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For writers of a postcolonial standpoint, the arguments about aid and sovereignty and historical continuity both add weight to a view that emphasizes the lasting legacies of colonialism in international relations. However, to assess the impact of aid on African sovereignty, and therefore also to judge these related broader claims, greater analytical clarity is needed.

In the next section I argue that we can begin to achieve this by establishing an analytical distinction between questions of sovereign right and authority from questions of national political control. Although something of a simplification — all analytical distinctions are — it is a necessary starting point in order to disentangle what is and is not at stake in the aid relationship. In subsequent sections I go on to explore the role that sovereignty plays in the aid relationship and some of the related complications that also arise.

A key problem with the three sovereignty arguments surveyed above is that they do not distinguish between questions of sovereign rights and authority on the one hand and questions of state capability or control on the other. In order to assess the aid relationship we require a clearer analytical distinction. On the other hand we have an assortment of political claims that are often couched in the language of sovereignty, but which relate more to issues of the ability on the part of states or governments to act and to control particular outcomes and enjoy constraint-free policy choices.

In aid relations, the former has been undoubtedly the case although even here, caution is needed while the latter is not.

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As we will see, there is a stronger connection between these two than implied here, but it is useful first to pursue where this distinction takes us before complicating the picture somewhat. Important domestic and international consequences often stem from whether a state is strong or weak, a great power or a minor power, has a capable government or an ineffective government, and so on. Yet all such relative and variable facts of power have no conceptual bearing on state sovereignty, which is a question not of power but of freedom from legal subordination to any other authority.

Most other matters — foreign influence, constraints on policy choices, limits on the range of state actions — are more fluid.

The Politics of Aid

The necessary condition for these other issues even to arise — the social recognition of a right to rule located in the state — persists throughout. Questions of right and authority are in that sense a uniquely irreducible element of debates about sovereignty. Other issues to do with an ability to control outcomes are important — as we will see, they are often the reason why a right to rule is valued in the first place.

However, to see what is and is not at stake in aid relations we need to separate out these two elements for the purposes of analytical clarity. Much of the discussion of sovereignty in the aid literature and more generally lacks such clarity. Often the claim of a denial of sovereignty is constructed in relation to an unspoken assumption that sovereignty implies a series of totalizing conditions: complete independence from external influence, complete freedom in policy choice particularly economic policy , and complete command of domestic society and transborder flows.

But this simply is not the right benchmark with which to judge aid and sovereignty.

As Krasner rightly argues, it is highly doubtful if such conditions have ever obtained for any state in history. The next two sections explore where this takes our understanding of the aid relationship. First, we see that the distinction between authority and control enables us to highlight the different areas where external influences, including aid, may be felt in a given state. In the subsequent section, we see that sovereignty as a right to rule is not undermined by aid policies; rather it constitutes the basis upon which such relations are conducted. In the modern international system, societies are engaged in more or less chronic processes of mutual interaction.

A more politically direct form of external influence is suggested in the second column, focusing on instruments that specifically engage the policy choices of a government. Such restrictions on policy autonomy are not unique to aid relationships; indeed, all policy is formulated under conditions of often highly restricted choice and many of these restrictions intrude from outside of a given society. The third column shows external influences that engage the domestic constitutional make-up of a state, in particular the constitutive rules and practices around which political authority is established as well as some of the regulative rules and practices through which that authority is exercised.

Post-conflict situations arguably allow for greater scope for the international community, usually under UN auspices, to shape political reconstruction through the use of multi-party elections and liberal peace building. Finally, set somewhat apart from these forms of external influence, there is the abrogation of sovereignty itself — the denial in one way or another of the politico-legal independence of the state.

Where the first three columns are mainly about issues of control, how far a legally independent state is able to exercise control over outcomes and enjoy freedom from external influence over policy choice, the last column is about the existence or otherwise of such an independent entity. As with any categorization of this sort, reality is more complex and the lines between categories are not hard and fast.

Sovereignty for any state is established and upheld by the practices and norms of the international system as well through the actions of states and the relations between rulers and ruled domestically. Accordingly, sovereignty is about the establishment and reproduction of an ultimate authority over a territory and people, not absolute power or comprehensive control of all areas of social life. Rulers are both representatives of and answerable to domestic populations in a way that is different from non-sovereign entities.

Such cases of military intervention or withdrawal of recognition, for example in response to widespread rights abuses, illustrate the idea that abrogation of sovereignty itself remains a qualitatively different act from other forms of external influence. External influence of any kind is potentially controversial and I will return to controversies over aid below.

However, it should be noted here that, viewed within this broader framework, aid is a particular form of external influence. It is a particular kind because at least in the form of Official Development Assistance, ODA it is overtly public, undertaken by states and by agencies authorized by states. To the extent that influence is successfully exerted it is therefore more deliberate and hence more directly political than that of, say, the cumulative influences of a series of private commercial actions.

