 1980s. Again, the perception of development had
changed, this time to being an exercise carried out with the people.

The new thing in the 1990s has been the growing recognition that development is not only
about projects, programs and policies but also about politics. For a long time, politics and
development were seen as two separate and distinct activities. Development analysts, especially
economists, wanted to treat "development" as apolitical. Donors and governments in the Third
World upheld this dichotomy for a long time and it is only in recent years that they have come to
revise their position. The idea of "getting politics right" is now widely viewed as a precondition
for development, not the least one that also incorporates the notion of sustainability. This means
that international actors, especially the donor countries in the Western world, typically put into
question the notion of state sovereignty as conventionally understood. For example, human rights
violations, including those that limit freedom of expression and association, are being invoked as
reasons for not only criticizing governments of other countries but also withholding aid if no

page 3

commitment to improvement is being made. The "governance and democracy" agenda of
international aid agencies has become a very prominent part of what international organizations
are doing today in order to promote development. They recognize that people constitute the
principal force of development and they must be given the right incentives and opportunities to
succeed. To that effect, an enabling environment includes not only good economic macro
management but also governance, i.e. the establishment of reliable institutions that allow
individuals and groups at the micro level to do things on their own and achieve aggregate results
that have the effect of making their livelihoods as well as their country's national development
sustainable. Development is no longer a top-down exercise, but a bottom-up process. As such,
development is now seen primarily in terms of being by the people.

The discussion so far can be summarized in a diagrammatic form as follows:

Table 1. Shifts in Development Thinking from the 1950s to Date.

The integration of politics with development in recent discourse means that politics is
potentially part of both the problem and the solution. It is not only a matter of getting the
government to choose and implement the rights economic, social or environmental policies. It is
also of constituting a political order in which efforts by actors at various levels in society can be
realized in a sustainable fashion. Designing or constituting a political order, however, is more
complex and associated with even more uncertainty than efforts of a similar nature in other
spheres. That is why special attention needs to be paid to how governance relates to sustainable
development and sustainable livelihoods. We will begin by looking at how we may best
understand the concept of governance.

The Concept of Governance

"Governance" has become part of the international development vocabulary in recent
years, but very few attempts have been made to give the concept a specific meaning that bears on
today's particular challenges. The international finance institutions, for example, have
incorporated the concept into their official rhetoric largely because it allows their representatives
to refer to political reforms and conditionalities in terms that appear less imposing. After all,
neither the IMF nor the World Bank is officially mandated to consider political issues in its

page 4

Period Focus Emphasis

1950s-1960s project for the people

1960s-1970s program of the people

1980s policy with the people
1990s politics by the people

negotiations with a member state. In these circles, therefore, governance has become a catch-all
concept that includes improved economic management, greater public accountability, and the rule
of law, to mention a few aspects that typically are used in publications and statements issued by
these institutions (see, e.g. World Bank 1992). Many other international organizations, including
the United Nations' agencies, and bilateral aid agencies, have adopted this terminology.
Governance is the equivalence in the 1990s of "development planning" in the 1960s,
"development management" in the 1970s and "structural adjustment" in the 1980s, albeit with one
big difference: governance remains a much less operationalized concept than any of the others.
Defining and operationalizing it, therefore, is not merely an academic exercise. It bears directly on
the tricky practical issues that emerge from trying to incorporate politics into the development
equation. We have good reasons, to pay attention to what exactly governance is -- and should be
-- as well as how it relates to other concepts that are being used by analysts and practitioners

As I have suggested in a different context (Hyden 1992), governance has the potential of
being a useful tool of analysis. It transcends such concepts as "government" and "leadership" and
points us in the direction of acknowledging relations of authority that are not necessarily only
formal, nor just concentrated to the state (Lofchie 1989). Governance enables us to suspend
judgment about the exact relationship between political authority and formal institutions in
society. This is important, because rules or institutions that constitute relations of authority are
often informal, an observation that many analysts have made with reference to both Africa and
Asia. For example, rules that govern political conduct in these places may be unwritten and
overshadowing those enshrined in a country's constitution or other legal statutes.

