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Publication Details

Reference
Wilson, Zoë  (2004) Wishful Thinking, Wilful Blindness and Artful Amnesia: The UN and the Promotion of Good Governance, Democracy and Human Rights in Africa (chapter 1). Centre for Civil Society : 1-293.

Summary
If there is such thing as the development zeitgeist, it is today embodied by the triangulated concepts of good governance, democracy and human rights. The United Nations is significant player in the agenda setting game, the author of such core development texts as the Human Development Report (HDR) and the Millennium Declaration. In 2002, the HDR was subtitled: Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World, and referred to one or all of these concepts on every page.

However, a cursory look at the history of successive UN ‘development decades’ makes obvious that democratic governance does not crown a list of stunning development achievements. What promise does this new governance agenda hold?

This dissertation provides a ‘thick description’ of the conceptual architecture of the political dimensions of the UN governance agenda (the good governance, democracy and human rights bundle) – typically the responsibility of the UNDP. It traces aspiration and policy from the global documents such as the Human Development Report down through to the country documents and perceptions of country staff in four country case studies: Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania.
The chapters that follow detail a governance agenda comprising a number of contradictory and competing stories, each more or less strongly iterated at different levels, in different documents, at different moments. At the same time, some of the strongest recurring themes are the privileging of the de-politicised state, the top-down insertion of UN expertise at the level of the state, a jigsaw of forms and events such as political parties and rule of law – and strictly disciplined forms of popular participation.
Ultimately, the dissertation details a governance agenda that asserts but even more strongly denies the entitlement of people everywhere to participate meaningfully in the conversations about where their communities are going and how they want to get there.


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