Global AIDS Governance: Strategies, Implications, and Challenges
Managerial strategies have come to infuse and structure a wide array of institutions and social spheres beyond the corporate or business sector in the global North, such as international development institutions, governments, and civil society organizations around the world (Mueller- Hirth 2012). In these last instances, this has led to what some have called the ‘marketization’ of the non-profit sector (Salamon 1997). Market- based managerialism privileges an emphasis on efficiency and financial accountability to resource providers, competitive tendering, measurable results, and performance-based funding. In the context of global AIDS governance, these values are reflected in the policy documents and implementing practices of PEPFAR and, more recently, Uganda’s CSF—both of which emphasize cultures of competition and accountability that are tied to performativity and measurable results. For instance, described by the US Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) as a ‘new way of doing business’ (OGAC 2006, 147), PEPFAR is guided by a leading strategic value of ‘establishing] measurable goals for which we will hold ourselves and our partners accountable’ (OGAC 2004, 8). This is achieved, in part, through PEPFAR’s overarching governance structure, comprising the OGAC and a number of specialized organizational units that distribute grants to ‘prime’ partners, monitor focus country compliance with PEPFAR policies and strategies, and evaluate progress in achieving PEPFAR goals (OGAC 2004). Funding and continuation of PEPFAR ‘partnerships’ depend on the performance of aid recipients in meeting the targets that are set out in the country’s overarching Operational Plan (OGAC 2006, 147), which are produced each year by PEPFAR field staff and detail how PEPFAR-supported activities will be implemented, including funding levels for implementing partners and their programmatic targets.
Reflecting what Dean (1999) calls ‘technologies of performance’ and what Shore (2008) identifies as ‘audit culture’, PEPFAR embraces the values and calculative practices of financial accountancy. For instance, at the organizational level, PEPFAR monitors country progress in achieving pre-defined targets through a set of standardized core indicators. Although PEPFAR frames its policies in terms of supporting ‘true partnerships’ and mutual accountability (OGAC 2007, 9), the performance criteria against which recipient organizations are held to account are determined ‘externally’ by the US government. This vertical model of accountability signals an obvious lack of reflexivity and a mistrust in the activities and credentials of civil society groups and state actors, a model that is implemented through ‘impersonal’, technical claims to evidence-based policy, rigorous competitive tendering processes, and other audit systems that monitor performance and results. As other scholars have also argued, these strategies serve primarily to legitimize specific forms of knowledge, associated actors, and practices of aid, while appearing to support and encourage politically neutral, evidence-based, rational decision-making structures (Thorn 2011). But, as Howell and Pearce caution, ‘the appearance of neutrality [often] serves inadvertently, or indeed, intentionally, as a powerful political tool for furthering particular agendas’ (2002, 116) and limiting participation and political contestation over development priorities and action.
The heavy emphasis on evaluation, audit, performance, and measurable results in global governance has created a demand for certain forms of seemingly ‘neutral’ expertise to provide various services related to consulting, evaluation, and audit (Thorn 2011; Shore and Wright 2015). Interviews with PEPFAR and CSF officials exemplify the role that international consulting firms and NGOs have come to play in transmitting and institutionalizing technical and managerial development expertise in the global South, positioning these actors as intermediary nodes that link the agendas and values of international donors to the organizational and, indeed, the everyday practices of recipient governments and civil society organizations. As Jacqueline Best points out, even though donors and international financial institutions have reduced formal funding conditions, ‘they have also been increasing their technical assistance, upping the role of consultants and other sources of policy advice’, producing what she describes as the ‘informalization of conditionality techniques’ and ‘informalization of power relations’ (2014, 113). In Uganda, such power relations can be identified as located in the technical, financial, and monitoring and evaluation operations of the CSF, which (at the time of this research) are executed by two large, USAID-funded, international consulting firms—Deloitte and Touche and Chemonics International. These management agents are responsible for an ever-expanding portfolio of activities, including the following: financial monitoring and evaluation of all CSF-grantee recipients; providing technical support and ‘capacity building’ to grantees; monitoring contracts and the performance of grantees; and advising the design of the CSF’s governance and management structure.
