Can ‘Good Governance’ Ever be Achieved?

The Oxfo12974587273_ddf6d8fbd1_ord English Dictionary defines ‘government’ as “The action of ruling; continuous exercise of authority over the action of subjects or inferiors; authoritative direction or regulation; control, rule.” There are many different types of government; democracies, monarchies, authoritarian regimes and totalitarian regimes, however, there remain a number of unanswered questions as to what type of government is best for the development of a country. In this blog post, I will analyse the effectiveness of different types of government in providing ‘good governance’. I will further compare the effectiveness of governments with alternative organizations such as NGOs in providing and implementing development strategies.

The link between democracy and development is one that has been widely discussed. Patrick Heller points out that “over the past decade, a large number of developing countries have made the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy” (Patrick Heller, 2001, p.131). Nowadays, a democratic government is widely seen as the best system in order to produce ‘good governance’. Democracy is a system which allows people to partake in all aspects of their lives. However, not all academics share the same positive view on democracies. Karl Marx described a democracy as a system where “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and oppress them” (Karl Marx, philosopher, 1818-1883).

Around one third of people living in undeveloped countries are living under authoritarian rule. However, despite the widespread view that a democratic government is best for development of a country, there are exceptions, such as China, which holds the record for the fastest developing major country in the history of the world, yet has been run by a communist party since 1949. Merilee Grindle points out that “China and Vietnam are frequently used as examples of countries that have made major gains in economic development and poverty reduction in the presence of many characteristics of bad governance” (Merilee Grindle, 2005, p.4). As stated by the DFID, “what works in one country to improve governance may not work in another. The demand for democratic politics must come from within” (DFID, 2007, p.3).

A voter from Zam Zam Internally Displaced Persons Camp, North Darfur, submits her ballot on the first day of Sudan's national elections.

A voter from Zam Zam Internally Displaced Persons Camp, North Darfur, submits her ballot on the first day of Sudan’s national elections.

Despite common thought that governments can be detrimental actors in the process of development, they can in many cases have transformative power in the development field. The Millennium Development Goals are a UN initiative. These eight goals were set up in order to address major issues such as extreme poverty, hunger, shelter, gender inequality and education. Since these goals were put in place in 2000, the world has made major developmental advances. “Between 1990 and 2002, average overall incomes increased by approximately 21 percent” (Millennium Project, 2002-2006). In addition, child mortality rates have declined whilst life expectancy has seen an increase. However, this progress has been far from straight forward, with huge variations across countries. As Merilee Grindle points out, “the ability to reach the MDGs are clearly affected by conditions of governance in particular countries” (Merilee Grindle, 2005, p.10). Grindle further suggests that “the opportunities for change are always constrained in some measure, and in some cases made impossible, by existing institutions, structures of political power, and capacities”(Merilee Grindle, 2005, p.11).

In many undeveloped countries, as in many developed countries, the government is not always the best mechanism to implement development strategies.  Patrick Heller suggests that NGOs along with civil society organizations and social movements have an essential part in making the state more democratic. Heller believes that “community based organizations (CBOs) and NGOs are more deeply rooted in society, they can engage in innovative community-based initiatives and can provide vital information about social needs” (Patrick Heller, 2001, p.152). For Example, in Rwanda, a number of NGOs set up the modernisation of the courts in order to help deal with over 130,000 prisoners accused of crimes that took place during the genocide. In this case, NGOs played a key role in the development of a poor country where the state is not strong enough to take its own action.

In my opinion, governments are essential to development. However, I believe that the capability of governments, both in developing and developed countries, to carry out all processes alone is limited. All organisations, including the political sector, the media, trade unions and NGOs must work together towards building state responsibility, accountability and capability. The processes needed to produce ‘good governance’ differs between countries. As stated by the Department for International Development:

“Governance systems have many different forms, depending on local culture, society and history. It is for each country to design and implement its own democratic institutions (…) the demand for change must come from within” (DFID, 2007, p.20).


BBC News. (Online) Available from:

DFID (2007) Governance, Development and Democratic Politics: DFID’s work in building more effective states. London: Department for International Development.

Grindle, M. (2005) ‘Good Enough Governance Revisited’, Report for DFID.

Heller, P. (2001) ‘Moving the State: The Politics of Democratic Decentralization in Kerala, South Africa, and Porto Alegre’, Politics and Society, Vol 29 (1): 131-163.

Millennium Project. (2002-2006) (Online) Available from:

Patton, J. ‘Bellevue University’s Economics Department’, What Is The Sum Of Good Government? (Online) Available from:

UN System Task Team on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda. (2012) ‘Governance and Development’, (Online) Available from: