Policing Neo-Liberal Reforms: The Rule of Law as an Enabling and Restrictive Discourse

Posted: 23 May 2005

See all articles by Joel M. Ngugi

Joel M. Ngugi

University of Washington - School of Law


This article argues that the Rule of Law Projects supported by International Development Agencies (IDAs) impermissibly conflate the two conceptions of the rule of law (i.e. the formal and the substantive conceptions). The result of this conflation is that the rule of law discourse by IDAs uses the institution of the rule of law to generate a language of open-ended and participatory politics while simultaneously foreclosing the possibility of multiple and competitive politics. While expressing its objectives in this open-ended vocabulary, this discourse forecloses political debate and subverts democracy by selling and entrenching particular policies and political projects that are dissolved into the idea of rule of law. The result is that the actual reforms that IDAs support end up simply mirroring the political and ideological objectives of IDAs rather than producing genuine democratic participation by the polities of developing countries. The overall impact of the conflation of the conceptions of the rule of law is therefore to cushion some fundamental political questions from political debate while simultaneously enacting some politically-agreed procedural rules. I use three examples to show how the rule of law in the context of Rule of Law Projects by IDAs emerges as a device for subverting (rather than enhancing) democracy in developing countries.

Keywords: Rule of law, market-oriented reforms, international development, world bank, international organizations

JEL Classification: K33, O19, P21

Suggested Citation

Ngugi, Joel M., Policing Neo-Liberal Reforms: The Rule of Law as an Enabling and Restrictive Discourse. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=727325

Joel M. Ngugi (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

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