Good Growth and Good Governance in Africa: An Experts Forum

By Jeffrey Herbst, Tim Kelsall, Goran Hyden, and Nicolas van de Walle

Richard Joseph

In 1993, IMF Director Michel Camdessus called sub-Saharan Africa “a sinking continent.” Just three years later, however, he said that the signs of an economic recovery were evident. 1 In his state visit to Ghana in July 2009, President Barack Obama saluted the striking turnaround in the political economies of Africa. He memorably gave the main reason for this historic advance “Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. It is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential.”

In a decade and a half, Africa had gone from being a sinking to a “rising” continent, a change not deterred by the 2008-2010 global recession. Is this experience attributable to much improved governance in sub-Saharan Africa? If that is the case, what are the mechanisms by which better governance unlocked economic growth? Further, it can be asked, how good must this governance be? As major economists returned to the study of Africa, voices emerged among them questioning a new “orthodoxy”. It was difficult, they contended, to connect the “good governance agenda” of democratic institutions, civil society, and human rights with the East Asian models of rapid transformative growth. 2 Notable among the critics was Mushtaq Khan of the University of London. He rejected the notion that good governance, broadly understood, was a precondition for economic growth. Instead, Khan argued, what was needed were “growth-enhancing governance capabilities.”3 Continue reading

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

Burkina Faso Citizens Reclaim Their Democracy


Richard Joseph and Rachel Beatty Riedl

On October 31, Blaise Compoaré, president of Burkina Faso, was forced to resign after days of mass protest. He had been in power for 27 years and was seeking to change the constitution to run again. But the Burkinabe people said Enough! They wanted change – they took to the street, torched the parliament, and brought an end to Campaoré’s rule. Soon thereafter, the country’s military settled on Lt. Colonel Isaac Zida to lead an interim government. But this action sparked further protests and insistent demands that the military yield power to a civilian transitional government. AfricaPlus presents commentaries based on a radio interview with Richard Joseph and an op-ed by Rachel Beatty Riedl. They both situate the Burkina Faso upheavals in the context of struggles to “claim democracy” in Africa.[1]

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Africa’s Third Liberation: Transformative Growth and Developmental Governance

By Richard Joseph

On March 10, 2014, I gave a lecture on this topic to a large audience at the University of Ghana, Legon, sponsored by the Department of Political Science. It was followed by a seminar presentation at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development on March 13 on the related topic of “Development without Democracy in Africa: Confronting the Revisionist Paradigm”. The text of the lecture is provided here along with a video of the second talk. They should bring these debates to a wider audience and encourage examinations of the diverse outcomes of Africa’s political and economic abertura.

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Democracy at Bay: The Arab Spring and Sub-Saharan Africa

By Richard Joseph

A great pendulum shift has occurred in the geopolitics of the Middle East and North Africa, from repressive autocracies to political liberalization to violent conflict and civil war. Enormous financial resources and military weaponry are being poured into these theatres. It is not too soon to ask, as the United States prepares to strike against the Syrian government, whether the fragile democratic gains in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1990 can withstand the winds of change. Will governing systems in this region tilt further towards authoritarianism? What can be done to shore up resistance to further democratic retreat as security operations escalate?

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Is Good Governance Necessary For Economic Progress in Africa?

By Richard Joseph

The third wave of democracy arrived in Africa in the early 1990s, well after the pursuit of pro-market reforms advocated by western aid agencies and international organizations. When that wave subsided, a good governance agenda of the rule of law, accountability, transparency, and human rights persisted. A third of the states of sub-Saharan Africa are today substantially democratic while the rest consists of quasi-democratic, electoral authoritarian, autocratic, and failed states. Yet the driving force of change is less democratization than economic growth; and most countries share in the economic upswing that has moved the region higher on global growth charts. Virtually all African governments make the requisite genuflections to the good governance agenda however diluted in actual practice. Aid flows remain buoyant, direct foreign investments led by China are climbing, and remittances from diasporas add to positive financial flows.

Having drifted from Africa during the quarter-century of economic stagnation and contraction that began in the 1970s, leading economists are returning to the study of the continent. Drawing on the experiences of Asian economies, some are challenging prevailing paradigms that regard governance and institutional failures as the greatest impediments to sustainable and transformative growth in Africa. They are a force to be reckoned with as they bring to policy debates confidence in their methodologies and access to networks that connect academia with international agencies and finance and development ministries in rich and emergent countries. Social scientists in other disciplines, and policy analysts more generally, should take account of these analyses and arguments and their implications for political and socio-economic progress in Africa. This paper, which will appear in a forthcoming edited volume, responds to this important challenge.[i] Continue reading

Governance and Economic Growth in Africa: Rethinking the Conventional Paradigm

By Célestin Monga

Immediately upon President Obama’s arrival in Senegal on a three-country Africa tour, he voiced his familiar insistence on the importance of democracy and good governance and their contributions to economic development. Célestin Monga is one of a group of economists, seasoned in African affairs, who are not convinced. As the people of the continent contemplate how to sustain and deepen the recent economic advances, Monga’s critique of the dominant paradigm on governance and growth should prompt important reflection and debate.

I recently returned from an excellent conference on “Governance and Economic Growth” in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where this topic was debated by some of the best minds. Discussions with hundreds of high-level Congolese policymakers and international experts reinforced my thinking that a number of popular beliefs about economic governance in the African context are misguided. After discussing some of the theoretical issues involved, I will suggest what should really be the focus of governance and economic growth in low-income countries.

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Claiming Democracy: Are Voters Becoming Citizens in Africa?

By Carolyn Logan and Michael Bratton

The political transitions that allowed many Africans to experience a degree of citizenship have been major achievements of the past quarter-century. But power corrupts, no less than before, and new democratic governments can corrode from the inside out. Advances in political accountability depend on Africans claiming democracy, a powerful notion articulated by Carolyn Logan and Michael Bratton. Afrobarometer survey data enable them to evaluate the progress or regress of this vital dimension of African states.

Photo Credit: Anthony Allison

Photo Credit: Anthony Allison

In previous assessments of political accountability in Africa’s emerging democracies, we wrote that many Africans had become “voters, but not yet citizens.”[1] We argued that, while Africans expressed widespread commitments to selecting their own leaders through elections, relationships of accountability were largely undeveloped. This was so in part because many Africans had yet to fully appreciate their political rights, and to embrace their own responsibility for holding leaders accountable. They had adopted the attitudes of “voters” by showing strong support for electoral processes, but had yet to transform themselves into “citizens,” who take on the added responsibility of monitoring and, where possible, sanctioning their leaders in the long intervals between elections. We suggested that “accountability remains incomplete because of individuals’ limited conception of political rights, of reasonable expectations, and of their own public roles and responsibilities” and concluded:

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Discordant Development and Insecurity in Africa

By Richard Joseph

Richard Joseph explores how “discordant development”—deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress— is often one of the root causes of uncertainty, insecurity and violent conflict in Africa. For example, Mali and Ghana have experienced similar growth rates but Mali is sundered and in disarray, while Ghana has experienced both political and economic progress. Joseph discusses the causes of discordant development and provides recommendations for how policymakers can begin tackling this problem in order to address broader issues of insecurity. He warns development officers and political leaders against viewing Africa solely through “polarizing lenses,” either screening out security challenges in growing economies or overlooking axes of growth in conflict-plagued societies. The article can be read below, or here on the Brookings Institution’s site.

The good news about Africa is that many countries are now showing sustained economic growth. Not to be overlooked, however, are the persistent security dilemmas in many parts of the continent exacerbated by “discordant development.” Addressing these troubling problems of security and social unrest requires an understanding of the complex factors involved and the need for innovative approaches. The idea of discordant development conveys more than just “unequal development,” but rather how deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress can generate uncertainty and violent conflict. Unfortunately, continued discordant development is in the forecast for sub-Saharan Africa in 2013.

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