The purification of aid : an ethnography of Dutch partnership policy and (broken) dreams of development

Gastel, J.N. van


This thesis explores the shift from ownership to partnership policy in Dutch development aid. It is an ethnography based on participant observation during several periods between 2001 and 2006 in the Ministry’s headquarters in The Hague and the Dutch embassy in developing country Z. The aim of this research is neither to criticize nor to defend development aid. It does not address the issue of whether partnership policy is effective or if the implementation of this policy is efficient. Instead, this thesis explores policy practices to answer the question of how practitioners try to realize development through aid. It is argued that the current writings conceive development aid as a rational, instrumental policy process and ignores the practices of aid practitioners and, therefore, do not help us understand policy processes. Hence, this thesis develops a theoretical framework that pays attention to aid practitioners’ work and tries to understand how they make sense of development aid. This thesis points out that policy studies should pay attention to dreams of development, which are imaginary orders of an ideal world in which life is good. It shows that ownership and partnership policies express different dreams of development. Then, it shows how aid practitioners try to realize dreams of development through aid and, consequently, how development aid is shaped by different dreams of development. The theoretical framework developed in this thesis conceives policy processes as involving translation and purification practices. Translation is the mobilization and tying together of people, organizations, things, and interests. Purification is the keeping apart of people, organizations, and things because it is believed that they have fundamentally different interests. Hence, this thesis follows the trajectory of partnership from being a policy notion to becoming a public-private partnership project (PPP-project) with the Dutch pharmaceutical company in country Z. In this trajectory the focus is on the different dreams of development that are expressed in and aspired through partnership and the translation and purification processes that make possible or hamper the travelling of partnership. This study of partnership policy combines both the approach of ‘‘studying through”, by following the policy of partnership through time and space, and of ‘‘studying up”, by exploring the aid practices of ministerial officials as a professional elite. The studying of an elite has implications for the methodology of the study. To carry out the research, I had to sign a statement of confidentiality that says no state secrets can be made public. Therefore, this thesis does not reveal any material that is marked as classified in the ministry, but it does write about practices in the aid bureaucracy that are considered by many aid practitioners as public secrets, that is what is generally known about the practices of the state but cannot be articulated in official documents. This thesis contends that writing about the practices of the aid bureaucracy that are part of the state can make a valuable contribution to the debate on development aid. It can explain what keeps the aid bureaucracy together despite the fact that it is not a homogeneous, coherent entity and explicate what makes up development if it isn’t a well-defined, singular goal. The passages quoted in this thesis are both from official and unofficial documents and they also include e-mails between officials in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The documents and e-mails on the PPP-project were filed in the official archives of the PPP-project in the Dutch Embassy in country Z. These e-mail exchanges are used to show how projects like the PPP are discussed and how practices of translation and purification are negotiated, resisted, and justified in the Ministry. For reasons of confidentiality, all people have been given fictional names except for the Dutch ministers for Development Cooperation. Furthermore, to protect the embassy staff, this thesis talks about the country where the PPP-project should be realized as country Z. Likewise, the Dutch pharmaceutical company is referred to as Pharmaco. The organization of the book is as follows: Chapter 1 describes the academic debate on partnership in development aid. It points out the limitations of the dominant analyses for our understanding of policy processes in development aid and provides a theoretical framework that can address these issues. Chapter 2 shows that studies of development aid should pay more attention to the dreams, ideals, values, fears, and beliefs that the aid policies express. Subsequently, this chapter explores the dreams of development of the three Dutch Ministers for Development Cooperation, Jan Pronk, Eveline Herfkens, and Agnes van Ardenne, over the period of 1989 until 2005. These dreams of development can be understood from the descriptions of the key events and important encounters in each minister’s life. The dreams of development can be traced in their policies; they are expressed in the symbolic language of ownership and partnership. Pronk used the concept of ownership to express a dream that takes into account power relations, while Van Ardenne’s concept of partnership expresses a dream that aims to unite people. Then, whereas Pronk and Herfkens communicate their dream of development in a technical-scientific way, Van Ardenne uses a personal and political way of communicating her dream of development. Because officials who have been trained in academia and worked for many years under Pronk and Herfkens, they have believe that partnership is a buzzword. Chapter 3 explores the assembling of a public-private partnership project (PPP-project) with the Dutch pharmaceutical company Pharmaco. It explains how in this project various actors with different dreams of development and aspirations in life are tied together in the PPP-project. The chapter describes how a project proposal designed to realize the dream of making contraceptives available and affordable worldwide is translated and transformed by a ministerial official to fit Minister Van Ardenne’s dream of development. It is explained why the person who designed that initial project, feels that his project has been ‘‘hijacked” by the Dutch ministry and why he, nonetheless, joins the project when Pharmaco invites him. Chapter 4 analyzes the transportation of the PPP-project from the headquarters in The Hague to country Z. It explores how an assessment team of representatives of the ministerial headquarters in The Hague and of Pharmaco select a country for the realization of the PPP-project. Then, it explains that the choice for country Z is based on where support for the project is thought to be highest and opposition minimal. It is shown that the selection process goes together with the contextualization of the PPP-project. Thus, this chapter shows that a project is not implemented in a context. Rather, a context is created around a project. Then, transportation implies the transformation of both the project and the context of a project. Chapter 5 shows how ministerial officials in the headquarters in The Hague and in the Dutch embassy in country Z discuss the PPP-project. The officials negotiate whether or not this PPP is a development project and how it can be transformed into one. Thus, they debate the sense or nonsense of the translations made by a ministerial official in the headquarters and argue if and how the PPP-project should be purified from Pharmaco’s interest in profit. We see in this that besides dreams of development, career aspirations, concerns for reputation, and ideas of what it means to be a good ministerial official also play a role in the negotiation on translation and purification of the PPP-project. Chapter 6 presents the main findings of this research and their theoretical implications. It concludes that the dividing policy processes into policy making and policy implementation is a theoretical misunderstanding as this thesis shows that policy processes consists of translation and purification practices, Yet, this model of policy making versus implementation is also a used as an argument by officials to legitimize particular translations and decline other interpretations. Furthermore, this thesis claims that only when we take dreams of development seriously, we can find a way out of the current cynicism in development aid.