View Full Version : The Political Economy of Customary Village Organizations in Rural Afghanistan

03-15-2010, 05:38 AM
Article: The Political Economy of Customary Village Organizations in Rural Afghanistan (http://web.bu.edu/aias/brick.pdf)

I just read this on the recommendation of Joshua Foust (http://www.registan.net/index.php/2010/03/06/vetting-haji-zahir/#comment-384786) and found this to be a very well thought out paper on the potential of Community Development Councils in Afghanistan. It is not a short article, but it is a very quick read if you are interested in the material (36 pages of text, plus 12 pages of charts and endnotes). In doing some recent searching for information about NSP/CDCs, all that I found was glowing praise (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.warner.html) (followed by reasons why we need to spend more money (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/02/real-afghan-dev/) on them, which is then funnelled to various NGOs (http://www.nspafghanistan.org/facilitating_partners.shtm), Afghan officials (http://www.mrrd.gov.af/english/Organization-Structure.htm), and pads the discretionary accounts of various Coalition bureaucrats (http://www.nspafghanistan.org/nsp_donors.shtm), and so on - often the same people praising the program or often people closely associated (http://www.cnas.org/node/768) with them). This was the first piece that I found that did not give glowing praise. On the contrary, it gives a fairly thorough rebuke.

Under what conditions can customary organizations provide public goods? I argue that four mechanisms—separation of power among community organizations, checks and balances between organizations, the ability to raise local revenue under a hard budget constraint, and the presence of economic veto players—facilitate the provision of public goods. These four conditions provide a revenue basis and accountability mechanisms that prevent predation and promote the delivery of public services.
Customary organizations in Afghanistan are not the only local organizations that satisfy some these conditions... Warlords and commanders lack accountability and separation of powers. They may have the ability to tax, but they have no accountability mechanisms... Local non-customary organizations in Afghanistan, whether political parties, warlords and their command structure, development councils, lack many of the conditions outlined above, especially separation of powers and integrated checks and balances that can prevent abuse. For example, CDCs do not derive their authority from the people, despite the claims democratic elections. They are upwardly accountable not to the community but to the NGO that provides them access to funds. They submit paperwork detailing their activities not to community members or to district government officials, but to the local NGO implementing the project in the area. There are no self-enforcing accountability mechanisms present in these organizations. CDCs are also limited in their ability to raise local revenues. CDCs generally do not collect revenues from individuals. These organizations redistribute resources accumulated through non-productive sources, specifically from international financial assistance, and are thus “rentier” community organizations. They are dependent on outside sources of revenue for support. When such support is absent, as it often is, these organizations will have limited opportunities to provide public goods because they have no revenue.Thoughts?

03-15-2010, 02:41 PM

A telling study. Just read it once and I have not found the holes yet...that will likely show up later as edits to this post.

From an academic perspective it is a very well executed article.
It is very clear on its own limitations
It offers a pretty clear framework for understanding/assessing local governance structures
Uses the example of the NSP to talk about induced local governance structures in a most helpful way...diaggregates the dimensions of interaction in a manner that is structured by the framework used to explore the conditions necessary for effective forms of local governance.
Ends by clearly posing an entirely reasonable and very difficult question
It disaggregates institutions and individuals in a most helpful way
It is not prejudiced (romantic or critical) vis. traditional institutions

My concerns (at this point)

it does not discuss substantially the reliability of the data on which its quantitative analysis is taken
it does not offer qualitative studies that contradict the conclusions
it appears to be a bit mission driven

I'm sure I'll feel silly about how impressed I am by this article at some time in the future, but for now, it looks pretty good.


Steve the Planner
03-15-2010, 08:22 PM

She did a great job of articulating the holes in the strategy to stabilize and reconstruct Afghanistan---notably that this is not a stabilization and reconstruction effort, but one that requires a substantially transformative outcome, in a very short and unrealistic timeframe without adequate resources or planning.

Reminds me, point for point, of the issues raised by the Provincial Development Councils in Iraq---sheiks Councils---set up as a patchwork effort to bypass the flailing and ineffective early local and provincial governments after 2006.

