Tag Archives development aid

The East African Community’s regional economic integration efforts are starting to pay off – here’s why to take note

Good news about Africa always seems to travel slowly. The East African Community has successfully been pushing for regional economic integration in East Africa, but not everyone has gotten wind of it. ISS researchers Peter van Bergeijk and Binyam Demena in their recently published book called ‘Trade and Investment in East Africa’ show how the EAC’s many successes and failures can provide several opportunities – and lessons – for the Netherlands and other countries seeking to further strengthen regional economic integration.

Uhuru Monument by Arthur Buliva

For the past few years, the seven member states of the East African Community (EAC) – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania – have been working hard on furthering regional economic integration. The group of countries recognize the importance of foreign trade and investment (FTI) for their economic development and have started to reap the benefits: Kenya and Tanzania have already been reclassified as Middle Income Countries (MICs) by the World Bank.

Yet not much is known about these efforts in the Netherlands. Our recently published book, Trade and Investment in East Africa, is an attempt to showcase the EAC’s efforts by analysing these developments, identifying possible bottlenecks, and thereby also outlining perspectives that are important for the Dutch trade and development policy. We summarise some of book’s the key takeaways below to show why countries seeking to improve their regional economic integration should take note of the book.


Increased trade bring benefits, but it’s no free lunch

Economically, the EAC is a remarkable success. Africa is a patchwork of overlapping regional organizations that are all working towards economic integration, which is somewhat inevitable (just as the Netherlands is a member both of the EU and the Benelux). This leads to inconsistency and inefficiency in trade between countries but, as one of the studies in the book shows, the EAC suffers relatively little from this.

One possible reason for its success could be its sectoral productivity. In the book chapter, the authors using microdata on firms show that sectoral productivity patterns differ between EAC members: the countries differ in their strengths and weaknesses (what economists call their comparative advantage). Because of the different comparative advantages, it pays to specialize in what you are good at, also to increase intra-regional trade. Uganda can specialize in food where it has a comparative advantage and in the same vein we find different candidates for different countries: Kenya can specialize in furniture, Rwanda in non-metallic manufacturing, and Tanzania in printing and publishing.

That fertile base for specialization and increased trade is good news because the export premium (the higher productivity of internationally operating firms) is substantial for EAC member states and greater than the average for sub-Saharan countries. Higher productivity can be translated into higher per capita income, which is considered necessary for economic growth. Incidentally, this is not a free lunch and requires related policies (training, income support), because amongst the high-productivity winners there are also clear losers in low-productivity sectors.


More investment, less bureaucratic red tape needed

Beyond dealing with those sectors that are lagging, the area faces several policy challenges. The book contains some five case studies[1] that reveal some of the main challenges, which include a lack of institutional support and private sector investments. Many sectors, such as rice farming, seaweed fishing and leather production, lack investments by firms that can help these countries position themselves higher up in international value chains. State institutions on the other hand are important both for ensuring the quality of export products and for funding research and development into product-specific improvements.

Another challenge relates to a lack of investment by firms in primary sectors. For example, while Tanzania is one of the largest regional exporters of live cattle, its lack of formal slaughterhouses and leather processing facilities prevents it from expanding its leather production sector. As a result, it needs to import shoes and other simple leather products, and the upscaling of the sector is hardly possible.

When it comes to trade with the EAC region, the main bottlenecks are related to difficulties getting import and export products across borders without delay. One study contained in the book reveals bottlenecks that impede trade both within and outside of the EAC. The challenges include inadequate (air)port management and excessive bureaucratic red tape, which are compounded by the lack of a one-stop-shop approach; in principle, these are factors that could be resolved without having to make major financial investments but require a change in practices and training to implement newly developed systems.


Offering aid in addition to trade

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation can learn several things from the EAC in doing trade and investment better. One important finding that can be considered in the Netherlands is that trade cannot work without a certain amount of aid. An empirical study by Sylvanus Afesorgbor of European trade with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with which Europe has a special development aid relationship shows that trade promotion appears to lead to economic development only if it is complemented by development aid. One reason is that additional policies are necessary to help individuals that work in sectors with low productivity that lose due to international specialization.

