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Challenges of development in difficult sociopolitical contexts

posted on 2014-01-01, 00:00 authored by Damien KingsburyDamien Kingsbury
In the middle of writing this chapter, I visited a friend who has been
in the development industry for a couple of decades. I had not seen
him for a while as he had been in Afghanistan and, for a considerable
period after that, in hospital. Afghanistan has arguably been the most
dangerous place in the world to do development work, perhaps since the
1960s, and, of course, undertaking development while a war is ongoing
is almost a contradiction in terms. Especially in Afghanistan, but
perhaps in many other ‘difficult sociopolitical contexts’, development
gains have been few, extraordinarily expensive for their outcomes, and
probably not sustainable.
Not all development workers end up in my friend’s situation; a suicide
bomber left him substantially and permanently damaged. But, just
on this personal level, I have had colleagues and friends arrested, shot
at, jailed and kidnapped, as well as being exposed to dangerous illnesses
and, too often unstated, often long-term psychological trauma. Locals
whom colleagues have worked with have experienced all this, as well as
being beaten, tortured and, too often, killed. My own first rule in ‘difficult
sociopolitical contexts’ is never to expose another person to danger,
either at the time or, potentially, later. Yet it happens, to foreigners, to
locals working with foreigners and to state employees. Development
workers easily fall foul of the extremes of competing perspectives and
goals, where there is no such thing as neutrality and everyone who is
not a clear friend is a clear enemy.


Title of book

Development in difficult sociopolitical contexts : fragile, failed, pariah


Rethinking international development

Chapter number



48 - 67


Palgrave Macmillan

Place of publication

Basingstoke, Eng.





Publication classification

B1.1 Book chapter

Copyright notice

2014, The Author




A Ware