The Development Dance

The Development Dance: How Donors and Recipients Negotiate the Delivery of Foreign Aid, Cornell University Press

Book CoverFrom the publisher:  

In a book full of directly applicable lessons for policymakers, Haley J. Swedlund explores why foreign aid is delivered in different ways at different times, and why various approaches prove to be politically unsustainable. She finds that no aid-delivery mechanism has yet resolved commitment problems in the donor-recipient relationship; bargaining compromises break down and have to be renegotiated; frustration grows; new ways of delivering aid gain traction over existing practices; and the dance resumes.

Swedlund draws on hundreds of interviews with key decision makers representing both donor agencies and recipient governments, policy and archival documents in Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, and an original survey of top-level donor officials working across twenty countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This wealth of data informs Swedlund’s analysis of fads and fashions in the delivery of foreign aid and the interaction between effectiveness and aid delivery. The central message of The Development Dance is that if we want to know whether an aid delivery mechanism is likely to be sustained over the long term, we need to look at whether it induces credible commitments from both donor agencies and recipient governments over the long term.


The Development Dance is clearly written, always smart, and a real pleasure to read. Haley J. Swedlund interviewed hundreds of aid officials on both the government and donor sides, and she makes remarkably adept use of the interviews to illustrate aid dynamics.”—Nicolas van de Walle, coeditor of Democratic Trajectories in Africa

Full review by Dan Honig in Perspectives on Politics available here:


Twelve Recommended Reads for The 2018 Holiday, Open Canada

“The Development Dance”: Q&A with Haley J. Swedlund, Yale MacMillan Center

“There’s another big reason U.S. foreign aid is important: It helps the U.S. get what it wants” The Washington Post 

“Foreign Aid’s Commitment Problem” Aid Data Blog: The First Tranche

Funding for the book was largely provided by an individual grant from the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission (CIG #322228).