However, the similarities have been somewhat overlooked. From this perspective alone, it is unfortunate that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation’s new strategic policy paper, ‘Doen waar Nederland goed is in’ (‘Do what the Netherlands does best’), does not consider the EAC as an economic community of nations. While some individual EAC countries are mentioned, the emphasis is on the Netherlands’ long-standing foreign policy strategy focused on the Horn of Africa.

This leaves the opportunities that lie in the EAC out of the policy picture. For example, the Netherlands can play an important role in helping the EAC address the logistical challenges hampering trade, in particular with regard to (air)port management. It also has much to offer African policy makers through its own regional economic integration experiences, from Benelux to the EU. Moreover, several large Dutch companies also have a foothold in Tanzania, which illustrates that this is already recognized as an interesting market.

Our book brings together economists from the Global South that provide a relevant multidimensional analysis of how sensible policies can be designed that move trade and development in the same direction.


[1] The case studies are a comparative analysis of the leather industry by Fauzul Muna, a survey of common bean smallholder farmers in Arusha by Eliaza Mkuna, an econometric analysis of Tanzanian horticultural export by William Georde, a survey of the seaweed sector in Zanzibar by Wahida Makame, and a structured review of cross-border cooperatives in the EAC by Gerard Dushimimana.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Peter van Bergeijk is Professor of International Economic Relations and Macroeconomics at the Hague-based Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University (ISS); one of the leading educational and research institutes in the field of development cooperation in Europe.






Binyam Afewerk Demena is an empirical economist with expertise across economic disciplines focusing on the area of development, environment, and health. He is an Assistant professor the Hague-based Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University (ISS).

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The role of National Governments in delivering humanitarian-development-peace nexus approaches: a reflection on current challenges and the way forward

The concept of humanitarian, development, peace (HDP) — referred to also as the triple nexus — gained momentum during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, and more recently with the wide adoption of the recommendations on the HDP nexus issues by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) in 2019.

The HDP nexus pushes for strengthening the links between humanitarian, development, and peace actors and actions in contexts of protracted settings, where all three forms of assistance overlap within the same communities. The focus on strengthening these links, however, is not new. For example, the discourse on ‘linking relief, rehabilitation, and development’ (LRRD) from the 1980s, also attempted to better align humanitarian and development activities. It was, however,  critiqued because it saw aid as a linear process and lacked incentives for co-ordination, and focused primarily on the process of humanitarian agencies finishing their work, and development agencies taking over at some point. The triple nexus approach, on the contrary, pushes agencies and actors to improve co-ordination, collaboration, and coherence in order to increase aid effectiveness.

In this blog, I will explore the questions around engagement of national governments with triple nexus approaches. Specifically, I will look at (1) the importance of engaging with the national government; (2) existing challenges to this engagement; and (3) overcoming the challenges in engaging with the national government in relation to triple nexus approaches.

Wide acknowledgement for the need to engage with national governments

The overarching objective of the triple nexus approach is the prioritisation of better coordination and coherence between different actors and interventions in order to ‘end need’ and ‘leave no one behind’, thereby making the role of national governments a crucial element of this approach.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Results Group 4 in 2020 stated that “[National] Governments bear the primary responsibility to respond to disasters, protect their own populations, including displaced persons, abide by the refugee conventions, respect international humanitarian principles and law, and should drive the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] in their country.”[1] Additionally, the OECD-DAC Recommendation 2 advocates for the “appropriate resourcing to empower leadership for cost-effective coordination across the humanitarian, development, and peace architecture, by supporting local and national authorities, including legitimate non-state authorities wherever possible, and appropriate and in accordance with international law. Still further, the IASC Results Working Group 4 in May 2020, in regard to the triple nexus, states that actions must be “in consultation with government and leaders in all three pillars both within and outside the UN system.”

Therefore, while on one hand, national governments are critical for moving from emergency relief to long-term peace and stability, on the other, national governments can pose a threat to this progress when they are party to the conflict. This then becomes a difficult, and often a political dilemma, to determine how, and to what extent, should national governments be involved in planning aid strategies and interventions.

Challenges in involving national governments

One of the major concerns with engaging national governments in triple nexus approaches is that they will manipulate the strategies and interventions to their advantage — primarily by using the resources for their own gain — and fail to prioritise the interests of the majority of citizens. According to Berebi and Thelen (2011), aid, when given directly to affected population(s), rather than through unstable and potentially corrupt governments, can prove more effective. This is especially true for contexts dominated by conflict, where aid absorption is far less likely than in contexts that are safer and more secure.

