The Delusion of Knowledge Transfer: The impact of foreign aid experts on policy-making in South Africa and Tanzania
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.
Much of the pressure, which ultimately may affect their legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary citizens, stems from the desperation and sense of economic exclusion experienced by those who find themselves at the wrong end of South Africa’s grossly unequal society. If this decline in trust persists, the cohesive effects of the country’s democratic institutions will diminish, and instability will become an increasingly common feature of political contestation.
An immediate, but only partial, remedy to the current state of affairs would be to prioritise transparency, accountability and leadership integrity within the system to restore trust in the bona fides of key institutions. The longer-term challenge will be to counter a growing sense of economic exclusion, where violent police action, rather than democratic process, is increasingly employed to stave off the manifestations of material anxiety experienced by struggling citizens.
This edition of the Transformation Audit, titled ‘Confronting Exclusion’, focuses on instances of such exclusion but, as in previous years, also prioritises the search for inclusive economic policy and future strategies to address them. By looking at each of the four chapter areas, it seeks to find answers to the challenge of a society in which the promise of true freedom and equal rights will remain only that until people feel equipped to be in charge of their own destiny and that of their children.