How can we design democracy so that it better fits African realities?

The state of democracy in Africa is one of the most controversial and difficult questions facing the continent today.

  • Is Africa getting more or less democratic?
  • Why have so many countries become stuck in a murky middle ground between democracy and authoritarianism?
  • How can we design democracy so that it better fits African realities?

Academia, researchers and media commentators all give different answers to these questions. Some would give up on democracy in Africa, seeing it as a dangerous experiment that too often goes wrong. Others believe that the early signs are promising and that if we keep up the struggle for another generation, democracy will become entrenched within African societies.

AGA (African Governance Architecture) is conceived as the overarching framework for promoting and sustaining democracy, governance and human rights in Africa

In my book, I argue Africa should not be thought of solely as a place in which to analyse the fragility of democracy. Rather, it is a continent that has much to teach us about the different pathways through which even the poorest and most unstable countries can break free from authoritarian rule.

Lessons Africa can teach

It is important to place democracy in Africa in its historical perspective to demonstrate how the experiences of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s shaped the kinds of political systems that we see today.

In doing so, it reveals an often overlooked fact: African democracies are distinctive not because they face so many challenges, but because they have managed to make so much progress. This is true despite the absence of many of the supposed “pre-conditions” of democratic consolidation.

Political scientists have identified a long wishlist of factors that make it easier to establish and consolidate a democracy. Topping the list are a coherent national identity, strong and autonomous political institutions, a developed and autonomous civil society, the rule of law and a strong and well-performing economy.

Adam Przeworski, for example, has famously shown that countries that enjoy a per capita GDP of more than US$6000 when they introduced democracy almost always succeed. Those where it is less than US$1000 almost always fail.

Both in the 1960s and in the 1990s, few African countries fulfilled this – or any other – wishlist criteria. Yet many of them have nonetheless made significant progress towards establishing stable and accountable multiparty systems. This set of countries is bigger than you might think.

Roughly one-quarter of Africa’s 54 states are now “free” – meaning that they feature high levels of both political rights and civil liberties – according to the American think tank Freedom House. This includes Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa.

In other words, a significant proportion of the continent is democratising against the odds.

How to avoid democratic disasters

While it is very important to recognise achievements of the continent’s success stories, it is also important to recognise the way in which elections have encouraged corruption and exacerbated ethnic tensions.

In Kenya, for example, it was the onset of multiparty politics, and the threat that this posed to Daniel arap Moi’s government, that led to the rapid escalation of graft and, ultimately, the Goldenberg scandal.

Similarly, it was the threat of losing power in the 1992 elections, when the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy opposition had so much momentum, that led to the instigation of ethnic clashes to displace and intimidate the supporters of rival parties. That violence, we now know, was the forerunner of the post-electoral crisis of 2007-08.

We therefore need to think really hard about how to design political systems in such a way that minimises the risks of democratic disasters. One of my core arguments is that Africa has suffered from unbalanced political systems that have been poorly designed to foster sustainable multi-party politics.

The problem with winner takes all

History tells us that while elements of competition and inclusion strengthen multiparty systems, too much of either can be fatal to the process of democratisation. Let us start with competition.

In places like Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, winner-takes-all politics and the concentration of power around the president mean that losing parties could expect to be excluded from access to state resources.

Elections, therefore, encouraged the collapse of political order by exacerbating ethnic tensions and giving leaders an incentive to use irresponsible and destructive strategies to retain power – such as the exclusion of rival leaders from electoral contests and the deployment of militias.

(Opposition supporters protest in Nairobi after a disputed vote that convulsed Kenya.Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

The experience of these countries was so harrowing that it is tempting to conclude that countries should try and be as inclusive as possible. This could be done, for example, by forming a permanent power-sharing government. But maximising inclusion is also problematic because it inevitably stifles political competition, which is the lifeblood of representative democracy.

It is by kicking out bad leaders that voters can hold their governments to account. In Ghana and Senegal, democratic reform was driven by opposition parties, campaigning for freer and fairer elections to improve their own chances of winning power.

Because power-sharing systems guarantee all parties representation in government, they threaten to undermine the very mechanism through which elections can drive democratisation. Excessive inclusion is therefore just as bad for democracy as excessive competition.

The task facing those who draft or adapt state constitutions is thus to decide on the appropriate balance between competition and inclusion. Such balance must allow for sufficient accommodation that all parties feel they have a stake in the system, while also maintaining as much competition as possible in order to promote accountability.