This, however, raises an important dilemma— should a triple nexus approach sidestep government to focus on the need for more and better co-ordination in other areas? Purposely disengaging with the government in the spirit of more effective aid in the short and long-term, however, signals a lack of confidence in the national government, and thus, may cause more harm than good.

For example, according to a United Nations report from 2021 focused on South Sudan, since 2018, there has been more than an estimated $73 million, which has gone missing or  been syphoned off by various government officials and bodies. In fact, from the recent interviews, which I conducted in November 2021, there is evidence that there has been an increase in tensions between both international and national non-governmental organisations in South Sudan and the national government. This is reportedly because more and more international donors are side-stepping from working with and depending on the government, for ensuring distribution of funds to specific project interventions. Whenever possible, the funds, instead, go directly to the national NGOs and project implementers. In cases where the national and regional governments are involved, the money meant to reach the intended beneficiary is not only often delayed but is also deficient in the intended amount. This issue becomes even more complex when related to implementing a multi-component initiative, that may require several different government ministries to work together efficiently and effectively.

Moving forward

While this is only one issue of aid in the context of fragile and protracted settings when engaging with national governments, it is nonetheless, a very important one. For the triple nexus approach, I would argue that the national government, like all entities, is made up of different people with varying interests. Therefore, when engaging across actors and actions, a process of discernment, by international actors, should be a priori, in finding those individuals in government who are invested in meaningful change — focused on meeting the needs of the community and the country in a way that builds long-term peace and stability.

A triple nexus approach, therefore, must assess different levels of engagement, that balance information sharing with proactive engagement within government bodies to determine the best way of engagement. Those using a triple nexus approach, must recognise that in pulling together humanitarian, peace, and development actors and actions, it may mean that they are encouraging and promoting inter-governmental collaboration, co-ordination, and coherence, that might be weak or non-existent.

On a positive note, however, encouraging working relationships between different ministries can also become a conduit for them to see the benefits of more co-ordinated responses that are focused on immediate relief, as well as ensuring the long-term peace and development of the country. In essence, the triple nexus approach can provide an opportunity for supporting positive inter- and intra-government working relationships.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author

Summer Brown is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her research focuses on how Humanitarian and Peacebuilding interventions work together from the perspective of National non-governmental organisations in South Sudan. She takes on consulting work focused primarily on the HDP nexus and conflict sensitivity respectively. Some of her clients include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Mott MacDonald’s Girls Education in South Sudan programme, International Alert, Islamic Relief, Christian Aid and Caritas Switzerland.

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How unified resistance efforts within and across borders can help restore democracy in Myanmar

The coup d’état that took place in Myanmar in February this year led to a global outcry as the junta took over the country’s government. But despite massive and enduring citizen-led protests and strong criticism by the international community with accompanying punitive measures, the junta remains in power and continues to arrest and kill citizens. Seohee Kwak in this article argues that resolving the situation requires the Burmese public and foreign actors to work together more concretely and coherently.

Photo: February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

More than four months have passed since a coup d’état took place in Myanmar on 1 February 2021. The political legitimacy of the junta that staged the coup has been challenged by not only millions of protesting citizens, but also by the international community. For instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had meetings with junta leaders on 24 April, reaching a so-called five-point consensus which includes the cessation of violence and arrangements for dialogues for a peaceful solution. However, little progress has been made since then, and the military still practices violent repression against the people. By 5 July 2021, more than 6,500 people have been arrested and 892 people have been killed by the junta forces. The number of casualties and detained or arrested people is still on the rise.

Are internal or external pressures insufficient to put an end to this crisis? This article shows that independent actions by citizens from Myanmar and the international community are less likely to have a substantive  effect and that collaboration may produce better outcomes.

Can Burmese citizens stop the violence?

Burmese citizens have taken individual and collective political action rather than choosing to submit to the junta, but they have neither the opportunity to hold the junta to account, nor the political leverage to make the junta yield to democratic principles. The military regime currently maintains control by force with uneven and illegitimate power. However, for the junta leaders, political legitimacy in the eyes of citizens is not currently a top priority, and it therefore does not fear retaliation by citizens through voting in future elections.

