NFU Master Thesis Award 2017: Winner!

The jury had a challenging task deciding the winner of the master thesis award 2017. We were impressed by the quality of the master theses, investigating a variety of development aspects, with solid methodological approaches based on empirical data. At the end of the process it was a close race between four strong candidates:

Tone Standal Vesterhus wrote an excellent thesis on Youth, Informality and Public Space, based on fieldwork in Nairobi, Kenya. She investigated how youth in the slums navigate their opportunities and how public spaces play a role in improving the lives of young people.  Antoine de Beny Puyvallée wrote a thesis on Norway’s International response to Ebola, where he investigated the altruism and self-interest involved in humanitarian responses. Henrik Wesenberg Dale wrote a thesis on the donor-recipient relationship between the EU and Etiopia. Amongst his findings he shows how the negotiating capital of the Ethiopian state is high as compared to other sub-Saharan countries. The forth candidate, Andrea Aleman-Andrade wrote about the agency of Andean Agrarian NGOs in the relationship with the Bolivian state´s political model during the last 20 years.

We are happy to announce that the winner of the thesis award is Andrea Aleman–Andrade, enrolled in the Development Management Master programme at the University of Agder, Norway.

Andrea’s master thesis explores the evolvement of the status and role of the NGOs in Bolivia during the past decades as the country has been undergoing different regime changes, culminating with the Andean nationalist-socialist policies of the present MAS government. How NGOs played a crucial role in facilitating the MAS «revolution», only to be later coopted by the socialist state, is an interesting story to be told and discussed. The candidate has through the examples of three different rural NGOS located in the highlands of Bolivia demonstrated how the NGOs have taken different approaches in their relationship to the state in different political periods: NGOs agency for reproduction, applying the demands of the state and the global civil society trends, and NGOs agency for social change, where NGOs have been working to support indigenous and peasant communities beyond the state. The candidate problematizes how the state since 2008 and the so -called commodity consensus wants to use the NGOs as instruments for its rigid laws that show a regimen on the path towards authoritarianism. The difference with the neoliberal period is that the state now demands a relation with NGOs only for the reproduction of the commodities consensus model. A new law demands NGOS to follow the Patriotic Agenda 2025, otherwise, they cannot access to official funds. This is a clear reflection of how the state now exercises direct power over the NGOs, aiming to control their activities and funds. In cases where the NGOs get the license by the state, but work in a different direction, the state can abolish the NGOs. In such cases, NGOs do not have the right to defend themselves. It means that there is no alternative of a relation with the state through an agency of social change that potentially differs from the state’s perspective. NGOs can then no longer be seen as expressions of civil society, but have rather become the instruments of the state. However, for its survival or for sharing similar approaches, NGOs are submitting to the law. Hence, NGOs are accepting to follow the commodities consensus state model, which implies the prioritization of the economy and “productivity”. In this scenario, the relationship of coproduction between NGOs with neoliberal governments seems to be reproduced by the commodities consensus political model, but in the shape of discipline. Again, the most affected by this relation are the Andean communities, since the rural development is based on the state agenda and not on their direct interests, far from the ‘bottom-up linkage approach’ . The state currently demands an Andean agriculture that could respond to neo-liberalistic trends through an increase in production, although climate change and farming strategies do not allow for it.

Despite some minor challenges with the language this is a well written and well-structured thesis where the candidate provides a solid theoretical framework applying the concepts of agency and govermentality when presenting the historical journey of NGOs through a shifting political context radically altering the relationship between organizations and the state. Aleman-Andrande demonstrates an excellent analytical capacity in her discussion and makes an important contribution to an ongoing, and increasingly more politicized and difficult discussion about the role of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations for development processes in Bolivia. The fact that the candidate gets involved in this types of debates, despite the potential harm it may bring for her future professional and academic life in Bolivia requires courage and thus also recognition.

Access the full thesis here: