Not very long ago, authoritarian forms of government were widely regarded as necessary for rapid economic growth and development, and Western donors supported dictatorial regimes in every continent. Today the political mantra is democracy, and the World Bank and Western donors require it almost as a condition of assistance. This thought-provoking book argues not simply that the West's good governance agenda came into being with the demise of the Soviet Union. Much more importantly, it shows how this agenda comprises only very superficial democratic institutional forms that are compatible with continued structural adjustment. African governments, in particular, remain in a cleft stick - supposedly responsible to their electorates at home, in fact beholden to external creditors and donors. The result is the creation of fragile democracies unable to respond to the demands of the poor - who are in the great majority - for socio-economic improvements, and where the requirements of external actors frequently overrule the wishes of domestic constituencies.
Using the example of the good governance discourse, Rita Abrahamsen contributes powerfully to our understanding of development, not as some universally valid set of goals or procedures, but as a historically contingent form of knowledge intimately connected to prevailing structures and relations of power. Her book argues that a key effect of contemporary development discourse, despite all its proclamations in favour of democracy, is to help reproduce a world order that is essentially undemocratic.