The control function of conditionality

Gifts, in ancient and modern societies alike, serve the purpose of establishing relationships and maintaining hierarchies (Mauss 2002, Kolm 2006a). Equally, foreign aid, loans and grants alike, preserves hierarchical relations between the developed and developing world (Hattori 2001; Rist 2003; Karagiannis 2004; Paragi 2012b). Aid is an instrument to control peaceful and less peaceful developments in developing states the extent to which it helps control, among others, conflicts by means of prevention or resolution. It is a means to control (in)security and to manage risks; it is not merely ‘a technical system of support and assistance, but part of an emerging system of global governance’ (Duffield 2001: 2).

This control-function is usually exercised by setting conditions; some of them are explicitly stated, others are less visible (on peace conditionally see: Boyce 2002). Conditions are usually applied in order to maximize utility, to ensure that foreign aid is used in an efficient way, in line with the overall objectives of a given contract, for example, an aid agreement (on conditions, conditionality and pressure see: Sørensen 1993; Sørensen 1995; Stokke 1995; Killick 1998). Conditions entail at least two consequences. First, costs can be minimized by giving only to recipients that deserve generosity and trust (cf. the EU’s ‘more for more’ formulation vis-à-vis the Middle Eastern countries). Second, the donor can focus on the return of investment in order to see certain significant political, economic or social changes in the recipient country, such as, for example, stability and/or democracy in recipient countries.

To take the example of aid relations, donor ‘participation’ in the political and institutional structures of the recipient countries ‘required a conceptual framework which would allow for wide-ranging donor interventions in the political and economic affairs of the recipient economies. (…) Since the mid1990s, aid [its effects and effectiveness] is no longer considered an isolated economic variable but, instead, a function of the recipient country’s economic (and political) policies’ (Taghdisi-Rad 2011: 22). Setting and accepting conditions attached to the contract and the subsequent money transfer implies the giver’s involvement in the recipient’s life, let the recipient be a state, nation, people, authority, institution or any individual beneficiary.

Boyce, J. K. (2002) Investing in peace: aid and conditionality after civil wars. London: Institute for Strategic Studies

Duffield, M. (2001). New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security. London: Zed Books

Killick, T. (1998) Aid and the Political Economy of Policy Change. London: Routledge

Kolm, S-C. (2006a): ‘Introduction to the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity’ in Serge-Christophe Kolm – Jean Mercier Ythier (eds): Handbook of Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity. Vol1., Elsevier B. V. pp. 4-114


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