Governance also enables the analyst to overcome the limitations inherent in the literature
that focuses primarily on state capacity. For example, much of the political science literature on
developing countries in the 1980s focused on state-society relations (e.g. Callaghy 1984, Migdal
1988, Rothchild and Chazan 1988). This literature had the advantage of alerting us to such issues
as why state capabilities are limited and why people often find ways around state-initiated
legislation, but it also had the tendency to juxtapose state and society in ways which implied that
all shortcomings were associated with the state, not society. By not being tied specifically to the
formal-legal institutions of the state, governance acknowledges that the state is rarely the sole
harbinger of power and society rarely free from the shortcomings apparent in the state. By
assuming that the state is foremost a reflection of the norms and values that prevail in society,
governance recognizes the need to find a conceptual apparatus that better addresses this issue.
We suggest "the public realm" as well suited for this task. The quality of the public realm, e.g. the
extent to which it is imbued with "civic" values, becomes an important aspect of how we analyze

Another thing about governance is that it is more directly connected to "regime" than to
"state" or "government". Regime is distinct from both government and state. It is typically a more
permanent form of political organization than a specific government. Governments change more
often than regimes, although the fall of a government may at times also lead to the collapse of the
regime. Regime, on the other hand, is less permanent than the state. The latter is an

page 5

institutionalized structure of domination and coordination of both law-and-order as well as
development activities. A state, for instance, may remain in place as regimes come and go.
Military regimes may succeed civilian ones, but the state remains functionally the same. Should
the state collapse, which is rare, but has happened in recent years in parts of Africa (cf Somalia
and Liberia) and Asia (cf. Afghanistan), regime typically crumbles too.

In the light of these points, we propose that governance should be given a more precise
and functional definition referring specifically to the regime concept. Using the latter to mean the
fundamental rules -- formal or informal -- that constitute the public realm, regime is the normative
framework within which policies are made and other political activities conducted. Regime values
shape the way individuals collectively make choices and behave in the public realm. Governance,
as defined here, then, is the conscious stewardship of regime structures (or rules) with a view to
enhancing the legitimacy of the public realm, i.e. the arena in which state and society actors
operate and interact to make authoritative decisions. In more practical terms, governance refers
to those measures that involve setting the rules for the exercise of power and settling conflicts
over such rules. It is the essence of what some prefer to call constitutional politics.2 In an
increasingly globalized context, which rules should be allowed to prevail is easily becoming a
contested issue in individual countries. For example, whose rules should be allowed to prevail in a
context where the interest of preserving a rare species of animals --- and maybe its whole habitat -
- is pitched against that of a community of people whose livelihoods are already marginalized and
not easy to sustain? Cases like this, which can be found in many places around the world, involve
contests over rules, some of which are very local and others that are national or international in

Governance, as used here, is a functional concept. It implies that governance is a universal
political function. Contests over rules occur everywhere. How well the stewardship is carried out
and what mechanisms exist for resolving conflicts over constitutional and legal rules vary from
one country to another. Governance exists even where it is bad in the sense of not enhancing the
legitimacy of the public realm. In fact, in many countries, conflicts over the fundamental rules of
how politics should be conducted are among the most difficult to resolve. Improving the
governance function, therefore, is a legitimate concern is most societies. That is also why the
notion of "good" governance has acquired such currency in the international community. It refers
to the measures that analysts and practitioners identify as necessary to strengthen the regime and,
hence, the quality of the public realm.

The problem with the notion of "good" governance is that it tends to be confused with
liberal democratic governance only. While many aspects of the latter no doubt are relevant to the

2 The concept of governance could possibly be applied to lower levels of public action,
e.g. the level of individual organizations. In that context it would refer to stewardship or conflicts
over rules that are fundamental to the operations of that organization. As discussed further below,
however, it is important to separate governance issues from those that are specific to policy-
making, administration or management.

