Political and Economic Governance in Africa (1)


Africa saw some major advances in democracy in 2014: the new constitution in Tunisia, the transition in Burkina Faso and a record 179 million people voting in mostly peaceful and credible elections in 12 countries. Several countries, however, continued to experience instability, acts of terrorism or conflicts.

What is governance and why does it matter?

This chapter defines governance as the way different state and non-state actors make public decisions and manage economic and social resources for development. State entities, political parties, civil society organisations and private sector actors all play a role in the process. This chapter considers several dimensions of governance: safety and security, the rule of law, political participation, human rights, public sector management, the business environment and social inclusion.
The 2015 edition of the AEO highlights political participation, public sector management and the business environment. Participation is the area where governance gains have been most obvious since 2009. Public sector management is crucial because the public sector influences growth and development outcomes through the delivery of essential public services. This covers the management of public investments such as infrastructure and the institutions and policies that shape behaviours and determine the sustainability of such services and infrastructure. Finally, the business environment merits highlighting because it has improved markedly in countries that have needed it the most.
Governance and democracy are central to the African Union’s (AU) agenda. The AU’s vision is one of “a democratically governed and conflict-free Africa”. The union aims for “an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law and a peaceful and secure Africa” (AU, 2014a). Specifically, the 2007 African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance aims to:
i) strengthen democratic governance; ii) reject unconstitutional changes of government; iii) promote integrity and promote leadership that is committed to the interests of the people; and iv) foster the participation of African peoples through democratic elections.
Why does governance matter to growth and development? As the African Development Bank (AfDB) Strategy for 2013-22 states: “Economic growth can only be built on the firmest foundations of just, transparent and efficient governance and institutions administered by the capable state” (AfDB, 2013). There is evidence that open, responsive and inclusive political systems, driven by high levels of transparency, accountability and participation, help turn growth into human development. Conversely, countries without such systems tend to have a narrow distribution of power and struggle to maintain political stability. They are not able to broaden the sources of growth and ensure the benefits are shared, negatively affecting long-term growth and development. Acemoglu et al. (2001) and Kaufmann and Kraay (2002) confirmed that improved governance leads to higher per capita income across a wide range of countries, although the reverse is not true. Many top governance performers are also top human development performers.
These include Mauritius and Seychelles, as well as Botswana, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa and Zambia. The majority of top GDP growth performers since 2009 have one of two governance profiles:
Countries that set the governance standard in Africa, such as Ghana, Lesotho, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles and Zambia. Their steady governance record, in spite of some political challenges in Lesotho, contributed to continued robust growth.
Post-conflict countries that have been able to make governance strides since peace was restored, notably Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Reforms usually have to be sequenced, but for governance to contribute to growth and development over the long run there needs to be progress in all dimensions. In most cases, countries demonstrate progress along one dimension but slower progress in others. For example, between 2003 and 2008 improved economic governance drove governance gains for the continent. Since the 2008/09 global crisis, it has mostly been improved political participation (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2014).
Despite a year of dramatic headlines, there were some bright spots and governance gains continue to hold there were a few positive governance developments in 2014. In Tunisia, a constitution endorsed in January 2014 enshrined religious freedom and guaranteed gender equality.
This was followed by largely undisputed parliamentary and presidential elections, held in October and December 2014 respectively. South Africa held its fifth round of peaceful elections 20 years after its historic 1995 elections marked the end of the apartheid era.
Over 179 million people went to the polls and voted in largely peaceful and credible elections (see section “Gains are clear in political participation, but results are mixed in public sector management and the business environment” below). In Burkina Faso, mass protests led to the ouster of President Compaore in a short, successful transition.
Beyond these bright spots, however, 2014 saw a number of governance challenges. The wars in the Central African Republic, Libya and South Sudan continued, with rippling effects beyond their borders. Nigeria and its neighbours were beset by continued attacks and kidnappings by Boko Haram, while Al-Shabaab continues its attacks in the Horn of Africa. The outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone highlighted the fragility of Africa’s health systems, although it also demonstrated the importance of a committed leadership at the community level. An estimated 3 072 migrants fleeing political and economic hardship lost their lives in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea – out of an estimated 4 077 worldwide – up from around 700 in 2013 (Brian and Laczko, 2014).

Governance gains continue to hold

In spite of this difficult year, the continent remains on a trajectory of improved governance. The record is impressive if considered since the 1970s, whereas it is more modest since the 2008/09 global crisis.
Taking a long view, the share of regimes in Africa that are at least partial democracies has grown markedly since the first wave of decolonisation and independence and continuously so since the late 1980s peak. For example, in 1972 there were 4 democracies and 36 autocracies. This proportion was reversed to 24 democracies, 22 hybrid regimes (a mix of democracy and autocracy) and only 5 autocracies as of 2013. In terms of population, in 1970 2.5 million sub-Saharan Africans lived in a democracy, whereas 387 million did so by 2013. This increase is in large part due to democratisation in Nigeria and South Africa (Polity IV data on country regimes since 1946; World Bank population datasets).
Although there has been no regression in governance since 2009, governance progress as measured by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance has been negligible, apart from political participation. Dimensions such as public sector management, the business environment, the rule of law, state accountability to citizens, personal safety, national security and human rights all demonstrate negligible change since 2009.

Governance trajectories diverge, including among comparable countries

The lack of clear progress for the continent overall in recent years masks remarkable improvements in some countries and a deterioration in others (IIAG, 2014, summarized; World Bank, 2014a). In fact, many of the largest governance gains and declines globally took place in Africa.
Drivers of governance progress are as diverse as African countries themselves, but they are often domestic rather than external. They may be linked to the rise of an urbanised middle class, the expanding ranks of educated, connected youth and expectations of improved livelihoods after a decade of growth. Moreover, increasingly professional and disciplined armed forces following a decade of army and police reforms and the commitment of leadership to improve public management may also play a part. Finally, the positive impact of globalisation on the business environment could be driving progress.

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