PEPFAR also relies directly on its ‘prime partners’ (which are mostly international NGOs that have a direct contractual relationship with the US government) to distribute funding and provide technical and managerial oversight to local civil society organizations, otherwise known as ‘sub-partners’. One example is the CORE Initiative in Uganda: a ‘primary partner’ of PEPFAR that was awarded a five-year contract (2004-2009) to support Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD) in leading, managing, and coordinating the national response to HIV/AIDS prevention among youth, including orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC). Implemented under the leadership of CARE USA—one of the largest humanitarian and development NGOs in the world—the CORE Initiative served as the ‘technical arm’ of the Ministry and was responsible for providing market-based, technical, and operational expertise in the areas of coordination, results measurement and data collection, grants review and disbursement, and financial management and administration (CORE Initiative 2005, 3-4). The use of intermediary organizations with specific types of quantitative and managerial expertise in global AIDS governance strategies establishes a ‘control hierarchy’ that produces a new class of strategic managers (Shore and Wright 2015) very adept at accounting for itself to those ‘above’ (donors) and translating donor conditions and goals to those ‘below’ (civil society partners), most often through their newly found roles in ‘monitoring and evaluation’ and ‘capacity-building’ of local organizations (personal interview, 2008). One of the most significant consequence of this development is the stabilization and institutionalization of new governance structures that reify the position of dominant donors and state actors via various ‘distancing mechanisms’ that ensure civil society actors are held externally accountable ‘upwards’ to these donors and actors rather than to local beneficiaries or organizational missions and values.
Many of the lessons learned from CORE’s work with the Ministry were built into the design and operating procedures of Uganda’s CSF. The CSF emerged from donor frustrations with the multiple granting mechanisms that accompanied global AIDS financing (e.g., the Global Fund, World Bank, Euro-American donors), poor fund management, and what was perceived as a ‘fragmented’ and ‘poorly coordinated’ civil society AIDS response. In describing the Fund’s creation, a senior project manager from the CORE Initiative (a PEPFAR grantee) explained that ‘[t] his whole thing is about introducing some rigour around the granting process because Uganda has just tortured itself for years around nobody knows who got money for what purposes and why. It’s all a handshake or a bribe’ (personal interview, 2008). As indicated above, the CSF’s granting mechanism employs a range of market-based managerial strategies that link funding disbursements to a competitive tendering process, contractual arrangements, performativity, and measurable results. Once the CSF Steering Committee issues a Request for Applications (RFA), the first step in the CSF’s granting process entails an Administrative Compliance Review, which involves:
[E]valuating each proposal against all the requirements set out in the RFA [like an audit report, last annual report, a letter of recommendation from the district government]. We’re ruthless about it, which we get critiqued for but you know if the solicitation says the CV of your executive director is required, then don’t forget to send it. The proposal comes in and if the CVs not there, we don’t even read it [...], we’re not accepting this. (personal interview, 2008)
An official from Deloitte Uganda—the Financial Management Agent of the CSF—elaborates on the CSF’s granting process with the following:
Generally, 15% of applications are thrown out at this Administrative Compliance Review stage because they missed something. The next step is a Technical Review: we review the content of the proposal to see how good it is, whether it responded to the posting, we review the budgets, we see how reasonable they are, we conduct a cost/benefit analysis and all that. We score each organization and based on the funding we have available from donors, we select the best organizations for the Pre-Award Assessment. This is when [CSF officials] visit the organization [to] verify what the organization claimed in its proposal and to assess the systems that are in place to manage the finances. After the Pre-Award Assessment, we have a final list of civil society organizations and, if funding permits, we can move on to the Contract Stage, which entails fine-tuning and finalizing [the grantees] work plans, budgets and [monitoring and evaluation] frameworks, assessing any technical and capacity building needs, and introducing them to the terms of the award and the tools that we use to monitor and evaluate their performance—and reporting requirements. (personal interview, 2011; see also CSF 2008)
All CSF sub-grantees are required to submit quarterly semi-annual and annual reports that provide ‘information on achievements in the quarter, challenges, innovations, success stories, photographs, and statistics of people reached’ through their interventions. The CSF’s lengthy (20- page) quarterly report template reminds its grantees to ‘quantify achievements wherever possible’, to include ‘any outcome data available’ and concludes with the injunction ‘REMEMBER: RESULTS, RESULTS, AND RESULTS!!!!!!’ (CSF 2013, 3). Significantly, the information that CSF requires from civil society grantees to demonstrate performance and ‘results’ aligns with many of the standardized indicators and reporting formats also required by international donors, most notably PEPFAR (ibid).