As heavy repression has continued, more people have started to resort to more direct confrontation. Pro-democracy and self-defense forces have been formed across the country, and armed resistance movements against the junta have resulted in casualties for the military and the police. Due to the pre-coup oppression of ethnic and religious minority groups lasting decades, armed conflicts between the military and civilian rebel groups have become more intense in several regions where these minorities reside, bringing the country to the brink of a humanitarian emergency. For instance, more than 100,000 inhabitants in Kayah State have had to flee due to military attacks and airstrikes.

Can foreign actors reverse the situation?

Foreign actors have also opposed the junta, but have not been very successful so far due to their fragmented actions. The months-long condemnation of the junta by the international community has reached a point of saturation, and more tangible measures have been implemented:

  • The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank froze their project fund disbursements and implementations in opposition to the junta.
  • Japan, another leading donor to Myanmar, placed development assistance on hold.
  • On 18 June, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on arms transfers to Myanmar.
  • On 21 June, the European Union announced another round of sanctions, mainly travel bans and an asset freeze against key junta leaders and organisations connected with the coup.
  • And in addition to punitive measures by bilateral and multilateral actors, the private sector has also mobilised. International firms, particularly those linked to oil and gas that are key sources of revenue for Myanmar, have suspended dividend payments by a joint venture to the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) with which the military has allegedly close links.

Foreign actors that are key partners to Myanmar are resorting to a wide range of measures to attempt to sway the junta; these include dialogues, tightened conditions for foreign aid, the freezing of investments, resource/trades embargoes. Yet these actors are not unified. For example, China, despite condemning the current situation, is seemingly calling for stability for strategic and not moral reasons. Similarly, the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seems to focus more on how the coup is affecting its own interests and less on the consequences of this form of government for Burmese citizens. And Russia formally refuses to condemn the coup, stating the need to maintain its strategic links with Myanmar. External pressures are therefore fragmented and incoherent.

Unity for greater political leverage

Myanmar’s protesters and foreign actors need to act together to create greater political leverage. Without this, it is very likely that public protests and other forms of resistance will result in ongoing violent repression. Stronger networks with links to international organisations and concrete assistance to the Myanmar citizens fighting for democracy would resonate more strongly with the junta leaders to the extent that they would be hard to ignore. For instance, the provision of technical or financial assistance to Myanmar civil society organisations or groups of activists could encourage them to continue their activities and strengthen their capacities during such a political crisis. At the same time, foreign actors also need to work together more effectively to make a greater impact. When foreign actors shut financial and political doors to the military regime, a key for success is to ensure that there is no other door open for the junta to sneak through. It is not easy, but to prevent further violence and to restore democracy in Myanmar, unity is needed both between Burmese civilians and foreign actors, and among foreign actors.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Seohee Kwak

Seohee Kwak is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). With a geographical interest in the Southeast and East Asian regions, her academic interests include political rights/freedom, political action, public protest, state repression, and state-society relations.


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Donor-driven agendas and the need to move beyond a capacity building focus in Myanmar’s research ecosystem by Jana Rué Glutting and Anders Lee

Localization has become a buzzword among promoters of development aid following a recent shift in focus to the sustainability of development projects after the withdrawal of donors from contexts where projects have been initiated. But why don’t aid interventions also focus on the localization of research? This blog post intends to stress the importance of critically assessing the localization strategies of the international community in the research space in Myanmar, requiring an honest introspection in how social science research is being conducted and funded, and who are the actors at play and its implications.

The localization of aid has gained considerable attention in both the humanitarian and development spaces over the last few years (Kumar 2015). The conventional definition has been criticized for being too narrow, centred on channelling more aid directly to local state and non-state actors without a focus on supporting their capacity to effectively absorb and manage more aid. While donor and UN agencies have been pursuing greater localization of their funding, in practice, it has merely been operationalized as a set of best practices for them to better engage with local stakeholders.

With the renewed engagement of the international community since its 2010 democratic transition, Myanmar research actors have been catering to the rising demand for donor-driven knowledge production. Recently, we completed a study with the Global Development Network, funded by the International Development Research Centre, to assess the social science research ecosystem in Myanmar. The study found that the vast majority of donor-funded research places little decision-making power in the hands of local research actors, where local researchers are often relegated to liaisons or assistant roles in research projects. It is mainly justified on the grounds of allocating roles based on current levels of expertise, and few Myanmar researchers have experience to match the required level of expertise or experience.

