All posts in Opinion

Analysis Paper – The US Military Drone Programme: Obama’s Gift to Trump

Posted by / 20th December 2017 / Categories: Analysis, Opinion / -

The current Trump White House inherited an aggressive and secretive military drone programme, developed by the previous two administrations. This previously allowed President Obama to satisfy his security community through active killings of suspected terrorists, while at the same time maintaining the image of being a peacemaker to the outside world. Now, in 2017, his successor- facing significant resistance both domestically as well as internationally- seems content to let the security community make its own decisions on how to employ this programme. As a result, these drones are a mostly forgotten yet still deadly tool, with very little oversight or accountability for who gets killed and why.

ReSeT Analysis Paper authored by Kristine Bondevik Westlie and Balder Hageraats

For the full paper, please click here.


Polis Perspective 29/5/2015: We need far fewer SDGs

Posted by / 29th May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / -


Joanna Klever: We need far fewer SDGs 

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Joanna Klever on the podcast:  ‘We need ‘far fewer’ SDGs says leading development thinker John Norris’ hosted by Rajesh Mirchandani, Center for Global Development 12/05/2015

John Norris, a member of the US President’s Global Development Council, argues in a podcast by the Center for Global Development that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are too broad and too large in number. The SDGs are building on the successes of the Millenium Development Goals. Now – in the second round of global development goals – many feel that the SDGs need to be even broader, aiming higher and higher. The SDGs in their current state with 169 targets, many of which we already know are unrealistic, can only lead to disappointment, according to Norris.

We at the Polis acknowledge the inclusive, local approach that has been taken in the drafting process of the SDGs. Nonetheless, the entire process needs to be centred on local ambitions, rather than seeing locals as mere impulses. Also, there needs to be a better way to transition from the collection of local needs to a feasible global agenda. The current vision of the SGDs will most likely lead to disbursements of donor money to a plethora of implementing organisations without cohesion or focussed targets. Therefore, Norris’ suggestion to cut out the majority of targets and to focus them on specific topics such as climate resilience presents itself as a necessary turn to make the SDGs realistic and give them the possibility of success.

Polis Star Articles of the Week

Simon Tisdall: ’2015 is ‘Year of Fear’ for children worldwide, warns Gordon Brown’, the Guardian, 26/5/2015

How Matters: ‘The secret to communicating grassroots social change – anyone have it?’,How Matters, 25/5/2015

Geoffrey York: ‘Lamps shine light on a new kind of aid in Burundi’, The Globe and Mail , 22/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets @polisproject

@owenbarder: Trending on the BBC – the shaming of people who organise all-male panels … #HeForShe @huippumisukka

@geoffreyyork: Too much gloom from #Burundi these days? Here’s a brighter story (literally), shedding light on new aid trends: …

@ithorphe: 6 ways to innovate for development in 2015 and beyond via @bkumpf


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Polis Perspective 22/5/2015: Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs

Posted by / 22nd May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: / -


Joan Okitoi: Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Joan Okitoi on the article: Alex Evans: ´Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs´, Global Dashboard 12/05/2015

Alex Evans’ post calling on the Gates Foundation and other foundations to clearly state their policy positions on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the degree to which with their huge budget they influence NGOs in developing countries, raises an interesting point on ‘behind-the-scenes’ consultations for the goals. The SDGs are a continuation of efforts towards attainment of rights and human dignity (as per the Millennium Declaration) but Evan’s post is a stark reminder of the conflicting interests in choosing the goals for the global framework. While it is broadly accepted that the SDGs are not for states but for people, it seems the voices of the people for whom the goals are designed to benefit is not getting the attention it deserves. The Seed Institute and African Monitor in 2010 conducted a series of poverty hearings in Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique and South Africa. Out of the testimonies given, the locals made it clear they are not interested in charity but want to have the power to decide on issues affecting their lives. A more people-centered development narrative echoed by initiatives anchored on locally-led development is therefore more likely to deliver transformative changes.