Reflecting Dean’s technologies of performance, results-based indicators can be seen as ‘utilized from above as an indirect means of regulating agencies, of transforming professionals into ‘calculating individuals’ within calculative spheres’ (Dean 1999, 169). Such market-based managerial practices are transferable to multiple contexts and ‘provide a new metric for international development organizations to define success and failure and a new justification for development efforts based on sound methodological grounds’ (Best 2014, 165). By legitimizing aid policies, and aid donors more generally, managerialism recasts international development organizations as providers of value-free, non-political, and technical solutions to what are perceived to be ‘inefficiencies’ in program implementation and outputs (Craig and Porter 2006), with civil society ‘as simply another private firm [...] filling gaps opened by inadequate state capacity’
(Bebbington et al. 2008, 22). Crucially, however, as Thomas (2008) also cautions, donors’ emphasis on civil society ‘impact’ and direct measurable results marginalizes other fundamental, value-based aspects of civil society work in development, such as solidarity, cooperation, quality of personal relationships, reciprocity, and public advocacy—aspects that, as we stressed above, were so central to Uganda’s successful early response to HIV/AIDS.
In competitive and ‘marketized’ development contexts, the existing links within and between civil society groups and networks—the strong sense of collaboration that allowed early AIDS interventions in Uganda to be so effective—are increasingly undermined. A number of interviewees describe how these new processes prompted high levels of professional stress, frustration, disengagement, and feelings of helplessness, such as wanting to ‘run away’ (personal interview, 2008). One interview respondent describes a situation in which a group offered ‘assistance’ to another group competing for the same pool of funds, only to undermine them:
So I come to you, and at the end of the day, you take advantage. I mean, you use my proposal. You take it there, and you send it, and when the money comes, it’s channelled to you. And then you’re like ‘oh, sorry, didn’t I send [your proposal]? I don’t know what happened. Really, I can’t tell you.’ This is what has happened, and is happening, in Uganda. So this has been the issue: even when you are struggling to do it...you just give up. (personal interview, 2011)
In addition to potentially undermining existing collaborative networks, concerns were also frequently voiced about the paternalism of foreign donor-led AIDS programming that reinforce ‘donor images of Self and partners—which portray a superior, active, and reliable Self in contrast to an inferior, passive, unreliable partner’ (Baaz 2005, 9). So while new mechanisms claimed to be focused on building local partnerships, there was little sense of equity between ‘partners’. As the director of a national NGO for women living with HIV/AIDS explains:
I’ve taken many courses. Technically, I have enough knowledge and so do many people here who are also very knowledgeable [...] With the donor community, the misconception that I think they have is that they seem not to trust the national organization. They think their international people are really very careful. (personal interview, 2008)
Criticisms of donor paternalism also underpinned many of the assertions made by civil society actors about the need for local discretion and culturally appropriate solutions to the country’s development problems (by contrast to the externally prescribed solutions provided by foreign development actors) and a deep-seated desire to ‘do so much more if PEPFAR allowed [them]’, especially in AIDS programming for commercial sex workers as well as condom promotion and distribution for youth (personal interviews, 2008).
The often onerous and bureaucratic demands of donor-led financing have led some civil society actors to express their desire—and for some to deliberately decide—to disengage from donor-led AIDS financing mechanisms, with some opting for more entrepreneurial and informal strategies to diversify their funding, such as soliciting individual donations or ‘small charities and foundations that are interested in the work we are doing’ (personal interviews, 2008). This is especially the case for civil society actors engaged in social and political advocacy as well as building movements for social change, who often describe the nature of their work as largely incompatible with the technocratic and ‘results- oriented’ mindset and reporting requirements of many donors. As one interviewee noted:
With the nature of our work here [...] we are all activists. So if there’s a gender violence week that means none of us are going to be in the office. We are all going to be in the field [.] So, with all the programs that we do here—you find that you do not have any time to write the proposal. Or if you’ve written the proposal you have no time to report on it. Because if someone calls and they have been arrested I’m going to drop everything [.] My head is not thinking about reporting because I’ve got to do another million things at work. When I come back home at 1 or 2 in the night, I don’t know where the receipt is or where to get the receipt from. That is the nature of my work [laughing]. (personal interview, 2011)
These narratives illustrate some of the most visible symptoms of these new funding modalities on the everyday practices and subjectivities of civil society actors while pointing to deep-seated tensions that often exist between donors and aid recipients over the meaning and relevance of values such as participation, measurement and evaluation, and accountability.