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concern about how to improve the governance function, good governance so conceived also has
the effect of narrowing the focus to norms that are not always easy to put into practice through
some form of external technical assistance. The operations of "Governance and Democracy"
programs by many multilateral and bilateral aid agencies are indicative of this problem. The
instances of where governance structures have successfully been introduced in particular countries
by the international community, as with Germany and Japan in the years after their defeat in the
Second World War, are exceptions rather than the rule. The evolution of good governance
structures is bound to take its time and is likely to be sustainable in most instances only when they
come about as the result of an organic outcome of state-society interactions. This does not mean
that international organizations will always fail in their efforts to improve governance in specific
countries around the world. It does suggest, however, that we need to be careful about what kind
of expectations we harbor and what mechanisms we advocate for better governance. It also
implies that governance needs to be understood not as representing everything that might be done
in the political sphere in order to promote sustainable development. How it relates to other
relevant concepts that the international development community regularly uses is the next topic of
this paper.

Governance and Related Concepts

Governance is just one aspect of politics, one type of politics that affects what is
happening in a given country. It implies, as suggested above, that the nature of the rules that
guide the conduct of politics is important. By focusing on the way a polity is constituted -- and
how fundamental values and procedures are understood and acted upon -- governance deals with
overarching issues that bear on everything else that actors in politics do. Kiser and Ostrom (1982)
refer to this set of concerns as "meta-policies". Analytically speaking, they take place on a meta
level. We agree with them that this kind of political choices needs to be separated from others
made at lower levels in the political system. That is why we reserve the use of governance for
politics on the meta level.

A principal focus of political scientists is, and has always been, public policy-making.
Lasswell's notion that "who gets what, when and how?" constitutes the essence of the study of
politics has been shared by many both before and after him. Although policies may be made at
many different levels in a given political system, it is what happens at the macro level that counts
most. It is the impact of policies that have been authorized at this level that are of most interest
for those that study the impact of policy on development. To be sure, many such policies are
influenced by pressures from outside as well as from inside, e.g. by groups that have organized to
shape the outcome of the process. Students with varying interests, e.g. in political economy or
policy process, have all congregated at the macro level, assuming that choices made there are the
most significant.

Students of politics also concern themselves with the implementation of policies. Public
administration, and how it is organized for the purpose of getting things done, is another principal
interest also of those that study development. For a long time there existed the notion that public
services in developing countries had to be organized for "development administration" in order to

page 7

promote socio-economic progress (for a review of this effort in the 1960s, see Schaffer 1969).
Whether or not so constituted, however, public administration is an activity that takes place at a
level of analysis that is typically seen as being at a notch below that of policy-making. Public
services are organized sectorially and operate specific programs which relate to particular policy
arenas. Thus, reforms of these services are typically carried out in response to specific problems
encountered in implementing policy.

The "nuts-and-bolts" issues of development are encountered first and foremost at the
micro level where projects operate. This is where the managerial challenges are experienced on a
day-to-day basis. Organizations concerned with implementing particular project activities adopt
specific strategies and approaches that are deemed appropriate, if not optimal, for a given set of
tasks. For a long time, much intellectual energy has gone into devicing approaches that are
flexible enough to accommodate unanticipated changes in the economic or technical environment,
yet stable enough to allow the organization to function in a reliable and accountable manner (cf
Burns and Stalker, 1962, for an early examination of this issue). Micro level concerns about
improving management of specific projects or activities are typically very different from those that
arise at the level of making policy or even at the level of implementing sectorial policies.

We may summarize these analytical distinctions in the following table:

Table 2. Governance and its relation to other concepts and activities.

We do not suggest that these levels should be treated as isolated from each other. For
instance, problems at the policy-making level could result in changes at the political level. In
short, governance issues may arise as a spillover from irreconcilable conflicts at the macro level.
Similarly, conflicts at project and program levels may lead to changes in policy, if not in regime
structure. In empirical terms, they tend to be interrelated.