Polis Star Articles of the Week

Hugh Muir & Clár Ní Chonghaile: ´What causes conflict and how can it be solved?´ Podcast, the Guardian, 21/5/2015

The Economist: ´Development aid: it’s not what you spend´, the Economist, 23/5/2015

KM on a dollar a day: ´A flowering of approaches to complexity and development?´, KM on a dollar a day, 15/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets @polisproject

Getting real+specific about #differentdev: a bandwagon effect taking politicians along @kwatkinsodi @fp2p @leniwild

Just launched a call for #polispostcards – Share with us your community’s development projects  #AdaptDev @ODIdev

Entrepreneurship: the key to breaking the poverty cycle @anzishaprize @GShapersNairobi @MadeItInAfrica #AdaptDev


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Polis Perspective 15/05/2015: The Paradox of Identity Politics

Posted by / 15th May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: / -


Polis Perspective 15/05/2015: The Paradox of Identity Politics

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week´s perspective is written by Balder Hageraats on the article: Kemal Derviş: ´The Paradox of Identity Politics´, Brookings, 13/05/2015

With the forces of globalisation influencing local dynamics in virtually every place in the world, identity politics is becoming increasingly pervasive. In order to reassert people’s sense of self in the seeming chaos and grandiose scope of an interconnected planet, returning to an “us” versus “them” narrative is both an attractive and powerful tool. As people across regions are more intertwined and interdependent than ever before, we yearn for a more distinctive and even antagonistic identity. Within small groups we need to perceive unique characteristics and destinies not shared by those not invited to our localised party. Kemal Derviş of the Brookings Institution writes about this phenomenon and its political consequences. ”The problem with identity politics is that it places the ‘in’ group at odds with the perceived ‘other’”. Quite. By being brought closer together through technological and systemic changes, we are brought back in touch with our very human side which craves differences between each other. In order to know who we are, we need to know who we are not. In this way, globalisation makes it both more attractive and paradoxically harder to find true schisms within humanity, however much we hanker after such conflict. In the eternal words of Cavafy, “what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution“.

Polis Star Articles of the Week

Duncan Green: ´Which bits of advice to developing country decision makers actually listen to?´ Oxfam, 12/05/2015

Tony Elumelu: ´Entrepreneur-Led Development: A new Model for Africa´, AllAfrica, 12/05/2015

Sam Jones: ´EU Development finance needs completely completely new approach, report says´, the Guardian, 04/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets

More African innovators are designing products/services not only for the African market but for the global markets #bmzafrica #eLA15Chat

How else can implementation be done to accelerate locally led development? #BonnConference #differentdev #globaldev @owenbarder

Sign up & stay tuned for our upcoming eNews (June 2015) on our interview with Dr. Sirolli @sirollinstitute #AdaptDev


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









2015 – Time to Rethink Global Decision Making

Posted by / 15th January 2015 / Categories: Analysis, Opinion, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

As harbingers of a troubled 2015, last week’s events in Paris were a stark reminder that the world is facing a year desperate for clear and benign leadership: the ever increasing complexity of our societies requires thoughtful and wise decision making. Any balance in the globalised world is easily disturbed, and difficult to restore. While humanity as a whole possesses resources as never before, the ways those resources have been allocated in recent times does not bode well. This is particularly visible in international policy making. With organisational bureaucracies bloated, it is increasingly unclear who is responsible for global politics and choices on war and peace, poverty and prosperity, destruction and creation. The world is inevitably turning into a system where no one is in control, and no one is responsible for centralised decisions. The necessary response to this is one of stimulating natural checks and balances, thereby ensuring flexible response mechanisms to disasters and global opportunities alike.

2014 was a year in which the flaws of international decision making processes were painfully exposed, ranging from continued violence around the globe to failing global economic policy and ever present local hardship. The fundamental problem is not one of lack of potential, or of large scale conspiracies, nor of conscious manipulation by those in power. It is one of system creep, in which the answers that human structures provide no longer coincide with the reality of the problems. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq only exacerbated the position of Western nations, causing destruction and mayhem along the way. Huge budgets spent on fundamental issues such as European and global governance, on development cooperation, on human security and economic stimuli show very little bang for their buck.

Those who benefit are people working within the system, within the tools that supposedly serve the wider population; they make a living- and therefore are the primary beneficiaries- by spending money on taxpayer’s behalf to provide specific services. And yet, the productivity of such expenditure is typically alarmingly poor. Trust in European institutions is at an all time low, and the UN is increasingly farcical, with workers and consultants all around the world facing increasing moral dilemmas about their own standard of living compared to those local populations that they are supposed to serve. The Pentagon has consistently failed to show how its actions make the world safer for the average American, but on the flip-side, it does have over 200 golf courses.

The issue is not even limited to the public sector. Share and stakeholders are increasingly left out of the loop in ever-expanding private companies, with internal benefits to be reaped from expansion, even if it makes the general outcomes of operations less effective. One of the main causes of the economic crisis of the past decade was a private sector run amok, without any counterbalance to internal interests and system creep into competitive enterprise. CEO-employee wage ratios are higher than they ever have been in modern society,  without any proven increase of CEO importance in company success. That is not the sign of an evil elites, but of a system not working properly.