For instance, significant differences often exist over what ‘participatory’ approaches to development actually mean, with some actors viewing participation in terms of building partnerships to implement pre-defined policy directives, while others require the actual transfer of decisionmaking power to those directly affected by policies. For instance, in an interview with the director of a national network of civil society organizations, ‘participation means that civil society is contributing and complementing government engagement in the response’ (personal interview, 2011). This understanding stands in stark contrast to the one provided by a parliamentary policy advisor, who questioned development’s elitist and professionalized approach to participation:
I can tell you that the kind of participation I have in mind is not what our civil society organizations are bringing to the table [...] I’m talking about authentic community-based organizations [...] These groups are very informal: they are not regulated or governed by formal constitutions or memorandum of understandings [. ] There is serious dialogue within these organizations, if you like first-class accountability [...] But unfortunately these are not the organizations when you talk of civil society participation in development discourse that are brought to the table [...] Instead we invite people who speak good English, who have had jobs in the public sector, and who went to NGOs and have had some funding—these are the people we interact with and we call that participation.
Ebrahim (2003) identifies a further tension that often exists between donors and aid recipients over whether program evaluations should be assessing ‘processes’ (such as participation or empowerment) or ‘products’ (such as the numbers of schools built or youth reached with prevention messages). This tension is reflected in an interview with a director of a national organization for women living with HIV/AIDS:
I will share with you one of the reports—they announced that they were going to do an assessment of all those organizations that received CSF money. Then they gave us this report. What kind of report is this? You are not showing us the real issues but you are showing us numbers of who reported when. But is that the basis that they assess an organization’s capacities? I mean, what is their definition of building capacity—it’s so donor driven and so political. (personal interview, 2011)
As others also have argued, the tendency of donors to favor products that emphasize short-term and easily measurable results ‘over more ambiguous and less tangible change in social and political processes’ (Ebrahim 2003, 817) distorts accountability and reinforces ‘hierarchical management structures—a tendency toward “accountancy” rather than ‘“accountability”’ (Edwards and Hulme 1996, 968; Thorn 2011; Mueller-Hirth 2012; Best 2014). In other words, the ‘good governance criteria’ favored by donors threaten to skew accountability upward, away from local beneficiaries toward donor-defined targets and performance or results-based indicators.
Concerns over accountability become even more apparent in considering that the very design of the CSF was shaped by donors’ concerns over poor fund management: Deloitte was contracted ‘to handle the risk element [...] to assess the risk that donors are taking on, identify which areas need to be addressed, and to try and reduce the risk that we have taken on with that organization’ (interview 2011). To maximize donors’ investments in ‘effective’ AIDS programming, the CSF ensures ‘enough flexibility to address the needs and requirements of multiple donors’ (CSF 2008, 6). Donors can contribute resources to either a joint funding account (or basket account) or a donor-specific account that allows resources to be earmarked for specific purposes or priorities (e.g., PEPFAR prevention earmarks) (personal interview, 2008). However, the flexibility granted to donors is not extended to the much less powerful and predominantly under-resourced civil society actors and organizations that must align their work with donor and state priorities, and provide specific criteria just to be eligible for the granting competition (e.g., proof of legal registration of the organization, support from district authorities, evidence of HIV prevention program experience, and competence in project management and financial accountancy).