A great "patch," but one that invariably avoided the problem, and, in so many ways, made it worse by bringing all the local "goodfellas" into control of the project money (this despite serious commitments and goodwill by some involved in the process).

My read, as with Iraq, is that we keep Learning the Lessons of the bosses and folks in organizational power in these reconstruction efforts ---everything we did was great, effective, and needs to be replicated over-and--over again as we move up the organizational ladder to new and more vexing problems. This despite the fact that any independent observer knows they didn't help in Iraq and won't help in Afghanistan.

My guess is that one of the downsides to announcing a withdrawal schedule in Afghanistan was to, in effect, underscore the need for quick, stop-gap "panaceas," in lieu of a genuine commitment to understanding serious development issues. Did I say "low-hanging fruit," and "rotational" performance measures?

At this point, we would do better to turn the whole "big picture" thing over to a handful of successful learners who've spent 2,3,4 tours out amongst the problems---ship them to the White House for an advisory meeting on "why everything you try fails," and make a new game plan from those LESSONS NOT YET LEARNED."

03-16-2010, 06:38 PM
The reading that I've done on CDCs suggests to me that we're all about measures of performance with no regard to measures of effectiveness. X dollars spent and Y things built. That's nice. To what end? My favorite is when people brag that the CDCs even get stuff done in insurgent territory. Great! You just gave the Taliban a generator.

J Wolfsberger
03-16-2010, 07:01 PM
The reading that I've done on CDCs suggests to me that we're all about measures of performance with no regard to measures of effectiveness. X dollars spent and Y things built. That's nice. To what end?

Bingo! They are bringing the same problems extant in both private and public stateside sectors to Afghanistan. The difference is that in the US, organizations usually have a staff of "worker bees" who know how to get results in spite of the bureaucracy. That is not likely to be the case in Afghanistan.

This reminds me of a post a few weeks ago from an officer on the ground about his experience with an NGO planning meeting. They kept bringing up things that they should develop plans for, he kept saying 'we've already done that.'

03-16-2010, 07:32 PM
The reading that I've done on CDCs suggests to me that we're all about measures of performance with no regard to measures of effectiveness. X dollars spent and Y things built. That's nice. To what end? My favorite is when people brag that the CDCs even get stuff done in insurgent territory. Great! You just gave the Taliban a generator.

The measures of effectiveness bit is something most organizations I've seen struggle with. In most cases they have awful proxy indicators sometimes chased by people who don't understand their link to desired effects. Those indicators can be chased in all sorts of mutually incoherent ways none of which have much to do with realizing desired effects. The thread on the Marines here is interesting. I've seen mutually destructive incoherence from the same unit in the same theatre at the same time and in the same profession.

J Wolfsberger
03-16-2010, 08:10 PM

1. Understanding of metrics and measurement
2. Description of the measurement process
3. Guidance for using the example metrics set
4. Guidance for tailoring the metrics to project or customer requirements
5. Guidance for defining new metrics through a step-by-step process related to goals and objectives
6. Guidance on how to build a metrics capability (from theory to application)

These apply even when the subject system is human. If anyone is interested, PM me.

Steve the Planner
03-16-2010, 08:13 PM
There's a post on Abu Moqawama: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2010/03/israel-centcom.html

It cites a study just done that describes how CERP funding can be directly correlated to lesser SIGACTS, therefore it was effective.

I read the study, and it actually indicated that more study was needed to go beyond the idiot analysis provided.

There sure as heck is a direct correlation between SIGACTS and the increase in patrols, which are the trailing source of CERP funds. Where do they find these people to give these waste of time grants to, then fly them to conferences in London to explain. Sounds better than working, but I would just be too embarrassed to do that kind of work.

SIGAR is just releasing investigations on 30 more US thefts of reconstruction funds (mostly bribes and kickbacks). I wonder if there is any difference in effectiveness between CERP funds stolen or wasted, and CERP funds spent for overly expensive and inefficiently provided humanitarian relief services?

Lots of studies and PR, but its mostly smoke and BS.


03-16-2010, 08:27 PM
There's a post on Abu Moqawama: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2010/03/israel-centcom.html

It cites a study just done that describes how CERP funding can be directly correlated to lesser SIGACTS, therefore it was effective.

