The politics of establishing pro-poor accountability: What can poverty reduction strategies achieve?

Sam Hickey, Giles Mohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) experiment, along with other innovations promoted by the international financial institutions over the past decade, has promised to secure pro-poor forms of accountability in relation to development policy-making. New consultative processes and new forms of conditionality each promise to re-order relationships between poor citizens and their governments, and between governments and donors respectively. Using evidence from Bolivia and Zambia, we identify three critical problems with these claims. First, there is a tendency to focus on promoting accountability mechanisms that are largely discretionary and lack significant disciplinary power, particularly those reliant on certain forms of civil society participation. Second, donors have failed to overcome the contradictions regarding the role of extra-national actors in securing accountability mechanisms within particular states. Third, there is a tendency within the PRS experiment to overlook the deeper forms of politics that might underpin effective accountability mechanisms in developing countries. Ensuring accountability is not simply a technocratic project, but rather is critical for a substantive politics of democratization which goes to the heart of the wider contract between states and citizens. The PRS experiment, as located within a broader project of 'inclusive liberalism', reveals little potential to address this challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-258
Number of pages24
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


  • Accountability
  • Bolivia
  • Participation
  • Politics
  • Poverty reduction strategies
  • Zambia

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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