Although civil society grant recipients frequently expressed concerns about the many challenges they face due to donor-led technocratic and market-driven modalities of aid, it must be stressed that these challenges are experienced and negotiated in myriad ways by civil society actors. Well-established and well-financed international and national NGOs— those with significant ‘capacities’ in terms of both expertise and other resources—exercise greater power in negotiating, interpreting, and sometimes simply side-stepping donor policies and stringent funding requirements (see Kelly and Birdsall 2010). For example, interviews at a large, national Ugandan NGO revealed that, in addition to outrightly rejecting some ‘abstinence-only’ funding from PEPFAR, staff had successfully challenged the US government’s political and moral preference during the mid-2000s for abstinence-only education for some youth living in war-torn northern Uganda on the grounds that ‘because it was a warring situation, there is no way you can preach abstinence- only especially in a context where kids are being abducted’ (personal interview, 2008). One of the reasons that this NGO and other similarly positioned organizations are better able to effectively challenge donor policies and more ideologically driven funding criteria is because they demonstrate the ‘right’ managerial and organizational governance capacities required by donors and, in turn, have access to multiple funding sources. However, in discussing PEPFAR, an official from this same NGO explained:
It is a problem for many organizations. I know a number of organizations that had to really modify, change their work after being put under pressure by PEPFAR to change their messaging, change their approaches and everything. It’s because for us with Straight Talk, we have been a lucky organization because it has funding from many donors, so even without PEPFAR money we are able to operate. But then there are many organizations that are absolutely dependent on PEPFAR funding and many of them have to make do with whatever conditions are set for them. (personal interview, 2008)
As this excerpt reveals, the situation is very different for less-established civil society organizations that are much more likely to be dependent on a single financial donor, for they thereby possess less power in the donor- recipient ‘partnership’ to critically challenge donor policy and funding conditions.
The multiple eligibility and reporting requirements of both PEPFAR and the CSF were also identified by numerous civil society interviewees as particularly onerous and challenging for small civil society organizations that often ‘lack’ the technical and managerial skills so central to development’s ‘good governance’ agenda. A project implementer working for a USAID-funded social marketing and programming project makes this point:
[...] the smaller civil society organizations, way down in the rural districts, can’t compete with those PEPFAR funded organizations. So when you read these documents, it’s not that there are certain conditions. Any group could meet them. But it is the level, the language, the requirements that it wants. (personal interview, 2008)
Similar concerns were raised by the director of an umbrella network for HIV/AIDS service organizations about the exclusionary effects of donor-driven funding mechanisms:
The process for applying for grants from the CSF is designed by donors and yes, there are some challenges. Because, again, we have to base this process of accessing funds on the principles of competition and the capacity of institutions. But we find that some of the civil society organizations don’t have enough capacity to access the money, because some of the conditions require that they have had a financial audit, audit requirements, to demonstrate accountability [...] Some of their capacity issues have to do with what the requirements are to be eligible (personal interview, 2011).
These excerpts point not only to the heavy burdens that civil society actors face in navigating and meeting donor expectations in such a competitive aid environment but also to the internalization of ‘good governance’ norms and practices by civil society and government actors. The problem, then, is not with the often-uncompromising standards of ‘good governance’, but with the organization’s ‘lack of capacities’ in meeting these standards and thus the need for ‘deliberate efforts to build their capacity’ (personal interview, 2011).
‘Capacity-building’ is central to both PEPFAR and the CSF’s mandate, which, in its current formulation, refers primarily to the ability of ‘partner’ organizations to account for themselves and their work according to donor-defined funding criteria, reporting guidelines, and results-based evaluation regimes. Again, donors’ commitments to capacity-building initiatives are part of the broader shift in development thinking toward aid effectiveness that embrace the notion of country ownership as a key determinant of policy success and aid effectiveness. As noted in a PEPFAR policy document, ‘capacity building, [...] is an essential component of strengthening country ownership of HIV/AIDS services and programs [...] by providing the skills needed for local partners to take on more leadership and direct program implementation roles over time, while international partners continue to provide capacity strengthening and technical assistance’ (OGAC 2012, 5-6). As Best (2014) argues, ‘ownership’ as a governance strategy is a less direct form of governance, but one that entails strategies to foster strong domestic institutions and support of development policies. Such strategies include international financial and development organizations embracing partnership-based approaches to development, moving away from formal aid conditions toward selectivity (that is, donors providing aid to select countries and recipient organizations that align with donor priorities and reform agendas), and harmonizing and aligning international financial institutions’ and donors’ policies with the priorities, systems, and processes of national recipient governments (OECD 2005). In the Ugandan context, these ownership strategies are reflected within the CSF’s guiding principles, expressed primarily through the language of capacity building, partnership and civil society participation, donor harmonization, and alignment with national plans and priorities (CSF 2008). As our interviews reveal, tensions often exist between donors and ‘grantees’ over the meaning and purpose of such ‘inclusive’ development discourses and practices, with many civil society (and some government) actors expressing considerable concerns about the effectiveness of donors’ good governance strategies and the prevailing power inequalities that continue to structure relations between donors and recipients of development aid, resulting in some cases in the exclusion of some local actors from accessing and benefiting from global AIDS funding and programs.