Even if these levels are interconnected, we are critical of the tendency in many
international development agencies to treat governance as applicable to all four levels. Instead of
talking of reforms in policy-making or public administration, many representatives of these
agencies -- and consultants serving them -- refer to such measures as part of governance. The
latter is viewed as permeating all levels. At a UNDP-sponsored workshop on governance in Dar

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Level Activity Concept
Meta Politics Governance
Macro Policy Policy-Making

Meso Program Public Administration
Micro Project Management

es Salaam earlier this year, the consultants' report for the meeting -- and the subsequent
discussion -- made indiscriminate references to governance as applying to improved policy-
making as much as better public administration and management. Thus, for example, calls for
greater public accountability in the public service were subsumed under "administrative
governance" instead of being plainly called public service reforms. Similarly, improved
management of economic enterprises was spoken of in terms of "economic governance" instead
of management reforms. We make this observation here because it goes beyond pure academic
semantics. If governance as concept is indiscriminately applied it loses its practical meaning. It
becomes everything and nothing at the same time. Neither analyst nor practitioner benefits from
such abuse.

Having tried to sort out the terminological confusion that has been allowed to prevail in
international development discourse, it is now time to examine more closely how governance
relates to sustainable livelihoods and sustainable development. Why should we be concerned
about governance in this context?

Governance and Sustainable Livelihoods

The development discourse and experience that were traced in the first section of this
paper indicated that one lesson learnt during the past fifty years is that development is more
complex than was previously assumed. Thus, in the 1950s and 1960s development was regarded
mainly as a technical and economic task. It could be done with the right expertise. In the 1970s,
analysts added the administrative and managerial dimensions: development would not succeed
unless organizations had sufficient capacity to administer and manage. The top-down approach
that had prevailed till then was being questioned in the 1980s when institutions other than the
state were being included as partners in the development process. Private enterprise, community-
based organizations and, gradually, also non-governmental organizations writ large, were being
contracted to take part. This institutional proliferation put premium on interventions at the policy
level but did not render earlier concerns about technical competence and managerial capacity
invalid. As political concerns were added in the 1990s, the agenda was not only changed but also
supplemented in an important way. The result is that development today has become a very
complex equation, or expressed differently: the puzzle has proved much more intricate than was
initially expected.

It is against this background that we must view the increasing calls for sustainable
development and, more specifically, sustainable livelihoods. The SL approach tries to turn former
conventional wisdom upside down. It strives to unravel the bits and pieces from the bottom up or
from the inside out. It assumes that nothing is sustainable unless it is grounded in real life
situations where individual actors are ready to act in their interest. The positivist premises of
development theory that reigned in previous decades have given way to learning approaches
where lay know-how is deemed as valuable as the expertise provided by people hired by formal
organizations. Following in the Deweyan tradition, many analysts place emphasis on how
knowledge is being validated through social processes. Rational choice theorists, for example,
assume that rational actors learn as they revise the consequences of their choices (Elster 1986).

page 9

Social learning theory, which is broader in its interpretation of what affects individual behavior
and choice, includes also symbolic systems as reinforcement mechanisms and self-generated
intermediaries to confirm a particular type of choice or behavior (Bandura 1973). Regardless of
philosophical or epistemological premises, these theorists share the view that learning is the bridge
between knowledge and action. Moreover, experimental learning is seen as more effective than root
learning in classroom-type of situations.

With so much value put on participatory forms of learning, it is not surprising that
development analysts have increasingly come to advocate new organizational and management
structures that accommodate individual preferences and enable them to engage in learning at a
compatible pace. In addition to previous influences from the study of human organizations, the
call for new management structures for sustainable development has gained impetus from studies
of the dynamics of ecosystems which indicate that one-dimensional interventions to solve a
particular problem -- the "target" approach -- are pathological because ecosystems tend to
become more vulnerable and management agencies less responsive (cf. Gunderson, Holling and
Light 1995). Being designed to respond to what are essentially positivist interventions,
development organizations have failed to deal with crisis and surprise. Complex and ever-evolving
ecosystems, therefore, need human management structures and approaches that are adaptive and
that can more effectively deal with both the complexity and the surprises that nature tends to
throw before us. This means that in the same way as we are today advocating participatory
approaches for human beings, we are calling on nature to be much more a partner than merely a
"target" of intervention as in the past. Ecosystems become natural starting-points for how to build
human organizations and device relevant management approaches. It is less what we can do to
nature than what nature can to do us that becomes important in any discussion of sustainable
livelihoods and sustainable development. This outlook brings at least three specific challenges to
development policy analysis. The first is the task of getting a handle on complexity. The second is
how to link the micro to the macro and meta concerns discussed above. The third is how to
incorporate these new insights into organizations like the UNDP that wish to make a difference in
the field.

