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The Delusion of Knowledge Transfer: The impact of foreign aid experts on policy-making in South Africa and Tanzania

Published Date: 03/10/2016

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256 x 178 mm


With the rise of the ‘knowledge for development’ paradigm, expert advice has become a prime instrument of foreign aid. At the same time, it has been object of repeated criticism: the chronic failure of ‘technical assistance’ – a notion under which advice is commonly subsumed – has been documented in a host of studies. Nonetheless, international organisations continue to send advisors, promising to increase the ‘effectiveness’ of expert support if their technocratic recommendations are taken up.


This book reveals fundamental problems of expert advice in the context of aid that concern issues of power and legitimacy rather than merely flaws of implementation. Based on empirical evidence from South Africa and Tanzania, the authors show that aid-related advisory processes are inevitably obstructed by colliding interests, political pressures and hierarchical relations that impede knowledge transfer and mutual learning. As a result, recipient governments find themselves caught in a perpetual cycle of dependency, continuously advised by experts who convey the shifting paradigms and agendas of their respective donor governments.


For young democracies, the persistent presence of external actors is hazardous: ultimately, it poses a threat to the legitimacy of their governments if their policy-making becomes more responsive to foreign demands than to the preferences and needs of their citizens.

DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.824639




List of tables

List of figures

List of abbreviations



Introduction: Perpetuating dependence: Expert advice as tool of foreign aid


Chapter 1: Knowledge transfer to young democracies: Issues of legitimacy, sovereignty, and efficacy


Chapter 2: Accessing the world of development aid: Study design and fieldwork


Chapter 3: South Africa and Tanzania: Two different types of ‘donor darlings’


Chapter 4: Multiple actors, colliding interests: The main players of the aid game

Recipient governments and bureaucracies

Donor countries and aid organisations

The epistemic community of development experts


Chapter 5: Intricacies of expert advice in the aid context

The linkage between aid and politics

Structural flaws pertaining to expert employment

Unequal relationships


Chapter 6: Retaining autonomy of agenda-setting in dealing with advice

Structural conditions

Financial strength

Administrative capacity

Local knowledge base


Chapter 7: The impact of expert advice on policy-making in young democracies: Sector studies

Tanzania education: The hijacked agenda

South Africa education: Exploiting outside expertise to create a local vision

Tanzania health: The normality of foreign involvement

South Africa health: Rebuilding relationships with local and external experts

Tanzania environment: Opportunistic adaption

South Africa environment: On top of the game

It’s not all about the money: Synthesis of findings


Chapter 8: There is no substitute for local knowledge: Summary and conclusion





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