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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Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: Prologue to the Past?

By Richard Joseph

In the 45 years since the Nigerian civil war ended in January 1970, Nigeria has often seemed on the verge of making significant political advances. While its population soared, however, the country stumbled through one contentious electoral exercise after another, interspersed with military rule. The recent 2015 elections, which elevated Muhammadu Buhari to the powerful presidency, have produced a significant shift in control of national and state governments from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The PDP had been the dominant party for 16 straight years.

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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

Chibok Girls Freedom and Boko Haram Ceasefire: Seeing is Believing

By Richard Joseph

Boy with #bringbackourgirls sign at protest

A #bringbackourgirls protest in New York City, May 3, 2014. Photo by Michael Fleshman, CC BY-NC 2.0.

The announcement by senior Nigerian military and government officials that an agreement has been reached with Boko Haram for the release of more than 200 kidnapped Chibok girls is welcome, although it has understandably been greeted with considerable caution. And news that a ceasefire has also been agreed, and that further negotiations will take place, is another positive development.

But this is a case when we will actually need to see the girls emerging from their six-month confinement before we can truly believe.

After all, it was only recently that it was announced that Abubakar Shekau, reputed leader of the jihadist group, had supposedly been killed… again. Yet Shekau, or someone claiming to be him, probably lives on in a country where much political, economic and now military affairs take place in the shadows.

Read the full oped at CNN

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