Unfortunately, there is no ideal constitutional template that can be deployed across the continent to achieve this goal. Different countries may require different degrees of inclusion in order to achieve political stability. Judging whether a political system can bear the strains associated with greater competition requires an intimate knowledge of a country’s demography, geography and political history.

Given this, it is remarkable – and worrying – just how few African countries feature inclusive political mechanisms that prevent certain communities from losing out systematically. For example, very few states feature meaningful decentralisation. Constitutional change, such as the new political system introduced in Kenya in 2010, is very much a step in the right direction. It locates the country in a reasonable middle-ground between majoritarian competition and forced inclusion.

Although the presidency continues to wield great power, the capacity of opposition parties to check the executive within the legislature has increased – at least in theory. And while there is no provision to ensure representative government, many communities who feel excluded from power nationally have been able to wield it locally by their choice of senators and governors at county level.

Devolution is no a panacea, however. In countries such as Nigeria, the creation of sub-national governments led to heated contestation and often violence as different communities campaigned for the right to be given their own state.

Similar tensions are likely to emerge in the run up to the next Kenyan general elections, especially if the Jubilee Alliance Party fails to build an effective political machine.

Although Nigerian federalism may have exacerbated tensions at the local level, it has eased them at the national level. That reduced the prospects for a second civil war, which is surely a trade-off worth making.

We therefore have good reason to think that constitutional reform like that enacted in Kenya will significantly improve the prospects for political stability – so long as it is respected. Given this, it is far too soon to give up on African democracy.


Nic Cheeseman Associate Professor in African Politics at Jesus College at University of Oxford

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Memorable Quotes from African Women in Power

With a population of over 1 billion, Africa is the second-largest and second most populous continent in the world. Of the total number of people, more than half are female, with an estimated 56% between the age of 15-64.

Below are 5 memorable quotes from influential and powerful women in Africa.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

African Women_Ellen

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is globally-recognized for her role in stabilizing Liberia as the country’s president shortly after civil war. In an excerpt from her book, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President, Nobel Peace Prize winning author offers inspiring words to rising leaders.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

Catherine Samba-Panza, President of Central African Republic

African Women_CAR

When her country spiraled into deadly sectarian violence in 2013, government leaders looked to replace the current president with an interim leader who could provide a unique perspective to peace talks. In January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza, the Mayor of Central African Republic‘s capital city, was elected to the presidency. In an interview with The Guardian shortly after she was sworn in, the former corporate lawyer talked about her advocacy work for African women.

“The majority of my sisters and daughters in the Central African Republic don’t know their rights so they can’t defend them. But we who know our rights can help them. We must always help them: the battle is always to promote and protect the rights of women.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Former Finance Minister of Nigeria

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may arguably be one of Africa’s most recognized female leaders. Shortly before moving back to Nigeria to join government as the Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala was a Managing Director at the World Bank. In this 2008 TED talk, she speaks to Africa’s shift from encouraging foreign aid to increasing foreign investment.

“Africans…they are tired. They’re tired of being the subject of everybody’s charity and care. We are grateful, but we know that we can take charge of our own destinies if we have the will to reform.”

Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

African Women_AU

As the head of the African Union, the South African political leader has stood as the face of the continent in political platforms around the world.

“It’s in [the West’s] advantage to know what’s happening in Africa because if they don’t come to the party eventually the party will happen without them.”

Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, Vice President of The Gambia

African Women

Though Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy serves as second-in-command for one of Africa’s smallest countries, there is no ignoring her big voice. In an address delivered during the 2011 UN General Assembly, Saidy reminded world leaders that the continent should be approached as a diverse place and not a country.

“Africa is no longer the colony of any country and must be respected and treated as such.”



Powerful searing review of Bosco’s Rough Justice: the ICC in a world of power politics.

By Sarah Nouwen

Sarah Nouwen is a lecturer in law at the University of Cambridge, Deputy Director of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law and fellow of Pembroke College. She is the author of Complementarity in the Line of Fire: The Catalysing Effect of the International Criminal Court in Uganda and Sudan (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Excerpt: David Bosco’s Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics is not just fluently written and rich in original interview materials. It also makes an important argument: the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the world’s most powerful states has been one of mutual accommodation.

See full article here (

African Women in Power/Politics – AWJ Issue VIII

In this issue of the African Women’s Journal, dubbed African Women in Power/Politics, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) seeks to explore both the individual and collective experiences of past, aspiring or current women in power/politics.

The articles speak to some of the persistent and structural as well as emerging obstacles and challenges women face as they wrestle with power, privilege and politics. Authors also present alternative strategies for ensuring visionary, transformative leadership. They stop and take stock and give room for personal journeys and reflections.