The need to critically assess localization efforts in the development industry is important and urgent. Similar to the debate within humanitarian aid, more direct funding from donors into local research systems can contribute to increased capacity, promote independent research that produces longer-term research studies, and shape ‘big ideas’ of the country. At present, the research ecosystem in Myanmar can only be optimistically described as nascent. Its current state is the result of deliberate actions undertaken by the successive socialist government and military rule (following the 1988 Uprising, initiated by university students) to dismantle the higher education system.

Universities today are severely under-resourced – teaching is based on top-down rote learning, while professors are poorly paid and have little financial support or incentives to undertake independent and high-quality research. What further compounds the issue is ‘anade’, a sociocultural value still prevalent in Myanmar that prevents students from speaking out or raising questions to their professors in fear of offending them. These factors severely limit the development of analytical and critical thinking skills among young graduates.

The gap left by universities in research production is then filled by international NGOs, think tanks, development consultancies, and market research firms, which are largely funded by donors. In fact, donors have been very successful in controlling the ‘value chain’, guiding what is problematized and which research is commodified in the marketplace of ideas (McCombs & Shaw 1993). While the abovementioned dynamics could be considered successful localization practices, understood in the conventional sense as practices to channel direct aid to local actors and a focus on capacity building, this reality also shines light on the complexity of these collaborations.

In Myanmar, we have found that funding is often concentrated on specific areas that are in line with the priority areas that donors deem important for the country’s development. During our in-depth interviews, local researchers frequently complained about the lack of power in deciding the research topic and research design. They stressed that they were often relegated to positions of boots-on-the-ground or local partners, typically as data collectors, translators, or liaison officers. On the other hand, analytical tasks and report writing were assigned to bigger international NGOs or international consultants.

Amid the lack of supply of experienced researchers in Myanmar[1], donors have focused on building capacity to meet the standards required for the localization of aid, mainly by adding short-term capacity building workshops in their projects. However, such an approach is myopic because it merely focuses on enhancing research skills sufficient to contribute to their commissioned studies. Moreover, power dynamics inherent in the aid-donor relations accord considerable leverage for the uptake of these donor-driven research studies, which can reduce the space for local researchers to explore thematic and methodological options in their pursuit of their research endeavours. Instead, local researchers are constrained in providing single-minded policy responses to overstretched policymakers. As aid practitioners, we have to critically assess these approaches and ask, how “local” is “the local”?

At present,  social science research continues to be driven by the international community who sets its own agenda, with localization merely a tick on the checklist to ensure that the local context and participation are acknowledged. Such research is not co-developed or nationally owned, nor does it incentivize the government to pursue a longer-term strategy to build up the research system.

The discussion presented here does not suggest that donor-funded research cannot contribute to the development of a stronger research and policy-making environment. Rather, we argue that the narrow definition and application of the localization principle when it comes to pursuing research agendas is overly focused on achieving targeted narrow programmatic outcomes. This has been justified through partnerships with and training of local researchers to contribute to the strengthening of overall research capacities of Myanmar.

[1] According to UNESCO UIS, Myanmar had 29.07 full-time equivalent researchers (per million inhabitants) in 2017 (UNESCO UIS n.d.)

Capie, D. (2012). The Responsibility to Protect Norm in Southeast Asia: Framing, Resistance and the Localization Myth. The Pacific Review, 25(1), 75–93.
Kumar, R. (2015). What’s new with localization. [online] Devex. Available at: https://www.devex.com/news/what-s-new-with-localization-86094 [Accessed 17 Jan. 2020].
McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1993). The evolution of agenda-setting research: Twenty-five years in the marketplace of ideas. Journal of communication, 43(2), 58-67.
UNESCO UIS. (n.d.). Data for Sustainable Development Goals – Myanmar. Available at: http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/mm?theme=science-technology-and-innovation [Accessed 16 Mar. 2020].


About the authors:

JanaJana-Chin Rué Glutting is a Research Associate at the Centre for Economic and Social Development. She is an MA graduate in Economics of Development Studies at The Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University. She is interested in industry policy research in Myanmar, and currently engaged in various projects related to the garment sector, trade and macroeconomic research, and social research systems.



Anders Lee is a researcher at the Centre for Economic and Social Development, and Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. He is currently working on research projects looking at political violence in China and Hong Kong, and internal and international migration in Myanmar. He holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.