Humanity is currently suffering from its own structures, its own institutions; their added value is too low for the resources we spend on them, while their costs are still increasing. System creep is eating away at our structures, and the most fundamental challenge for 2015 will be to halt that trend.

A problem as old as civilisation itself

Throughout history, civilisations ended when clear lines of responsibility faded. During the heyday of the Roman Empire, its bureaucratic bulwarks were unable to react to new threats, leading to unresponsive policy making. These ills were later inherited by the Byzantine Empire, which was also unable to cope with autonomous organisational growth, with systemic interests crowding out effective leadership. China’s Ming dynasty fell from grace in large part because of quarrelling, inward looking bureaucrats and corrupt eunuchs. Tsarist Russia had been in steady decline for decades before revolution finally struck administrative incompetence.  Similar explanations have been used to explain the decline of Babylonian, Egyptian and Classical Mayan empires.

The pattern here is one familiar in current global society: steady growth of social structures and economic welfare, followed by a rapid boom signifying the zenith of society, which then leads to failing checks and balances on ever-growing human organisations. Initially these institutions have clear purpose and add value to society’s growth and wellbeing, but once a certain peak has been reached, they tend towards slow endemic corruption of their original purpose and nature. They begin to hog resources and stifle critical thought, while becoming vehicles for internal interests rather than tools in the hands of political and social leadership. Personal interests by insiders begin to trump social interests, and growth of the system becomes a primary objective, regardless of whether this caters to the needs of its wider environment.

The problems that this systemic expansion brings often remain hidden when social and economic conditions are favourable. They only rear their ugly head when crisis strikes. Then, all of a sudden society is confronted with an inability to react to barbarians at the gates, environmental collapse or internal strife, with institutions consuming the resources necessary to face such existential challenges. Having grown fat and lazy through economic boom, the ability to deal with unexpected downturn evaporates. What is even worse is that these once proud institutions not only have lost purpose, but typically resist attempts to bring back political strength and leadership. They have become hijacked by countless individual, mall-scale agendas that will resist personal loss of status or income. The role large scale organisations play is too abstract to be able to compete with the livelihoods its employees count on. There is no general decision-making process anymore; the initial tool for greater purpose has come to life, and has turned into an independent creature no longer be controlled by its original masters.

The beginning of the end…

The events after 9/11 and the War on Terror were not those of institutions solving existential threats, but rather of using such threats to remain relevant, despite their tremendous costs and long-term destruction. The UN and European Union, having started off with clear direction and purpose, are now mere shadows of their former selves, inhabited by anonymous employees whose livelihoods depends on ever-expanding departments and institutional agendas. Original purpose be damned, the main objective of transnational organisations is their own survival, like an aging male lion increasingly monopolising food supplies to stay alive while the pride that it was supposed to protect starve.

Other global challenges, such as climate change, violent conflicts and lacklustre economic trends, remain largely unsolved, without any serious attempt to deal with such existential threats. Some are even fed to the beast in order to satisfy its hunger. Eisenhower’s warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex is as valid as it has ever been. Companies, conferences, academic departments and armies of specialists and consultants work on the issue, but they become part of the very same animal that is starving the system. Instead of serving societal needs, they endanger them.

The problem can even be seen at a national level, especially in Western countries. After decades of social and economic growth and steady improvements in democratic and welfare structures, the peak seems to have been reached- perhaps sometime in the 1990s- and the state has well and truly started to move downhill. Governments seem rudderless, managing rather than leading their country. Populism and centric mediocrity compete for favour. Beholden to special interests, and living in fear of losing influence or power, politicians feed the institutional beast rather than putting it on a diet. Après nous le déluge.

…Or the end of the beginning?

Despite similarities with past civilisations, not everything in history repeats itself, and there are a number of fundamental differences between then and now. Firstly, 20th and 21st century globalisation and technological advances increasingly allow for global dynamics, and therefore global responses. This ability to globally communicate, analyse and find solutions dramatically changes the range of options available. Secondly, unlike historical cases, there is no clear antagonist, no barbarians at the gates, attempting to spur on our civilisation’s decline. Thirdly, we have come to understand and appreciate the strength and elegance of natural, decentralised dynamics without heavy handed interference from above, even in societies that emphasise social cohesion and the welfare state. Fourthly, we have the benefit of hindsight. More than ever before we understand the past, and know how and why societies collapsed.

Unlike empires of the past, human society in 2015 is much closer, much more united through natural flows than it has ever been. Even if this increase in scale of operations may have contributed to the system creep discussed above, it also allows for a reversal of such dynamics. Unlike other ages, the current world is in it together; there are no new tribes ready to sack and pillage a decaying empire. No one benefits from collapse, and people all over the planet are facing very similar challenges.

