The Growth-Governance Paradox in Africa

By Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance

The essential features of Africa’s Growth-Governance Paradox were delineated in 1990 by scholar Jeffrey Herbst. Economic reform programs prescribed by international financial institutions, often called structural adjustment, were premised on reducing the distributional role of the state and maximizing the play of market forces. Herbst noted a contradiction: governing regimes were being encouraged to alter the clientelistic political systems on which their power rested.1

A quarter-century later, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced the most continuous period of economic growth since the 1950s and 1960s. What explains this development: high commodity prices, economic liberalization, better governance and democratization? Some development economists, such as Mushtaq Khan, do not see the necessity of implementing the full “good governance agenda” to achieve a turnaround in economic performance. A theoretical framework, “developmental patrimonialism”, has also been advanced by a group of Africa experts to explain authoritarian modernization in a few countries.

Blending qualitative and quantitative analyses, Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance move beyond competing analyses. They inquire why relatively small changes in governance in a group of African countries called “developers” (in contrast to “laggards”) has had such a disproportionate impact on economic performance, and notably in attracting foreign direct investment. Their preliminary report and key hypothesis warrant careful study by scholars, policy analysts, and domestic and external investors.2 It can precipitate a wave of incisive research and better understanding of the political economy of contemporary Africa. Continue reading