Good governance and the marketization of human rights: a critique of the neoliberal normative approach.

Author:Onazi, Oche
  1. Introduction

    The significance of community cannot sufficiently be understood without, first of all, considering the general lines in which human rights operate in the Third World. Human rights have not only been structured by the United Nations (UN) framework, but also (as considered here), shaped by the policy formulations of the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs). The concept of good governance provides a valuable point of entry. Good governance very broadly refers to the ensemble of policies, discourses, initiatives and institutions that seek to transform the practices of development in the Third World. This is usually achieved through processes of decentring of the traditional responsibilities of the state, and as a consequence, enhancing the role of markets to take part or even take-over the basic functions of the state in securing development. As a result, market concepts like privatization, liberalization and deregulation are now also considered as prerequisites for human rights. Human rights seem to have been taken-over by the dominant market rationality, which has led to what is referred here as the marketization of human rights.

    The good governance vis-a-vis market argument is rhetorically powerful only because of the general nature of the failure of state institutions. The rise of good governance no doubt thrives on the complete failure, neglect or utter incompetence of the state in handling these problems in the first place. Notwithstanding, experiences of Third World states have varied considerably, since good governance emerged. Some states have certainly performed well, whilst not much has changed in others. There are some explanations for the persistence of state failure, which for reasons of space cannot be sufficiently dealt with here. One reason, though, is perhaps that good governance deals with these issues quite superficially, and in ways that are incapable of addressing the limits of the state. The World Bank's (the Bank) approach to good governance gives a misleading impression of political neutrality, which has a consequence of depicting "development without politics" (Santiso 2002:11) or the efficiency and not the 'equity of the economic system' (Santiso 2002:11). It does not confront the 'legitimacy of the power structure' (Santiso 2002:11) in many countries. As such, it is not difficult to conclude that in this context, these political and multi-dimensional issues are reduced to questions of economic and perhaps, social governance. Part of the explanation why good governance is conceived in such apolitical terms is that the Bank is constrained by the limitations imposed by its Articles of Agreement (IBRD Articles of Agreement 1969, Article IV, s. 10). It is well known that the Articles of Agreement prevent the Bank from interfering in political affairs of its member countries. As a consequence, decisions and activities of the Bank are restricted to economic affairs. The difficulty here is that the separation of "economic affairs" from the "political" and the focus on technocratic improvements of bureaucratic institutions is a fickle response to the deep seated problems of the political economy of governance.

    The consequences of state failure and the exclusions of markets (as conceived) have made the search for alternatives an inevitable objective. In this article, I consider one such possibility--that is, the potential of the concept of community to provide such alternative mechanism for human rights. It is argued that beneath the community lies a thicker moral framework, through which human rights can be achieved. It offers an ethos of solidarity from which a number of supporting relationships can be built, not only to develop collective solutions, but also to address specific problems relating to specific human rights. A community-oriented human rights approach offers a significant opportunity to build the capacities of the poor to attain satisfactory levels of ownership and autonomy over the processes of their human rights.

    In spite of this potential offered by community, it remains one of the most neglected aspects of human rights discourse. The good governance agenda constitutes an exception as it partly recognizes a role for the community. Even so, the community remains ill-defined especially concepts of market and state. The community is used quite instrumentally, and in ways that does not sufficiently respond to problems of the most deprived in society. The point here is that one cannot isolate the persistent problems of human rights in many parts of the Third World from the absence of a more defined role for community. The goal of this article as such, is two-fold; first, it primarily raises questions about the exclusivity of the state and market in relation to human rights and secondly, it makes a case for a more prominent role for the community.

  2. Good Governance

    Good governance (1) is certainly a pervasive concept in development discourse. It is a phrase touted as the central orthodoxy and one that naturally draws its meaning from the generic sense of the term governance. Broadly speaking, governance refers to the various institutions or forms of authority, which structure the way certain public and private processes are managed. The Bank seems to describe it in two distinct but related contexts. In the first instance, the Bank draws a strong relationship between governance and the quality of government (World Bank 1992). (2) This is, of course, the more traditional or hierarchical understanding of governance--that is, as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country's economic and social resources for development. This dimension of governance can further be broken down into three related contexts. First, governance refers to the 'form of the political regime' (Weiss 2000: 795), which invokes the second dimension that is, processes through which political 'authority is exercised in the management of economic and social resources of a country' (Weiss 2000: 795). Thirdly, governance also refers to 'the capacity of governments to design, formulate, and implement policies and discharge functions' (Weiss 2000: 795). Seen this way, the primary concern for good governance is the 'system of national administration' (Weiss 2000: 795) or the 'state of being governed' (Weiss 2000: 795), or thirdly 'the method of government or regulation' (Weiss 2000:795) within a given country. This context explains why the Bank pays particular attention to bureaucratic and institutional improvements of government processes, especially in relation to its specific policy proposals on transparency and accountability of decision-making procedures, amongst other things. In the very basic sense, therefore, the Bank's concept of good governance can primarily be understood as 'the creation of a government which is, amongst other things, democratic, open, accountable and transparent, and which respects and fosters human rights and the rule of law'(Anghie 2004: 248). Good governance (as demonstrated in the next part), attempts to achieve this goal under the auspices of international human right law or more accurately, specific human rights norms that have been privileged at the end of the Cold War. (3)

    In its second and perhaps most influential context, the act of governance is alienated from government, establishing a framework, through which a variety of non-state regulatory regimes flourish. The transition from state to market governance can partly be explained from the rise of economic- globalization, which has no doubt had an effect on limiting the hegemony of state-centred modes of governance (Weiss 2000:795). The move is consistent with the prevailing neoliberal economic orthodoxy, which largely distrusts the role of the state in participating in the economic affairs of countries. It is no surprise that good governance operates within this mindset, quite apart from being alert to the changing dynamics of the globalized world. The global economic order is, after all, symptomatic of networks of global or regional institutions and transnational corporations (TNCs), especially with their self-regulatory frameworks that challenge traditional regulatory notions of state sovereignty. Ideas about good governance cannot, of course, be isolated from those that seek Third World countries to participate in the global economy (Commission on Global Governance 1995). This is perhaps the most visible link between this aspect of governance and the state-centred context as noted above. This relationship will become clearer much later in this article given that it is the state that facilitates the transition to the market through proposals for good bureaucratic practice and enlightened decision-making. Another mode of governance promoted by the orthodoxy, however, is the notion of third-sector governance which exists as a subset of these market initiatives. The most visible distinction, however, is that it is a mode of governance dependent on the range of actors that constitute civil society. Given that this has implications for the role of community, this aspect of good governance will be discussed in more detail in the fourth part of this article.

    2.1. The Governance Fetish

    It will be helpful at this point to step back and consider the rise of good governance from a different standpoint that is from the ideological perspective from which it draws its meaning. This is, of course, a mindset that connects the very meaning of development to the quality of governance. Good governance as such, cannot be addressed in isolation of what I call the governance fetish. The term 'fetish' (Collins, 1982: 95-96) is used in the mode of Karl Marx thesis on commodities. For him, fetishism involved the propensity to reduce various aspects of social life into a single conceptual framework. More specifically, commodity fetishism reduces the multiple or vibrant forms of human activity into the...

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