The first addresses specifically the challenges at the policy level. Conventional policy
analysis is used to simplifying and arriving at a single recommendation that is the outcome of
weighing competing alternative courses of action against each other. It presupposes the notion
that the right policy intervention can change things around in a positive direction. The policy
package is based on an abstract form of analysis that precludes learning from the environment. If
things do not go as planned, it is as common to blame the "victim", e.g. nature, as it is to assume
that the policy was inadequately designed. Fortuitously, in recent years policy analysis has become
more diverse and there are scholars like Majone (1989) and Roe (1994) who believe that cost-
benefit and other types of rational analysis based on quantification often mystify as much as they
clarify complex problems. The former argues for greater attention to policy process. Analysis
must be seen in the context of argumentation and persuasion which are as critical to success as the
quality of the actual analysis. The latter, drawing on postmodernist or poststructuralist
approaches, advocates a narrative type of policy analysis which builds on case stories (or
narratives) that are pitched against each other until a synthesizing meta-narrative emerges as an

page 10

agreed choice to move ahead.

The second challenge stems from the growing emphasis on primary action at the micro
level. The assumption is that only if development activities are initiated and grounded at that level
in specific stakeholder settings will livelihood improvements and national development be
sustainable. Everything above the micro level needs to be adjusted to the demands and
predicaments of local actors. The policy process needs to become responsive to these actors and
governance should focus on realigning rules in ways that enable the micro environments to
flourish. Above all, governance measures need to institute rules that are both understood and
legitimate in the eyes of actors at the micro level. Linking the summit to the grassroots, i.e.
connecting governance concerns to project management performance across the whole social and
political spectrum, is not going to be easy. Few social or political systems, if any, have
demonstrated such sensitivity that people, regardless of status, have been able to improve their
livelihoods simultaneously within a reasonable time span. Much more common in a historical
perspective has been a skewed distribution of resources and benefits. One person's sustainable
livelihood has been at the expense of some one else's. In short, it is hard to see how SL
approaches can insulate themselves from power considerations and succeed. Reorienting the
political system to suit the needs of the poorer segments of the population, therefore, is an
especially difficult challenge and a reason why governance is such a key function in the SL
equation. Our expectations have to be modestin order to avoid disappointments and the risk of

The third challenge is closely related to the second: how can mainstream development
organizations rid themselves of behavior and structures that stand in the way of realizing an SL
approach? Such organizations are typically driven by forces that are responsive to other concerns
than sustainable livelihoods for the poor. UNDP should be commended for having taken on this
enormous challenge, but it must pay as much attention to the risks associated with its stand as to
the possible gains that can be made. In particular, like other aid organizations, it must critically
examine where its own contribution can possibly be made. Is it in terms of a new policy agenda
that may be adopted by others? Is it "upstream" in the policy process through consultancies? Is it
at the meta or macro level of political action that its comparative advantage lies? These are issues
that need to be fully addressed not only by the UNDP itself but all other agencies that believe in
the SL approach. As suggested above, they are as much part of the problem as the solution and
need to acknowledge this dilemma not only in words but also in action.

Assuming that UNDP and these other agencies recognize the significance of governance
concerns for realizing sustainable livelihoods, the final section of this paper will examine in some
detail what may constitute possible points of entry for linking governance to SL.

Linking Governance to Sustainable Livelihoods

As the Concept Paper for this conference sets out, SL is "the capability of people to make
a living and improve their quality of life without jeopardizing the livelihood options of others,
either now or in the future" (p 1). This is a noble but difficult challenge. In particular, translating

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theory or ideal into practice is particularly hard. Being concerned less with the specific
mechanisms that may be used in given instances to ascertain sustainability, this section deals with
the realigning the rules or reorganizing the environment in which such mechanisms can be applied
in a feasible manner. The implication here is that without a favorable regime, sustainable
livelihood efforts at the micro level will remain local and insignificant beyond the boundaries of
specific group or community activities. SL requires a set of supportive macro and meta structures
in order to translate into sustainable development at the national level. What specifically
governance arrangements, then, should be given highest priority in order to realize SL? Drawing
on an approach that has been developed by the International Institute of Environment and
Development (Dubois 1998), four areas may lend themselves to special attention. The first
concerns the devolution of power to enable communities and groups to have greater access to
financial and economic resources. The second refers to the distribution of responsibilities for
development. The third focuses on the institutionalization of rights that allow citizens to take
initiatives of their own and, if necessary, challenge authorities in substantive policy fields. The
fourth concerns the nature of the relations between different levels of authority in the political
system. I shall deal with each one of them in turn.

1. Returns and revenues. Any governance intervention to strengthen revenues and returns
deals ultimately with what access individual households, groups or communities at the local level
have to resources that allow them to increase their returns on labor and/or capital and earn
revenue on activities they carry out on a public basis. This would imply changing the institutional
set-up of both market and state. For example, as noted in a UNDP strategy document, access to
assets, such as credit, for those living in poverty can be a major encouragement to entrepreneurial
initiative and employment growth, and thus greater returns on effort (UNDP 1997:7). The
organization's own MicroStart program is an effort to support self-employment, income-
generation, and to increase self-reliance. The important thing about this program and similar
efforts by other organizations is that their success is not merely dependent on successful
management of micro-finance but also on the extent to which the rules for conduct in the market-
place are supportive of such efforts. Experience to date has been that many such programs have
failed precisely because the macro environment or the rules delineating access to additional
resources have not allowed it to succeed. Decisions to changes such rules are political. They
constitute governance measures that are likely to make a difference to whether livelihoods can
really become sustainable. The importance of being able to collect revenue locally is another
aspect that is necessary for sustainable livelihoods. Whether it is revenue-sharing in the context of
wildlife conservation, as in the case of Zimbabwe's CAMPFIRE program, primary health care, or
any other public activity, devolution of such powers to the lower levels of the government
hierarchy is a necessary governance concomitant of SL. It allows for funds to be circulated in
local contexts where they stand a greater chance of being productive than if they are channeled
into government treasuries at higher levels in the formal hierarchy. This type of measure is bound
to be hard to effectively implement in circumstances when central governments themselves are
contracting their activities. Nonetheless, such types of revenue-sharing that allow local
communities or government structures to retain revenue from taxes collected are governance
prerequisites of SL.

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2. Responsibilities. Returns and revenues enable local communities and structures which in
the past have been starved of funding to play a greater supportive role of efforts at the grassroots
level to make livelihoods more sustainable. The distribution of responsibilities is a necessary
complement to the first governance measure discussed above. Questions inevitably arise not only
about what level in the official hierarchy should be mandated to this or that. Also important is
how much responsibility should be in the hands of government officials as compared to private
and/or voluntary sector institutions. The practical reality in many parts of the developing world is
that local groups and communities have seized the initiative to manage their own affairs because
de facto governments have ceased to operate as effective agents of change (cf. Brautigam 1997).
In this type of vacuum, well-to-do individuals have often taken advantage of the opportunities
created by the absence of a regulating authority. This has typically increased the gap between the
"haves" and the "have-nots". This trend poses a threat to SL, because it tends to marginalize
groups of people and limit their access to resources. Community-based organizations and other
bodies can fill this gap but there must be the political will to empower such organizations to play a
productive role in supporting SL. Such empowerment includes changing the rules that determine
the division of responsibilities between state and civil society organizations. We have,
unfortunately, seen too many cases of government being reluctant to share responsibilities that are
fundamental to the success of SL. Extra efforts must be made, therefore, by domestic social
forces in a given country -- nudged by the international community and its representatives -- to
pluralizing the public realm and thereby diversifying responsibilities for sustaining livelihoods and
development. Funding of what are generally referred to as civil society organizations is a strategy
that needs to be pursued with vigor but also with sensitivity to such potential problems as
dependency on outside funding that effectively subverts institutional sustainability.