Without downplaying substantial differences in agendas between specific human groups, there is no reason to believe that the general masses around the world are in opposition to each other. There is no such thing as Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, however much certain self-serving institutions and small groups of violent fanatics would have us believe exactly that. The dynamic nature of a planet facing success and failure together means a constant stream of new ideas and alternatives to reverse global society’s fortunes. Dynamic competition and cooperation between ideas, projects and outcomes tend to stimulate the best in human beings. As long as there are no stifling institutional monopolies and systemic beasts starving global society of resources, its modern worldwide nature is in a unique position to bounce back. If society can make institutions work for them, rather than being beholden by institutions’ insatiable appetite, global civilisation could benefit tremendously from technological progress and opportunities.

All of this requires from politicians and social leaders an adjusted set of priorities; not the kind that bloats the circles around them, but the kind that strengthens micro dynamics in their respective societies. We must return to smaller-scale lines of responsibility, with dynamic cooperation and competition in which outcomes, rather than size, are recognised. This also reduces the margin of error, as small scale mistakes, failures or corruption are much more quickly corrected by other micro dynamics than large, centralised, error prone bureaucracies can ever hope to do. Encouraging  institutional cultures in which small is beautiful, and effective outcomes are all that matter, is therefore an absolute priority. The inverse relationship between organisational size and purpose must be understood and recognised. It is a matter of taking pride in small-scale success, and taking responsibility for personal outcomes. It is about not letting the eunuchs get in the way of our civilisation’s survival. Eugene O’Neil sagely wrote that “there is no present or future- only the past, happening over and over again -now”. It is time to prove him wrong.


An expert opinion on development: Dr. Stephan Klingebiel

Posted by / 17th November 2014 / Categories: Opinion, Polis / -

Dr. Stephan Klingebiel is head of the department for Bi- and Multilateral Development Cooperation at the German Development Institute (DIE). His work areas include aid effectiveness and the political economy of aid, international cooperation and global public goods as well as the nexus of security and development. He is also a regular visiting professor at Stanford University.

Joanna Klever – Head of Communications at The Polis Project: Could you please tell us your experiences with, and current connection to, the development sector?

Stephan Klingebiel: I have been working on development issues since my years as a student at university. That was still the time of the classical North-South divide – just think about the Brandt Report in 1980 which was written by an independent international commission.

In my professional carrier I research development topics,  teach courses on the subject and am also involved in policy advice, for example, at the level of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the OECD and the German and other governments. In addition, I gained much experience as a development practitioner when I was head of the German Development Bank (KFW) office in Rwanda for four years.

In terms of main areas of research, I especially deal with topics from three perspectives – quite often with overlaps: First, I like to study the basics of foreign aid and the political economy aspects of aid. For example: What is the rationale of donors in giving foreign aid? What are the unintended consequences of aid? Increasingly, I find myself dealing with the broader question of how international cooperation can address global challenges more adequately. Secondly, I have a strong focus on governance and conflict issues: How do development actors interact with non-state armed groups, for instance – even if they claim that they are not in contact with any of them? Thirdly, my main area of expertise is related to the sub-Saharan African region. I am not only very familiar with several countries of the region but also with regional and continental institutions. Having said that, I also work on countries outside the African region.

JK: How do you define successful international development?

SK: International cooperation can serve quite different objectives. However, we are increasingly seeing a need to contribute to the provision of global public goods or to avoid ‘global public bads’. Thus, cooperation is a way of organising collective action at an international level. From what we know, it is not at all easy to provide incentives in favour of global collective action and to avoid difficulties like ‘free riding’.

JK: What – in your opinion – are the biggest failures and successes of development cooperation thus far?

SK: In a general sense it is interesting to see that development actors have built up quite substantial knowledge about ‘best practises’ and ‘good aid’. This has led not least to the aid effectiveness agenda – including the Paris Declaration. At the same time, however, we know that donors have only been willing to implement their own agenda to a limited extent. For example, the fragmented landscape of donor approaches has to do with interests such as visibility. If you go to a country like Myanmar where donors have only started to work fairly recently, you will find strong motivations for each donor to rush in, rather than following best practices.

JK: In the “Beyond Aid” series of papers, the need to reform aid and transform development cooperation is recurrent. Could you briefly explain why this change is essential in the current context?

