Understanding your Authorizing Environment
By Micah Moen
The process of building state capability involves people. It involves people who are doing new things, trying to find new functionalities. One of the types of people that we’re often interested in are those who authorized this kind of work. Because you’re looking at governments in contexts where people have been authorizing all sorts of things for a long time, but those things haven’t been getting it done. So now you say, “well, who’s going to authorize the kind of change that allows you to build new kinds of state capability that invariably are going to affect some of the political settlements; invariably we are going to create some new winners and some new losers.” Oftentimes, we think that this is the Minister of Finance or the President or the Prime Minister, someone at the top of government who rides in on a white horse, who gets the problem that you’re identifying, who identifies the solution, and is willing to sign on the bottom line and say, “I’m going for the change.” The problem is that a few years down the line, we found that that person either didn’t survive very long or that that person survived and didn’t really mean what they were saying when they signed on the bottom line, or perhaps that that person just didn’t command the authority or the power that we thought that they did. Theoretically, we would say that the issue with authority is very, very complex because often the people who are authorized to facilitate the kind of policy or reform changes we’re trying to introduce, those who are at the center of government with power, are those who are embedded in the system that already exists. And they have the least interest to actually move that system along. So assuming that those people are the ones who really want change and they’re going to give us the power to do it is probably not a great assumption to be making. Instead, we need to be looking around in a system and thinking, who is it in systems that identify problems? Who is it in systems that identify solutions” And how do they move the people who have authority and power so that they’re willing to move behind a change program? In a lot of the research that we do, we find that this leads us to multi-agent solutions For change, not to single heroic solutions to change. We need to have people who can envisage the need for change, who can construct a problem in a way that those who are in power are forced to pay attention to it and are forced to say if we don’t deal with this problem, we might find ourselves in a sticky situation. And then we also need to have people who get around the people with power and say, “Look, if you get behind this change agenda, we’ll support you. You’re not going to be on your own. We’ll resource you. We’ll give you ideas. We’ll help you so that you can survive- use this-change process.” Oftentimes these people aren’t around, and you’ll see a change process that simply doesn’t get you where you want to go – one of my favorite examples of this is the anti-corruption reforms in Malawi after 1994. In 1994, Malawi became a brand-new democracy and the donors pushed the government to accept all sorts of anti-corruption legislation and a brand new commission. The president was the one who signed off on this and everyone said, “well, this has got such high-level attention, it’s going to succeed.” Well a few years down the line, there was some major corruption crises and the person who was at the center was the president. So a new president came in and said, “well, I’m going to commit like the previous one didn’t to make sure that corruption goes away.” When that president went out of office, it was under a cloud of corruption. Now in a place like Botswana, you see something very different. Botswana had a major crisis in the early 1990s, where there was corruption in roads, there was corruption in the education sector, there was corruption in the agriculture sector, and the cabinet as a whole came out and said “we need to do something about this.” The people at the top of government were saying if we don’t do something, this is going to get closer and closer to us, and it’s going to create some political troubles for us in the future. At the same time, you had people who were in the parliament and people who were in the civil service who were saying, “we need to do something about this.” Over time, they gathered together, they created an anti-corruption unit, and this anti-corruption unit did pretty far-reaching things. But it wasn’t just about one person, it was about multiple people coming together to deal with the problem that they could not ignore anymore. This is authority. It’s something that we cultivate, and it’s something that we build in groups and not around individuals.