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The Normativity of Numbers: World Bank and IMF Conditionality



Good governance reforms aim at transforming African state bureaucracies into efficient, transparent, and accountable institutions. These policies are inserted into the national administrative apparatus by means of conditions attached to the financial support of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although the conditions exactly match the priorities of these international financial institutions (IFIs), they are not set by them; paradoxically they are (in theory) set by the government requesting a loan. This paradox, the article argues, has to be understood primarily in legal terms. A close reading of a number of loan documents signed by the representatives of the IFIs and the government of Malawi demonstrates how responsibility for good governance reforms is ascribed to the government of Malawi, which “owns” the reforms. The article further shows that the elaborate conditionality attached to loans fuses legal logic and economics in a characteristic “normativity of numbers.” By normativity of numbers I refer to the use of economic data, and the introduction of systems of personnel management and expenditure monitoring, as conditions in the loan documents.

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