Nigeria’s Renewed Hope for Democratic Development

By Richard Joseph

When the Union Jack was lowered in Nigeria on October 1, 1960, the potential of Africa’s most populous nation seemed boundless—and that was before its abundant reserves of petroleum and natural gas were fully known. However, Nigeria has since underperformed in virtually every area. A massive fuel shortage, just days before the historic change in political leadership, underlined how criminalized and dysfunctional the oil sector had become.

On May 29, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president since 2010, transferred power to a former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari. Despite important policy reforms, Jonathan will be remembered mainly for his unusual name and the failure to defeat Boko Haram. Similar transfers of power took place in other federal and state offices. As a result of the March and April elections, a new coalition, the All Progressives Congress (APC), prized a commanding share of government positions from Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Muhammadu Buhari salutes his supporters during his inauguration in Eagle Square, Abuja, Friday, May 29, 2015 (Source: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Muhammadu Buhari salutes his supporters during his inauguration in Eagle Square, Abuja, on May 29, 2015
(Source: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

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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

Nigerian Pathways: Towards Stability, Security, and Democratic Development

By Richard Joseph

July 23 marks 100 days since the Chibok girls were abducted. The Boko Haram insurgency has brought to world attention the shortcomings of Nigeria’s army, police, and other security services. President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking $1billion in external loans to enhance their capacity. His government has shifted from one bold declaration to another: a state of emergency, total war, and now adding more funds to the billions already poured into these services. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive strategy focusing on the wider Nigerian predicament as well as the opportunities for sustainable progress. This essay and others to follow will address this need.

Untitled by Issek of Cameroon

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Electoral Politics and Power Strategies in Ethiopia

By Elise Dufief

International democracy promotion is challenged by the global retreat of democracy. The case of Ethiopia demonstrates how political space can be narrowed, a hegemonic regime strengthened, and election observer missions constricted in their capacity to influence outcomes. Election monitoring can deepen the contradictions between regime practices and democratic objectives. *

Why does the Ethiopian government regularly organize elections and invite election observers only to reject their findings? How did the governing party come close to losing the 2005 election yet triumph in 2010 with 99.6% of the vote? Why do international actors such as the EU Observer Mission continue to participate in these processes where their credibility is likely to be tarnished? Such questions must be answered about the manipulation of democracy promotion instruments by a non-democratic regime.


Photo of Billboard in Meskal Square

Addis Ababa – Meskal Square 2013 – (c) E. Dufief

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The Chibok Girls and an Embattled Nigeria

By Richard Joseph

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on

Two centuries ago, John Keats wrote his enigmatic “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. It came to mind after President Barack Obama’s foreign policy address at West Point. The unheard message was about the Nigerian Urn, filling with human ashes from terrorist atrocities and military counterattacks. The heard melody was about the girls of Chibok, hauled away like livestock into the Sambisa Forest: “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave”.



Escaped Chibok schoolgirls meeting with Borno state governor

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Bring Back Our State: Another Nigerian Plea

By Ayo Olukotun

“Democracy Day Blues” republished with the permission of The Punch, Nigeria

“The national protest, Bring Back Our Girls, should be complemented with Build Us a State. There are some missions, such as overcoming the Nigerian state crisis, that require more than advanced intelligence technologies”
– Prof. Richard Joseph, May 22, 2014

May 29 was Democracy Day in Nigeria, the 15th edition of the milestone which marked the formal inauguration of civilian rule on May 29, 1999. Political science professor Richard Joseph captures, in the opening quote of this essay published by The PUNCH on Thursday, May 22, the sombre, despairing mood in which this year’s Democracy Day was marked around the country. This writer quibbles mildly with Joseph’s refrain, “Build Us a State”, by suggesting that it should have read, “Bring Back our State”, without disagreeing with the agenda he proposes.

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Confronting Boko Haram and the Nigerian Predicament

By Richard Joseph

This post first appeared on the Brookings Institution’s ‘Africa in focus’ blog. The original text can be read here.

The mass kidnapping of girls has brought the Nigerian Predicament to global attention. The insistence by Nigerian authorities that these and other incidents reflect global terrorism is not the full story. For a long time, Boko Haram was portrayed as a local phenomenon. Now it is depicted, most recently in a UN Security Council resolution, as an al-Qaeda affiliate. There is more conjecture than hard knowledge about this elusive entity.

Photo credit: Brookings Institution

Photo credit: Brookings Institution

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Boko Haram and the Nigerian State Crisis

By Richard Joseph

This post first appeared on the Brookings Institution’s ‘Africa in focus’ blog. The original text can be read here.

“Africa will not make sustainable progress in building democratic systems and fostering economic development until the continent acquires coherent, legitimate, and effective states.”

I had Nigeria very much in mind when those words were written a decade ago.1 Today, the veil concealing the ever- deepening state crisis has been shredded. The federal government has turned to western nations for intelligence capacities to help locate the abducted school girls. France, long distrusted by Nigerian authorities, has been asked to craft a regional coalition to combat Boko Haram. However, beyond the security missions in the remote northeast, the broader aspects of the Nigerian predicament must be confronted.

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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