Our research also suggests that harmonization may effectively create another layer of complexity that local actors must negotiate in their efforts to secure donor funding. In this way, smaller civil society organiza- tions—and especially those with limited time, managerial expertise, and financial resources—struggle to articulate their projects in ways that satisfy the technical and managerial requirements required by international donors and funders and also align with the constantly shifting priority areas of district and national governments. As highlighted by one CSF official:
[Civil society organizations] must address those areas that are the priority
of the district-level government in the HIV plan. So, we do not accept any proposal here unless the district endorses it. And for the district endorsement, the intervention must be in line with the interests of the district’s strategic plan. In fact before civil society organizations even write a proposal, they must go to the district and ask them ‘What are the priorities in the district planning area’? Because CSO’s are supposed to supplement government efforts—they’re not supposed to come up with their own thing. Here we have worked hard to harmonize our activities. (personal interview, 2011)
What our interviews indicate, however, is that requiring civil society organizations to conform to national and district government policies, on the one hand, and to global governance management, evaluation, and accountancy standards, on the other, reconfigures such groups and their actors in ways that clearly risk undermining the very localism, grassroots autonomy and advocacy, and collaboration that characterized Uganda’s early response to HIV/AIDS.
Finally, it is worth stressing that the practical affinity of these pressures is particularly alarming in Uganda’s current political context, given that the Museveni government has increasingly shown intolerance toward political opposition and has implemented a number of repressive laws to intimidate and constrain the work of civil society actors engaging in public criticism and advocating for social change in certain sectors, including HIV/AIDS (see Human Rights Watch 2012; Muhumuza 2009). This has translated into new draconian laws to restrict freedom of the press, criminalize the transmission of HIV and enforce mandatory HIV testing, violate the human rights of LGBT communities, and impose stringent regulations on civil society that restrict the space for civic engagement and public dissent.3
In January 2016, the Ugandan government passed the NonGovernmental Organizations Act, 2016, to formally replace the existing legislative framework authorizing and governing NGOs in the country. Unsurprisingly, the new act maintained the trajectory signaled by a 2006 Amendment, drastically restricting the operative space for civil society activities and making advocacy-driven organizations much more vulnerable to government surveillance, intervention, and even retribution. According to one Ugandan parliamentary policy advisor, speaking about the 2006 precursor to the new legislation:
The focus of this legislation is to tame these civil society organizations from being a security threat, not conditioning them to advocate or represent the views and voices of their communities to which they pretend to be representing [...] The law does not condition or directly encourage accountability to the communities but rather stops them from disturbing state security [. ] The whole governance structure, the whole accountability mechanism that addresses civil society organizations really requires a radical examination: they account not to the people for whom they claim to work but to the state. (personal interview, 2011)
In Uganda, public advocacy that directly challenges state power has enormous consequences for civil society actors, ‘ranging from exclusion from consultative forums, being cut off from sources of funding, [...] personal harassment and intimidation (Grebe 2009, 15), arbitrary arrests and detention, and state-sanctioned violence by police and security forces. For instance, homosexuality remains a criminal offence in Uganda. In addition to facing tremendous risks of criminalization and state-sanctioned violence, LGBT activists and service providers are legally prohibited from registering their organizations with the National NGO
Board (a legal requirement for civil society organizations to operate in the country) and, it follows, are ineligible for donor AIDS funding via the Civil Society Fund: “They don’t fund people who do work on LGBT. It is illegal here so we are not a registered NGO and we are not in any of the national policies”’ (personal interview, 2011). Within this increasingly hostile political context, ownership strategies—like donor harmonization and alignment with national priorities—may in fact serve to further entrench authoritarian state power and restrictions on civil society activities, resulting in the formal exclusion and penalization of ‘subversive’ civil society organizations that engage in political advocacy or activities deemed to be ‘prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda’ (NGO Act 2016, §44).