Public Policy and the Idea of the Vietnamese State: The Cultural Political Economy of Domestic Water Supply

A Net-Map study on formal and informal water governance in Vietnam, by Nadine Reis and Peter P. Molinga:

Using Rural Water Supply (RWS) policy practices as a case study,this article shows that the disjunction between implementation as formally conceived and informally practised is not a question of ineffective policy cycle dynamics, but rather an inherent feature of Vietnam’s Cultural Political Economy. Drawing on critical realist approaches to social and state theory, we argue that formal and informal RWS policy practices, as a set of two interconnected spheres, serve as key, separate but connected, mechanisms for reproducing the distribution of material resources (primarily through the informal sphere) and the hegemony of ideas (primarily through the formal sphere) in Vietnamese society. We conclude that the formal, administrative practices of RWS policy are primarily to be understood in their function of reproducing the idea of the state and state legitimacy. RWS administrative practices function to sustain the core social and political order in Vietnam as institutionalised in “the state”, rather than being primarily oriented to improving rural water supply. The findings raise questions for donor-supported programs that focus on formal administrative institutions and practices for improving the performance of the water sector.

Case Study: Analyzing the political economy of the charcoal sector in Tanzania

Charcoal Trader (copyright by Klas Sander)

Charcoal Trader (copyright by Klas Sander)



Klas Sander (World BankClemens Gros (UNICEF) and Christian Peter (World Bank) used Net-Map in this study to get a structured and reliable understanding of how the charcoal sector works and what may be done to improve it. What they find especially exciting is how Net-Map has helped them take the stories and annecdotal knowledge about the issue and turn it into validated, more structured insights.


With about 95 percent of all households in urban areas relying on charcoal to meet energy needs, charcoal is one of the most important energy sources in Tanzania. High population growth rates coupled with accelerated urban development and relative cost increases of alternative fuels indicate that the importance of charcoal is unlikely to decline in the near future. Systemic initiatives to render the sector more environmentally and economically sustainable are missing or have remained largely ineffective. A weak formal governance framework as well as regulatory overlaps and gaps are often identified as principal reasons. Nonetheless, the underlying political economy supporting and maintaining the status quo is only poorly understood and no attempt has so far been made for a formal analysis and documentation.

Applying an established methodology, this article provides a unique analysis of the political economy of the charcoal sector in Tanzania. It documents social, political, and economic explanations that existed as anecdotal evidence only and explains why a reform dialogue needs to be sensitive. While the analysis focuses on Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it shows that findings apply to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa facing similar challenges. It provides a comprehensive example for approaching charcoal sector reforms, requiring identification of the problems and an open dialogue within and among stakeholders, new policies and a subsequent strategic decision clearly stating overarching goals and specific objectives.