The More it’s Centralized, the More it’s Divided: A Historical-Institutionalist Reading of Qatar’s Foreign Aid Landscape

by Martin Lestra

Aid fragmentation is one of the recurrent features of development studies. In this contribution I try to understand why a small, cohesive state like Qatar, has produced so many different aid actors. Conventional views of Qatar’s donorship – the ‘branding’ and ‘emerging donors’ scholarship – examine Qatar’s behaviour in multilateral arenas and recipient countries before drawing conclusions as to the nature of Qatar as an international donor. Both accounts assume an autonomous, concerted and empowered leadership in the small autocratic peninsula. This contribution questions this assumption. It provides an alternative domestic explanation based on a dynamic historical-institutionalist reading of Qatar’s aid bureaucracy. It argues that the increasing concentration of power in Qatar in the hands of the ruling family has not precluded the fragmentation of the aid landscape and the proliferation of aid actors. As the Qatari rentier state has developed, it has become increasingly diffcult for the leadership to reengineer an increasingly heavier bureaucracy. Parallel initiatives and ‘turf wars’ for control over the aid portfolio lead to duplications, incomplete reforms and ultimately, to the enduring coexistence of different organizations and aid cultures within the petro-monarchy.


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Thumbnail photo: Rob Potvin.