Whether women engage at local, national, regional or global levels, they continue to wrestle with power, make their voices heard and bring about lasting change which can be felt by the coming generations. We’ve heard a few of the stories and journeys here in this issue, but of course there are countless others whose stories have neither been told nor heard. May women continue to shape their own narratives and emerge with possibilities that respond to their realities.

Here’s to gender parity in our decision making spaces – including in our homes, and to transformational leadership.

A luta continua!

A snippet of the Journal:

Amina Mohammed shares her personally journey, from growing up in North-East Nigeria to her current position as special Advisor to Ban Ki Moon on Post-2015. She challenges us that it is not enough to simply have a seat at the table, but we must speak truth to the establishment and make that seat count for the countless who are not at the table. She reminds us that each of us must play our part, using our positions of power, small as they may be, to create a just and prosperous world where all people realize their rights and live with dignity and hope.

Annie Devenish takes a closer look at an eco-feminist and ultimately political movement; the Green Belt Movement, as well as the trailblazing woman at its forefront; Wangari Maathai. This case study provides an alternative model of leadership and participation; with women tapping into power through taking control of natural resources and articulating their struggles and concerns.

Bertha Rinjeu introduces us to a number of resilient women who find innovative ways around the threats, public shame and humiliation they face while on their political journeys. She touches on culture, patriarchy and strategies women employ to overcome obstacles placed in their paths to power.

Gavaza Maluleke looks at women fighting both a racist and sexist apartheid in South Africa – in particular focusing on the role of rural women, and the multiple ways in which women can participate and tap into power – both as individuals, and perhaps most importantly, as a collective.

Louisa Khabure delves into patriarchy, political violence and the increasingly monetized nature of campaigns. She presents the nature and extent of challenges women face when seeking political leadership and examines this within the context of a broader political culture in Kenya. She also proposes actions to remedy the ills of the political landscape.

Aminatta L. R. Ngum presents the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, who ironically held the position of Minister of Family Welfare and the Advancement of Women’s Affairs in Rwanda and who was the first and only woman tried and convicted for the crime of genocide as well as rape as an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Nimmo Elmi takes a look at the case of women in Somalia relegated to the private sphere despite their active engagement prior to the civil war. Through Serah Kahiu and Sara Longwe‘s reflections of their own political journeys in Kenya and Zambia respectively, we come to understand that the personal is truly political.

Here’s a link to the Journal Issue (

The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) is a membership-based pan-African Network set up in 1988 to advance African women’s development, equality and other human rights. Over the years FEMNET has played a central role in sharing information, experiences, ideas and strategies among African women’s NGOs in order to strengthen women’s capacity to participate effectively in the development processes on the continent. FEMNET has played a lead role in building the women’s movement in Africa and has ensured that African women voices are amplified and influence decisions made at national, regional and global levels, which have direct and indirect impact on their lives.

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.


Over the last year and a half, we have been involved in a research project that addresses some of the questions that have also been central to AfricaPlus since its founding.3. In this contribution we summarize our progress and offer the main hypothesis that our research has generated so far.

We address two central questions. First, is the economic growth of resource-poor African countries linked to improvements in their economic governance? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, what is the political rationality of such governance improvements? Interestingly, as this research note will hopefully make clear, the answer we found to the first question significantly altered the nature of the second question.

A few words of clarification. By economic governance we refer to both rule-of-law type governance (e.g., property rights and corruption) and state or bureaucratic capabilities, or what Mushtaq Khan calls “market-enhancing” and “growth-enhancing” governance.4 The political rationality question addresses what struck us as a potential contradiction between governance-based explanations of African growth and the general understanding of Africa’s previous stagnation as the result of neopatrimonial politics.5 If African politics is based on a neopatrimonial logic of instrumentalization of the state and its resources for political benefit, how can it produce governance improvements without rulers committing political suicide? Did something change in the nature of politics in some African countries that suddenly made such improvements politically feasible? This is an important question because its answer might challenge our understanding of African politics.

