African politics is bedevilled by a number of features that combine to produce an image of bad governance on the continent today. Corruption, militarism, authoritarianism, clientelism, neo-patrimonialism or tribalism are all evidenced in some form or other from Cape Town to Cairo, and from Dakar to Mogadishu. Indeed, neo-patrimonialism appears the default and natural setting in African politics, described as the “moral economy of corruption” or the “economics of affection” But this is a political culture that deadlocks efforts to develop inclusive whole nations a reality that has generated the view that Africa is inhospitable to good governance establishment. Others note that bad governance is not culturally specific but a universal challenge affecting all nations at some point in their development history. Different schools of thought offer equally compelling arguments.
The current practice of governance removes accountability from national leaders (usually democratically elected) who are asked to prioritize the agenda of an external constituency. This has dire consequences for local politics. External funds, including aid, suppress local priorities and agendas. In so doing, they distort the relations between state, state actors and the citizenry. This system can work well for the politicians’ own interests, allowing corruption to flourish, and the “institutional inertia” that follows will “self-correct” any democratic advances. One can strongly claim that development has not really failed in Africa because it has never been truly placed on the political agenda.
Khan develops the argument that good governance cannot take root on a continent mostly devoid of the necessary components to make it a success. For example, the rule of law, stable property rights, the control of corruption, capacity to implement reforms and so forth. African states are often devoid of democratic (in the western sense) political cultures, modern socio-economic environments or broad-based economies outside the extractive sector. So, some tentative and alternative governance solutions have been identified that might help transform African economies and complex societies in a way most desirable for the populations involved, as well as their sponsors.
Among them is the developmental state and variations on that theme, a model of governing that may help create the structural transformation necessary for increased productivity alongside economic growth to raise living standards. Some commentators argue that Africa can learn lessons from the development model of the Asian Tigers, but this is contested by those who argue only democratic regimes can deliver development in Africa. The developmental model is less stringent on the state government of markets than the development model of south-east Asia, and is a policy change supported by African leaders like [the late] M. Zenawi of Ethiopia and scholars. Promoting developmental states in Africa will involve a giant leap of faith for the proponents of good governance, however, because at every stage of the process there will be collisions between “minimalist” and ”developmental” strategizing.
One variation is that of developmental patrimonialism where politically generated opportunities for profit are institutionalized and centralized, and where economic rents are deployed efficiently with a view to longer-term development. An example is contemporary Rwanda. Booth describes developmental patrimonialism as “working with the grain” i.e. embracing local norms and practices rather than fighting against them. The rationale for this approach is based on analysis of some immediate post-independence regimes—Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi—where rent management was centralized and resources deployed to assist national development. This approach has its critics who highlight the costs to democracy of an authoritarian style model that involves elite bargaining, and those who note that patrimonialism can also be anti-development, as in the case of Zimbabwe.
Another approach is offered by the heterodox theorists who propose the restructuring of African economies towards state industrialization, economies of scale in manufacturing, import substitution and so forth. However, this approach requires a transformation in local politics and international relations to shake off dependency on outsiders and outside forces—a reality often overlooked by proponents of this strategy. There have been mixed results from heterodox experiments; success in Mauritius, but failure in Ghana. Exploiting comparative advantage means state involvement at all levels and different relations between citizens and state—ergo a transformation in local politics. The incorporation of heterodox views into the dominant paradigm will involve a major revision of the doctrinal foundations already set out by powerful players in the international system.
As the world hegemonies recalibrate, the BRICS–most specifically China and India—have become Africa’s most influential economic partners, and as the continent realigns its posture accordingly, and relies less on western development aid, its leaders face possibly their greatest challenge—how to resist and counter the “new imperialisms”. Trade openness remains a fundamental requirement in these new relations, and south-south co-operation—with Brazil for example—preserves the huge power differentials that African states formerly experienced with the west.
Post-development theorists have identified the shortcomings of both mainstream liberal and state-led development models, and suggest moving beyond the contemporary paradigm of quasi-liberal, procedural democracy and the economically globalized world order. Certainly there is good evidence to suggest that the free market approach in donor circles is no longer tenable—witness the recent catastrophic failures of the global markets and financial institutions. African nations may fare better if they ignore the machinations of global financial markets and multilateral agencies and steer their own course toward development. This is because they are best placed to reinvent the concept and achieve their own goals and aspirations.
Living with the realities of failed or ineffective governance, African citizens commonly look to alternative sources of support—religious groups, chiefs or other traditional authorities, family networks and so forth—that can provide health care, education, access to finance for an extensive network of followers. In the Sahel, for example, locally derived and owned solutions such as the “peace forums” in Niger can be the best route to better governance, security and development. The idea that a people or their social-cultural institutions are an obstacle to their development is a confusion in development thinking and an expensive error of the past.
Everywhere in the literature we see calls to embrace local norms, or craft policies to fit individual contexts. Context now matters in policy circles and ‘bottom up’ thinking may influence top-down orthodoxies. Some of these solutions promote a focus on collective action, or the transformative potential of pre-existing and traditional institutions that must not be swept aside in the hurry to “innovate”. But ideas for local ownership are not new and have never brought about structural transformations in the past, and there remains resistance to such change in policy circles. In essence, what is now being discussed, is the old but previously disparaged ideas of African scholars and policy makers who first asked the question: how can the relationship between African states and their societies, between leaders and their citizens, be fundamentally and permanently changed? From the Editor: This is the question at the heart of this issue of AHN: Governance in Africa. Enjoy!
Adapted from “An Introduction to Governance in Africa”. See original article in http://www.govafricajournal.org/article/view/gia.ae
Christine Cubittis editor of Governance in Africa, Reiga’s open access peer reviewed journal. She is author of Local and Global Dynamics of Peacebuilding: Postconflict Reconstruction in Sierra Leone (Routledge 2011) and several refereed articles on postconflict reconstruction and international peacebuilding generally, as well youth reengagement after war. She has undertaken research for the World Bank on employment generation in fragile situations in Africa and is currently researching a new book on governance. Christine is founder of Reiga.