The influence of aid is mainly located in relation to the middle two columns of the table, influencing policy choice and constitutional make-up.

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The latter is much less well established in terms of the extent to which donors consistently seek to apply such influence and the extent to which they do so effectively. The attempt to influence policy choices is the mainstay of debates around conditionality, post-conditionality and ownership.

Rendering oneself unable to make distinctions between issues of sovereignty and the different issues of control actually obscures what we are able to see when analysing aid relationships. The foregoing analysis suggests that the focus of our assessment of aid should be on areas of national control, not sovereignty as a right to rule. In terms of the day-to-day practices of aid, sovereign authority is in fact the basis of both the granting and receipt of aid. For donors, often quite elaborate procedures and rules exist to authorize the granting of aid.

Furthermore, donors require the identification and agreement of national authorizing agents in the recipient country. While African policy autonomy may indeed be severely compromised by the aid relationship, the recognition of the right of African states to govern their own societies is not seriously questioned by donors through the aid relationship.

Whatever other powers donors have, a socially recognized right to rule African societies is not one of them, nor is it sought: in this fundamental sense this is a non-colonial relationship.

The Politics of Aid: African Strategies for Dealing with Donors

As for aid recipients, many have clear guidelines establishing precisely which ministries and representatives have the authority to act on behalf of the state in aid negotiations and implementation. Indeed one of the effects of the Paris Declaration has been to clarify such roles. Other countries have similar rules identifying which part of government has authority over aid deals.

It therefore plays a central role in coordinating the framework of aid management and dialogue. Even where NGOs are involved either independently or as conduits for bilateral aid, their presence and actions within a recipient country are subject to the legal imprimatur of the state concerned. These examples all illustrate ways in which recognition of sovereign rights of recipient states creates the basis through which the aid relationship is conducted — it defines who the actors are and important aspects of their respective roles.

However, by doing this, sovereignty also shapes the way in which aid relationships are conducted. The need for negotiation in the first place comes about precisely because any aid programme requires the agreement of the recipient, because that recipient possesses sovereign independence and with it the right to agree or refuse aid programmes. Conditionality, after all, is a means of offering incentives and threats to an independent party to persuade them to act in a certain way because donors cannot instruct them directly.


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Imperial fiat will not work in this circumstance. Sovereignty as a right to rule is therefore critical to the ability of recipient states to exercise agency within the inequalities of the aid relationship. Tanzania and Rwanda are sometimes presented as exemplars of contrasting relations with donors: Tanzania as a state subsumed beneath donor influence, Rwanda as an example of a state able to retain some control over aid relations.

In fact, in neither case do we see a loss of sovereignty understood as a right to rule. Rather, it is the changing use that is made of this right, under changing conditions, that lies behind their fluctuating relations with donors. By —5, mounting dissatisfaction on both sides led to another breakdown in relations with donors.

On some accounts, the length of time over which Tanzania has been engaged in implementing economic and governance reforms in return for aid amounts to a loss of sovereignty by Tanzania. First, at no point is there any evidence that donors questioned the independence of Tanzania as a sovereign state; as noted, donors require sovereign states with which to do business. It was its initiative with the Danish government that laid the ground for a different kind of relationship with donors.

Indeed, the dissatisfaction that donors had with Tanzania up until this point was in part a reflection of the frustration they had at not being able to achieve the extent of reforms inside the country that they sought. Finally, as detailed by both Wangwe and Harrison et al.

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Rather, sovereignty as a right to rule underpins how aid relations have been enacted. Whether in Tanzania, where donor influence has penetrated relatively deeply, or in Rwanda where this is less the case, both remain sovereign states with the right to say no to external actors. As signalled earlier, this analysis relies on a conceptual simplification separating issues of sovereign rights from issues of national political control.

A photo taken in , the year after the Rwandan genocide. Credit: Gil Serpereau. Introduction Between April and July of , — thousand people were slaughtered in Rwanda Prunier Rwandan history Rwanda is a small country in central Africa but with a large population size — approximately 7. Mass impoverishment, growing inequality, rising protest Impoverishment was on the rise in the Rwanda of the s and early s. Threats to akazu control of the state Habyarimana was forced by international pressure to legalise opposition political parties in , and a large number of such parties quickly became active Prunier Arusha and its discontents Process and outcome As mentioned above, in April , Habyarimana had installed a multi-party government consisting of ten ministers from his own party and nine from the opposition.

What derailed Arusha?

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Or, whose interests did Arusha serve? French intervention France consistently and substantively supported the Habyarimana government and the akazu Prunier — Arusha: preparing the apocalypse?