Accepted Paper:

Making the most of disorder: Governance and development aid in Melanesia  


Rob Lamontagne (Griffith University)

Paper short abstract:

In Solomon Islands, governance is liberal, Christian, customary and hybrid. Having failed to create effective liberal states, development partners are now making the most of this disorder through radical decentralisation from 'slush funds' to hyperlocal courts and withdrawal from urban planning.

Paper long abstract:

The states of Melanesia are extremely weak despite decades of close development assistance. Long term efforts to build liberal states that can nurture institutions of effective governance have failed to account for local environments that have their own modes of governance that shift from liberal to Christian to customary or hybrid between two or more. Melanesia, the most ethnolinguistically diverse area on the planet, upends the Western idea of disorder as a temporary impingement on order; there, disorder is order. My paper will explore new efforts by the states themselves and by Australian aid workers to make the most of this disorder and to work with unpredictability and uncertainty rather than insist exclusively on an alien and ineffective form of governance. Driven by a new preference for a 'thinking and working politically' approach rather than 'good governance agenda' universalism in the face of dysfunctional Western-style states, actors in the region are embracing a push for radical decentralization. Using examples from Solomon Islands, my paper will discuss the instrumental retreat from state power and authority by letting hyperlocal hybrid courts operate freely; the unregulated and increasing use of MP local 'slush funds' to create rudimentary welfare systems that also inhibit the persistent calls for formal, liberal federalism; the withdrawal from city planning in the rapidly urbanizing Honiara area; and finally, the role of customary 'big men' now acting like 'big shots' by using authority arbitrage switching between modes of governance to outwit opposition.

Panel F01
The politics of uncertainty, disorder, and contingency in 'developing' states (Paper)