Elites, Production and Poverty. A comparative study

Project summary

Elites, production and poverty (EPP) is a collaborative research program launched in 2008. It brings together research institutions and universities in Bangladesh, Denmark, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda and is funded by the Danish Consultative Research Committee for Development Research. The program is coordinated by the Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, and runs until March 30 2012.
The research program focuses on elites because these have power and because politics is an inherently centralized form of decision making. It involves mutual adjustments among elite factions, and coalition building and conflicts within and between elite groups. In contrast, the influence of civil society groups in poor countries is often overrated and indirect, and should be viewed through the lens of elite politics. Consequently, pro-poor growth policies are unlikely to succeed without elite support. The programme thus focuses on the roles of elites in formulating and implementing productive sector initiatives that promote economic growth and reduce poverty. Case studies cover initiatives in agriculture, agro-processing, fisheries, and manufacturing that feature prominently in the respective countries.



EPP has made considerable progress in terms of contributions to theoretical and empirical knowledge about the conditions in which elites support productive sector initiatives - the politics of production for short..

EPP has also been very active in disseminating its findings and insights through international conferences and workshops, dialogue and discussions with the development community, and through Danish media and organizational events.

EPP has been less successful in building research capacity in partner institutions



EPP addresses two under-researched questions:

•What drives economic transformation in poor countries?

•What motivates political elites to push for such transformation?

Typical answers emphasise supposedly Africa-specific factors such as ethnicity, political culture, neo-patrimonialism, dependency of the global economy, and foreign aid.

But even diverse African countries have communalities with other developing countries  once trapped in poverty, clientelism and dependency.  Consequently, we must study the political economy of African countries in a comparative perspective.

We also argue that sustained poverty alleviation requires economic transformation driven by increases in productivity and technological capabilities, economic diversification and international competitiveness. Such badly needed changes in African countries will not happen without active state interventions. The insight is  not a new, but has been opposed by many researchers and policy makers (especially donors) for years.

Finally, we challenge that: (a) stronger democracy always motivates political elites to initiate productive sector policies that sustain poverty alleviation – it may even undermine it; (b) rent-seeking and corruption are always bad for poverty alleviation – it may even be necessary in early phases of economic transformation; and (c) African capitalism is detrimental to sustained and inclusive growth - it may actually be central to development under the present world order.

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