Accepted paper:

The United Nations, expertise and the politics of policy change: the case of FAO and agricultural policy reform in Senegal and Tanzania


Christian Derlagen (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
Alban Mas Aparisi (FAO)

Paper short abstract:

Provision of policy advice to African governments is a core activity of UN organizations. How do UN experts shape domestic policies in the absence of conditionalities? This paper argues that individual behaviour and networks, and not structural power relations, drive policy transfer by UN experts.

Paper long abstract:

The provision of policy advice in sectors such as agriculture, health or education is a core activity of United Nations organisations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, UN experts occupy an important space in policy development as countries tend to be aid dependent and government institutions have limited technical capacities. The political economy literature often regards UN-induced policy reform in developing countries as the outcome of a coercive process, reflecting international power relations. UN experts are framed as technocrats that design and justify the use of conditionality mechanisms for policy reforms decided at political levels by donor countries or in UN headquarters. But how do UN experts influence African policy processes in the absence of aid conditionality? Do they carve a linear path to policy change or rather 'muddle through' a myriad of bureaucratic and interpersonal interactions? Building on the concept of policy transfer, this paper traces the process of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's support to specific policy reforms in Senegal and Tanzania. Focusing on the micro-level, quotidian and bureaucratic negotiations between UN technical staff, government officials and other stakeholders, we apply a policy transfer analysis to identify the factors that enable or constrain the influence of UN experts on domestic policies. We argue that policy transfers from the UN to national governments cannot only be explained in terms of structural power relationships but also as the outcome of a multitude of petty interactions and knowledge co-creation by individual agents within and between UN agency, African government institutions and other organizations.

panel Econ26
The United Nations in Africa, and Africa in the UN: bureaucratic wrangling, translocal negotiations, and the politics of expertise