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