Towards a More Nuanced Theory of Elite Capture in Development Projects. The Importance of Context and Theories of Power

  •  Michael Musgrave    
  •  Sam Wong    


Elite capture in development projects is problematic across a wide range of cultures, governance contexts and geographical locations. The dominant development discourse suggests that elite capture can be addressed using principles of good governance and participatory democracy. We critique the notion that this is sufficient to challenge practices of elite domination that detrimentally affect the outcome of development projects. Using a Foucauldian notion of power we suggest that power relationships are more complex than current conceptualisations of elite capture allow. We offer some definitions and suggest a common conceptual framework to unify the concept of elite capture across cultures. This conceptual framework is used to analyse data from 2 case studies in south western Zambia. We conclude that the dominant discourse ignores complex power relationships and uses a simplistic notion of political legitimacy that may enhance elite capture rather than prevent it. The concept of political legitimacy needs to be expanded to include traditional institutions that are not elected, while still applying principles of participation and accountability to the design of institutions.

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