Sophal Ear, "Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy" (Columbia UP, 2013)


Although recent decades have brought with them many critiques of international development projects worldwide, Sophal Ear is especially well positioned to have written a book addressing the successes and failures of foreign donor assistance to countries emerging from long periods of violent conflict. A Cambodian trained in political science in the United States who also spent time working at the World Bank, Ear brings a no-nonsense approach to Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2013). Yet, this book is also informed by his personal experiences and reflects his aspirations for himself and his family, as well as for his country of birth.

Beginning in the early 1990s with the United Nations' transitional authority and concentrating on the 2000s onwards, Ear asks: has foreign aid made Cambodia's government worse? How can evidence of rapid economic growth be reconciled with the country's patently inefficient and corrupt public institutions? And how might things be done differently? Drawing on a range of data from primary and secondary sources, his answers invite the reader to be more sensitive both to the particulars of Cambodia and to the larger questions with which he is engaged. The book's case studies of how the garment sector succeeds in overcoming state capture where others fail, top-down responses to avian flu, and efforts of donors to subsidize courageous yet constantly threatened civil society groups in the face of persistent authoritarian rule both illuminate and inform.

Described as "an important book on the perverse effects of development aid on governance" (James Robinson, Harvard University), and one that is "both passionate and level-headed" (Michael Doyle, Columbia University), Aid Dependence in Cambodia is a "refreshing and badly needed effort at teasing out the relationship between governance and aid" (Sophie Richardson, author of China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence), in Cambodia, and in general.

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Nick Cheesman

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