SK: In the face of a changing global context, development cooperation needs to redefine its role. The phrase “Beyond Aid” sums up the pressure to innovate as well as to develop ideas for reform. Conventional development issues still need to be addressed, as goals such as the eradication of poverty have not been achieved. At the same time, the development landscape is changing radically. Over the past few decades, the number of aid-receiving countries has decreased sharply. By 2030 it is estimated that another 28 countries with an aggregate population of 2 billion will no longer be eligible for development cooperation. Other fundamental features are also changing. Aid no longer serves only to reduce poverty; it is also being used to tackle challenges such as climate change, inequality and insecurity.

The “Beyond Aid” debate is quite diverse. It is about any actual or apparent reform in this policy area. Nonetheless, some dimensions have become obvious. The transformation is specifically evident in connection with actors, finance, regulation and knowledge. In our papers we discuss those four dimensions in detail.

In our view, the debate may lead to two different options or models. In a first model, development cooperation would focus on the steadily shrinking group of poor countries. Poverty reduction would remain the primary goal. […]

In a second model, development cooperation would become part of international cooperation in general. It would help to address challenges that many countries have in common. Such challenges include rapid urbanisation, demographic change, and the provision of global public goods such as the protection of the climate, biodiversity, food security and the prevention of pandemics. While poverty reduction would remain a major goal in this scenario, it would no longer be the main focus. Moreover, distinguishing ‘developed’ from ‘developing’ countries would no longer be crucial. On the contrary, policies would concern not only fragile and conflict-torn states but middle- and high-income countries as well. Development cooperation would thus contribute to collective action at the global level.

JK: With the post 2015 approaching, developing countries are asking to have their voices heard more in the process. How do you envision their participation with developed countries? What do developing nations need most to achieve true partnership, rather than the perceived imposition?

SK: I think we really need to see a universal development agenda. The current MDG agenda is unbalanced because it is mainly focused on development challenges in poor countries. However, an agenda with a universal character would address development need in all regions and countries. Just think about CO2 emissions in industrialised countries or inequality issues not only in developing regions but also in the USA, Germany or Spain. If the main momentum of the future agenda is to be its universal character, developing countries will play a much stronger role, for example, in the implementation of the agenda.

JK: Envisioning true cooperation, how can local populations be more included in the reformed development cooperation system? How can local development be supported?

SK: In my view the principle of ‘using country systems’ is an important starting point for this issue. The best way for a local population to contribute through local NGOs and CSOs is not the isolated approach to aid. Instead, we need to focus on issues like: What is the role of local NGOs in the budget planning and execution process of district X or Y? This is the key question. In the best case, donors would use precisely those national mechanisms. If this is not possible, for instance because of poor governance or a conflict situation in a country, at least transparency is a crucial factor for the local population. How much money is being provided by a donor? How much money is really reaching the district? How much money is paid for overheads and consultants? Those are important aspects of information which are required if the local population is to be involved.

JK: You state in your “Beyond Aid” papers series: “Knowledge to drive the new development agenda and to meet partner countries’ differentiated needs is becoming more and more specialised and is generated by many institutions that are outside the realm of development cooperation. The challenge is to identify and share that knowledge and apply it to specific contexts.” How can this challenge be met with new technologies?

SK: New technologies are indeed key for all aspects of knowledge. Whether the focus is on updating farming methods, improving public finance or taking action to mitigate climate change, knowledge is the key to development. The transfer of knowledge is likely to become increasingly dissociated from financial transfers and technical advice.

JK: New alternatives and approaches are developed in the sector, which aim at turning aid into effective cooperation. How can they be heard and effectively contribute to today’s development discourse?

SK: Results-based approaches are not a ‘silver bullet’ to development cooperation but rather a fairly innovative way of how to provide aid. Those approaches aim to identify outputs or outcomes that can be measured and quantified, that is, results that can be directly linked to development activities. The key feature is the link between the aid intervention and strong incentives to encourage results. Not least NGOs are increasingly exploring those instruments, for example in the educational sector in Tanzania.

JK: How do you envision development cooperation in twenty years? Will it still exist, and what will its activities look like?

SK: I think it is quite likely that we will see two parallel mid-term trends: First, development cooperation will still exist for a shrinking number of poor countries. Aid will remain important in those cases, in support not only of the social sectors but also of other prime infrastructures. Emerging countries will also contribute concessional resources in support of development objectives. Secondly, we will see an increasing demand for new types of international cooperation which is different from development cooperation – just think about the quite different rationale in the case of Ebola. Those areas of international cooperation will need to address global challenges, for instance in terms of security, climate change and health.


This is the first edition of our new series of interviews with experts from the field of dcvelopment cooperation. Within this series The Polis team will explore different themes and perspectives on international development cooperation. These interviews will appear in our bimonthly newsletter as well as on this website.