I read the study, and it actually indicated that more study was needed to go beyond the idiot analysis provided.

Ugh. Abu M's stuff is kind of like Super Bowl advertisements. It is intended as marketing, but I only view it for entertainment value. And rarely.

Steve the Planner
03-16-2010, 09:12 PM
Sure seems like.

Here's some serious reporting from Asia Times. Raises the right questions but still in search of answers.

"Say hello to Marjah ... or 'Little America'
By Peter Lee "


I keep looking for credible answers but it seems the PR machines are in such full tilt that its hard to see through the steam of BS.


03-18-2010, 01:09 AM
of Community Development Councils, as part of the National Solidarity Programme (http://nspafghanistan.org/default.shtm) under the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development (http://www.mrrd.gov.af/English/index.htm), has a number of links and reports.



03-18-2010, 01:49 AM

I've actually been reading a number of those specific reports (as well as others) lately and this is reinforcing my initial impression. MoP versus MoE. It's really wonderful that they're building infrastructure in small communities throughout the country. But this is a measure of performance that speaks nothing to measures of effectiveness, sustainability, improving governance, or connecting the communities to the central or provincial governments in any meaningful way other than playing along with the requirements of the NSP so long as the money continues to flow. It also says nothing about contributions to security in general or the ongoing counterinsurgency specifically. This is work that appears to be purely philanthropic and serve no larger strategic or even operational purpose (although it sure is sold as the latter, despite any evidence that I can find).

The one positive aspect, in my opinion, is that the program had developed a capability to funnel money into just about any district with a non-US conduit. Even better, it looks like this program will now be funded with CERP funds. If that translates into additional oversight by ISAF and coordination between NSP and ISAF, then this could be a very positive development. This could take a program that does something very well to no effect and synchronize it with actions of ISAF to hopefully continue doing things well, but for some effect.

03-18-2010, 03:01 AM
seem pretty candid in assessing its shortcomings (FAQs ## 13 & 14)

13. What have been the most significant obstacles encountered by NSP?

The two most significant obstacles faced by the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) are:

Security (i.e. lack of access to insecure areas): due to the ongoing conflict in four southern provinces out of 34 provinces, it has been difficult to contract Facilitating Partners and for these FPs to gain access to a number of communities. This has resulted in a slow pace of programme implementation.

Funding (the lack of timely and adequate financial resources): the process of raising government revenue and building confidence with the international community to channel international aid though the state apparatus has taken some time to achieve. Donor commitments continue to arrive well behind schedule, and as only a fraction of overall pledges made at international development forums.

The funding gaps and late disbursement by donors with varying fiscal years have led to communities obtaining external loans just to complete projects and paying back these loans when they receive their block grants.

Although NSP has flagship programme status and indisputable social and political impact at the rural community level, fund raising is of primary concern to NSP management and the Afghan government. At this stage, NSP still faces a funding gap and continued efforts are in place to address this situation.


14. What is the NSP's most significant remaining shortcoming?

The CDC By-Law, which defines the legal roles of the community and its representatives and recognizes CDCs as the constitutionally based, democratically elected development body at community level, was officially approved by His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in November 2006. Although the CDC By-Law offers a framework within which the CDC can legitimately operate, the greatest shortcoming of the NSP at this moment is the absence of an overall government policy to internalize CDC service provision beyond MRRD.

Consideration at the highest levels must be given to potential opportunities for incremental sustainability of CDCs through, amongst other actions, the devolution of a fiscal policy allowing CDCs access to government-generated revenue as a continued resource for funding development activities.

This would be the beginning of a reduced dependency upon external financial resources and the establishment of sustainable economic activities to further enhance rural incomes while ensuring greater coordination of appropriate service delivery at community level.

The CDCs have not been emphasized by other Astan power centers, but are included in the Karzai government's plans - e.g., 2007 Afghanistan Human Development Report (http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/nationalreports/asiathepacific/afghanistan/nhdr2007.pdf) (p.134 pdf):

Questions remain about the sustainability of CDCs as the original NSP grant support is phased out. However, the integration of CDCs into district level planning structures under the National Area-Based Development Program (NABDP), along with increased awareness of the bylaw may reinforce the legitimacy of the CDC as a community representative institution. In many areas, there are already programs to group CDCs together and provide support through other rural development programming. Longer-term questions about the relationship between CDCs and the constitutionally-mandated village councils, or the formal court system, remain unanswered but are gaining prominence.