3. Rights. Neither greater revenue-sharing (or investment returns) nor a distribution of
responsibilities for development that is better attuned to a bottom-up approach will lead very far
unless the rights that citizens have directly as individuals or, indirectly as members of local
associations are secured. It is encouraging to see how a global human rights agenda has emerged
independent of the economic reform agenda of the IMF and the World Bank. Much of this new
awareness has arisen as a result of rights abuses carried out not only by national governments but
also by international agencies. The latter, for example, have often supported large-scale projects
that have displaced communities that lived under circumstances that were much more attractive --
and often sustainable -- than those where they ended up after being moved. The construction of
dams in various parts of the world has been one such activity that has helped raise rights
consciousness both at local, national, and international levels. The insertion of rights promotion
and protection into the political process is a governance measure that tends to change the roles of
the political game in favor of the less well-to-do and powerful in society. We know that simply
writing a Bill of Rights in the constitution is not enough to achieve such a change, although it may
be a necessary first step. Human rights, whether civil-political or social-economic, will be
respected only if there is a broad understanding among political leaders that violating such rules is
associated with specific costs such as loss of popularity and credibility. In order to raise the ante,
so to speak, domestic groups and organizations as well as international organizations must keep a
watchful eye on the political arena and complain or criticize whenever appropriate. It is important
to emphasize here that in many parts of the world, this task cannot be left to domestic

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organizations only. International organizations, including UNDP, can help to realize SL by being
sufficiently interventionist in the case of human rights violations that those who commit such acts
realize the costs they incur for themselves and their nation and the damage they do to sustainable

4. Relations. SL requires an atmosphere in which people interact with each other in a psirit
of trust and recoprocity. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world today, such trust and
reciprocity is on decline. The legacy of abusive governments is one reason for this state of affairs.
Another might be the growth of civil violence which, in many cases, stems from increased
resource scarcity. Politics has become a zero-sum game in these places: the winner takes all, the
loser gets nothing. Such games are not congenial to the effort of realizing SL. A significant
governance measure, therefore, would be to realign relations between formal institutions of
authority, on the one hand, and groups of citizens, on the other. Also included would be to
redefine the relations between groups of citizens which currently do not necessarily see eye to
eye. Improving governance along such lines is not going to be easy. Once trust has been lost, it
takes long time to restore it. Yet, an SL approach must pay attention to how trust can be restored
by specific confidence-building measures, the design of innovative institutions that enhances
people's confidence in public authority. For example, in the African context, both local and
international analysts have increasingly focused on the establishment of public institutions that are
not controlled by the executive alone -- and thereby subject to patrimonial patronage -- but where
civil society and resource providers, e.g. foreign donors, share responsibility for overseeing and
managing the allocation of resources for development (Dag Hammarskjold Foundation 1995).
Measures like this have the potential of turning games that were once only zero-sum in nature into
games with a positive outcome for all parties involved. The bottomline here is that SL is only
feasible in a political atmosphere where rules are respected and authority relations, therefore,


This paper has tried to demonstrate the critical role that governance -- as a particular type
of political interventions -- plays in realizing not only sustainable livelihood but also sustainable
development. Whether at the micro or the macro level, the character of the political regime makes
a difference. In thinking about how governance may be operationalized to support an SL
approach, we have borrowed from IIED the notion of the four "Rs". They point to some of the
more significant aspects of practical governance which can be tackled by both domestic and
international organizations, interested in SL. Each "R" constitutes a general indicator of what one
might look at in order to assess the quality of governance and how it may affect the prospect of
realizing SL. If this way of looking at the governance issues makes sense, the next step would to
disaggregate each of the "R" indicators above into more specific measures. Given the work that
UNDP has already conducted in various contexts on Sustainable Human Development (see e.g.
UNDP 1994) and related concepts such as SL. much groundwork has already been done. What
remains is to aggregate and possibly synthesize it to become a more effective instrument of

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