Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology and Social Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Peter Hancock


The discussion of aid effectiveness continues to gain prominence in international development policy discourse and analysis. However, the question of why aid seems to be ineffective is far more complicated and remains largely unanswered. While the notions that aid drives donors’ interests and creates dependency are still relevant, this thesis confronts the problem, by examining the issues that influenced the operationalisation and effectiveness of aid programs in the context of Ghana’s Community-Based Rural Development Project (CBRDP) (2005-2011). By arguing that aid dependency and “aid as a concept” are different, the thesis makes the most basic assumption that ‘aid’ is not negative; albeit, in the knowledge that its focus on aid in Ghana will also bring to the fore the major issues that frame debate on international aid.

Two theoretical themes emerged from the thesis. First, the thesis argues that the effectiveness of an aid program should be measured from the recipients’ point of view. This is crucial, as donors tend to use their aid to successfully achieve their strategic advantages, while not necessarily benefitting the recipient country, or those groups for whom the aid was designed to help. Second, in lieu of the instrumentality of international aid, the thesis found that aid effectiveness also depends upon the ‘externalities’ (programs, degree of dependency, motives, theories, concepts; social and politico-cultural factors) that drive it. This notwithstanding, most of the current mechanisms for achieving aid effectiveness, such as Results-Based Financing, Aid-Agenda Conferences and Program-Based Approaches, appear to pay negligible attention to these ‘externalities’. The researcher contends that these mechanisms are not enough for improving aid effectiveness per se.

The thesis employed ethnographic research to investigate the outcomes of the CBRDP implemented in nine districts of Ghana. The findings suggest that, alongside the mechanisms mentioned above, prior attention must be paid to the political and cultural realities of the recipient country as well as the theories and complex concepts that drive aid programs (by staff at donor agencies). Such attention, the thesis shows, should focus on a clear and contextual conceptualisation of key terms such as ‘community’ and ‘empowerment’, while at the same time embedding strategies to manage unintended outcomes. Efforts at making ‘aid work’ would also require further critical discussion of the decentralisation theories that underpin aid programs, particularly, Community–Driven Development (CDD); in this regard the thesis found that the indicators that the World Bank uses in relation to CDD (referred to as high and low functioning intergovernmental systems), were far removed from the grounded realities of Ghana’s decentralised system of local and regional politics.

The concept of ‘community’ is appealing, yet deceptive. Although a complex term, ‘community’ is often misused, and conceptualised only in the spatial sense, while it transcends the notion of territoriality to include an entity that has a: 1) Function that drives the group; 2) Opportunity for interaction; 3) Membership who identifies with and contributes to it; and 4) Culture that makes it distinct from others. Analysis of the empirical data presented in the thesis shows that the politico-cultural dynamics and population settlement and mobility patterns of the CBRDP beneficiary localities did not support interaction to the levels required for a coherent ‘community’ to exist. Put simply ‘community’ in the functional and geographic sense had to exist in the CBRDP beneficiary localities for the project to succeed. While the sense of ‘community’ can be developed, the World Bank and Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, who designed the CBRDP, ignored the need to nurture it in the recipient localities. As a result of this top down approach there existed no cohesive ‘communities’ to maintain the projects, and most of the CBRDPs were found to be in a state of complete disarray at the time of fieldwork.

The term ‘empowerment’ is another complex concept the thesis examines to show how its many theoretical complexities can, if ignored, have dire outcomes for aid programs. Scholars disagree on whether empowerment is a process or an outcome or both, a dilemma which presents many challenges for measuring it. The fact that ‘empowerment’ is predicated on the concept of ‘power’ makes it even more complicated. The reason being that ‘power’ is not a neutral concept and cannot be shared in the simple terms portrayed in donor discourse; also ignored is the fact that ‘empowering’ one group may mean disempowering others, a situation that could lead to conflicts. These conflicts were self evident in the fieldwork and are present in the thesis. Despite these theoretical realities, empowerment appears to have been vaguely applied in the CBRDP as the project: 1) Had no working definition of ‘empowerment’; 2) Targeted women and vulnerable groups, although it was meant to empower the general population; 3) Measured ‘empowerment’ only in term of participation, ignoring the conditions that perpetuated ‘powerlessness’; and 4) Had no strategy in place to monitor unintended outcomes. Therefore, in their bid at ‘empowering’ Ghana’s local government officials (Assembly and Unit Committee Members in the quest for further decentralisation), the designers of the project were unaware that they were actually disempowering Traditional Chiefs, many of whom felt ostracised. Moreover, project designers were also oblivious of the fact that the local government officials did not function in isolation, but are part of a very complex socio–cultural system. These shortcomings led to clashes between Traditional Chiefs and the newly ‘empowered’ local government officials. As the designers and managers of the CBRDPs did not anticipate these eventualities, they had no plan in place to manage resulting conflicts, which have ended up in protracted legal battles, leaving the CBRDPs in a state of dereliction, some completely abandoned.

The thesis brings to the fore the need for more concerted efforts at making aid effective, but at the same time arguing that all stakeholders need to pay closer attention to the use of nebulous theories and normative, yet complex concepts in aid-program designs. It underscores the essentiality for programs attempting to apply concepts such as ‘community’ and ‘empowerment’ to clearly define and conceptualise these terms within the confines of the political, social and cultural forces and social dynamics of beneficiary localities. If this were to happen development projects are more likely to receive community support and be more likely to be effectively maintained. The thesis below provides empirical insights into what becomes of aid programs that apply concepts and terms that are promoted by ‘development pundits’, but are at variance with the realities of the recipient country’s pervasive traditions, culture and indeed its success or otherwise in adopting Western notions of decentralisation (as was the case outlined in this thesis).


Paper Location