Academic journal article African Studies Review

The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way?

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way?

Article excerpt

Craig N. Murphy. The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way? New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xviii + 372 pp, Photographs. Figures, Tables, Index, $75.00. Cloth, $29,99. Paper.

This study, commissioned by the UNDP in 2004, joins a small but growing collection of official multilateral organizational histories. It departs, though, from their descriptive, chronological emphasis. Murphy has produced a historical essay with overlapping arguments shaped by his stated normative assumptions: the value of peace and freedom, and the undesirability of severe income inequality. Murphy sees inequality "across societies" as the world's primary problem, with development as its intended solution (29).

Not surprisingly, given his subject, Murphy's unit of analysis is the nation-state, and he concentrates on inequality between countries, though inequality within them emerges also as a significant challenge. He maintains that concern for other countries expressed in the provision of assistance and by means of institutions that foster and channel this "practical solidarity" are the "better way" of conducting international relations (2). He argues, too, that the UNDP's work has been more effective than that of comparable organizations because it is based on a "better" theory of development, one that not only supports the direction chosen by developing country governments, but also advocates for the participation of all citizens in those decisions (3). He also states that the UNDP exhibits many of the traits of a learning organization, thus providing a crucial model of institutional reform within the U.N. system.

With less justification, his history focuses on individuals, mostly men in positions of administrative and intellectual leadership at the UNDP. Though acknowledging situations like Rwanda in the late 1990s, where no one person could make a significant difference, Murphy does not explain clearly what differentiates these from the presumed norm. While the role of individuals in development is starting to receive attention, and historians have long debated the role of individuals in the processes of social change, Murphy does not engage with these issues. …

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