My initial impression was that NSP-CDC seemed more the type of program beloved of folks who wear fairly expensive Western suits, speak passable English and are like "US".



Steve the Planner
03-18-2010, 07:19 AM

As you start to evaluate this stuff, the question is not and cannot be: How many schools can we build?

It has to be: How many schools can they operate and sustain?

We have a lot of magical thinking going on that will all come home to roost in the near future. At our expense, millions of Afghans are in school, being trained for expectations, the nature of which are, at present, unfulfilable.

The UN points to the "ticking time bomb" of some one million graduates per year coming out of the internationally funded schools, but with no prospects for gainful employment, either in the public or private sector as it exists in Afghanistan today.

Do they all travel oversees to become auslandarbeiters sending remittances home--- the way most low-resource places work? Do they transform and revolutionize Afghanistan, and if so, how? Where is this all headed?

I remember the reality in Kirkuk in 2008, when the $28 million US-funded and built "state of the art" trash collection and waste disposal system came on line. The city was handed a proposed bill for $3-5 million per year to operate it---an amount unthinkable in Iraq, and infeasable in Kirkuk's provincial and municipal budget structure.

We have projects going everywhere, and every one has both a permanant operating cost, and the need for huge technical, logistical, operational and maintenance demands---all on some yet to be created fiscal structure.

The reason these places had few resources or services was because, to a great extent, they could not afford them, or conversely, within limited fiscal resources, they were not a relevant priority.

It is fine for us to drop "boxes" of governments, projects, and service demands all around, but, without any prospect for a sustainable fincnail and operational structure, these things are like a "dream" or a "hope" for the future, but there is no plan, and no viable economic structure to keep these things going.

First, we propose a several hundred member military/police structure that will costs billions per year just to meet payroll, let alone capital and operating budgets. Next, a complete K-12 education system, public health care, and infrastructure/utilities (water, sewer, electrical). Unless I'm mistaken, Afghanistan can not even afford the fuel costs for any of these systems, let alone the actual costs.

Behind this huge new permanent structural deficit is, perhaps, the belief that these things will create improved economic expansion, but what is needed to support this is actually an economic explosion far beyond even China's or India's growth rates. Alternately, Afghanistan is a perennial basket case and international beggar. While this may be our accidental goal, it is no guarantee of political stability in a country that values its independence, and has no real centralized societal structure.

The surrounding neighbors have huge advantages in manufacturing and export. They will swamp all serious efforts for Afghanistan from developing internal markets and opportunities except in very limited roles. Thus, Afghanistan is, at best, a supplier of low-value raw goods and agriculture to these strong neighbors. How do you sustain a huge infrastructure and social service system on that basis?

Certainly, we can believe that international aid will always be needed in Afghanistan, but that is no guarantee that it will be adequate and available.

At some point in the future, someone will change office, commitment or interest. Whether that someone is in the US or Afghanistan doesn't matter.

Once that happens, the chickens come home to roost. But there are not enough of them to either eat or sell.

The US military budget cannot and will not operate for much longer as the development funding source for Afghanistan, or its other equivalents.

The best way to test the viabiity of a development project is to pose the basic economic "scarcity" test---to do this, you must give up something else. Which is more important?

The military and foreign service stabilization and reconstruction operations do not function on economic grounds. They just don't get it.

05-23-2010, 01:25 AM
Yes, Brick is quite likely right. But of you want a firm analysis backed up by a much, much bigger study you will have to wait a while for it:


06-19-2010, 02:02 PM
No other thread seemed suitable and this thread is about development and nation-building.

As the Coalition forces prepare to pull out, other Brits commit to real ‘nation-building’ — educating the next generation. Mary Wakefield reports from rural Afghanistan.

The scene is Worsaj, in Takhar Province (North East Afg.) and vists the work of an expat - who has her own blog:http://sarahfane.blogspot.com/