ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Three Agents of Change

Against the Odds: Politicians, Institutions and the Struggle Against Poverty by Marcus Andre Melo, Njuguna Ng'ethe and James Manor (London: C Hurst & Company), 2012; pp 288, £ 22.

Against the Odds is a heartening read. An analysis of three politicians – President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh of Madhya Pradesh and former President Henrique Cardoso of Brazil – and the various strategies they employed to make significant inroads into poverty reduction. It is a refreshing change from the typically depressing literature about governance that sees developing world politicians as impediments to social change. The authors counter what they feel is an extremely pessimistic view of poverty reduction as well as an inordinate focus in the literature on the economic impact of institutions. Very little has been written about the social impact of institutions controlled and changed by politicians, and this book is an attempt to do exactly that:

There is an urgent need for detailed analyses of senior politicians – and of the complications and ambiguities that attend their thinking and machinations. In the absence of this kind of analysis, studies of development – even those that are strongly preoccupied with ‘governance’ – offer us Hamlet without the princes, or indeed, The Prince (p 3).

The authors present the three politicians as important agents of change. While considerable time is spent on describing each country and the particularities of the challenges each politician had to face, the authors draw out parallels in the three men’s centrist-reformist approach, their insistence on empowering local communities, and their “political entrepreneurship” or the enterprising ways in which they dealt with and overcame various forms of opposition. Such an approach, the authors argue, is not only key for successful poverty-reduction programmes, it also yields substantial political benefits. The key message of the book is that poverty reduction is both an end in itself and an attractive means to enhance political influence.

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