There has been significant innovative scholarship on these very questions over the last few years. Some authors have suggested that the political transformation of the early 1990s have been sufficient to usher in a greater degree of institutional accountability and, with it, more responsive governance.6 Others have called our attention to the wide variation in the extent of neopatrimonialism in Africa with the result that some regimes have been able to shape more developmental governance.7 More recent contributions in the same vein have suggested that special features of neopatrimonialism can make a difference. Particularly when regimes can concentrate rents and develop longer time horizons, neopatrimonialism can be developmental.8 Finally, some recent contributions argue that clientelism in and of itself is universal and not inimical to better governance, provided existing political arrangements, and particularly alliances between political and business elites, share a commitment to growth.9

Much of this work has focused on a few case studies of apparent developmental success stories such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, or successful moments in other countries such as the 1960-75 period in Côte d’Ivoire or the 1964-78 period in Malawi. Ethiopia and Rwanda, particularly, have figured centrally in the discussion of the possibility of developmental statehood in Africa, with the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi making no secret of the ambitions of his regime in this respect.10 These two countries are, however, in some fundamental ways continental outliers, not least because of their very unique security situations. Having learned a lot from their experiences, we were nevertheless eager to go beyond these specific case studies and try to identify more aggregate patterns, since many more African countries have experienced significant growth.


Methodologically, we have limited ourselves to resource-poor countries in order to control for the widespread commodity boom which is responsible for much of the continent’s recent performance. We first ranked all African economies by their rate of per capita economic growth from 2000 to 2013. We then excluded those that derived more than 10% of their GDP from mineral rents. From the remaining countries we selected two “most different” samples: one including the ten fastest growing countries and the other the ten slowest growing. The first group, which we call the “developers,” includes Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, and averages 5.33% growth.11 The second group—the “laggards”—comprises Burundi, the Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Malawi, Togo and Zimbabwe, with a collective growth performance of -0.45%. A visual inspection of their divergent growth trajectories suggests the need for some explanation.

Line graph of per capita gdp in developers and laggards

Our next step was to ask whether similar differences are observable between these two groups in the realm of governance. Using raw scores from the Mo Ibrahim Index which seemed more reliable that the usual World Bank aggregate governance indicators,12 we do indeed observe statistically significant variations in some rule-of-law and capacity-type indicators of economic governance.

Table comparing laggards and developers on indicators of state capacity and rule of law with data from the mo ibrahim index

However, once we looked more carefully at these differences, we observed that they were constant and rather limited in absolute terms except, interestlingly, for bureaucracy and red tape . In other words, for the whole period of time for which the Mo Ibrahim Index has data, these two groups of countries display steady but usually limited differences in governance quality, in contrast to their increasingly divergent economic performance. The graph below illustrates this point with the example of one variable but the same pattern applies to the others. Note that the performance of the developers remains below the mid-point of possible values, suggesting that while governance is better in these countries, it is still not good, an important point to which we return later.13

line graph of accountability and corruption in the public sector of laggards and developers

This observation led us to ask when this difference in governance began. Were developers always better than laggards or did they undergo some change in the quality of their governance at some point before 2000. If the difference was always there, then governance might not have much to do with the growth difference between our countries. But if a separation took place at some point before 2000, then it might be related to the increased growth divergence over the same period and it might point to a specific event or set of events that could help us explain the changes.

Because the Ibrahim data do not precede 2000, we switched to another source, the Inter-Country Risk Guide (ICRG) from Political Risk Service. While ICRG data are available from the mid-1980s, the indicators are not exactly similar to the Ibrahim variables. Moreover, there are no observations for Cape Verde, Lesotho and Rwanda among the developers, and for Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea among the laggards.

Nevertheless, working with what we have and aggregating three different relevant ICRG variables (bureaucratic quality, law and order, and corruption), we found that there was indeed a moment in the first half of the 1990s when developers (which were performing worse than laggards at first) overtook the laggards in terms of governance quality, as the graph below indicates. Both groups then sagged in the second part of the 1990s before stabilizing at fairly constant distance from each other as also indicated by the Ibrahim data.

line graph of icgr triple governance compound for developers and laggards

The two main findings are as follows: First, there is a specific moment when differentiation takes place instead of a permanent difference or continuous governance improvements for developers; and second, the performance of developers is good relative to laggards but still below the mid-point in terms of absolute value – in contrast to their growth which is fast in absolute terms. This performance is a far cry from developmental statehood.


To what extent does current work on Africa’s growth and governance help us make sense of these patterns in our data? At this stage of the research, we can provide only preliminary and tentative answers to this question. We look here briefly at the apparent merits of three types of argument: the role of democracy, developmental patrimonialism, and the possible effects of security dilemmas. We then move on to explore a new hypothesis which emerged from the data.

The most obvious correlation in the time trends is between improvements in governance and the democratization of the early 1990s. This pattern might support the hypothesis that democratization brought about these improvements . The graph below, using Freedom House ‘s inverted scale, shows indeed that laggards are more uniformly non-democratic than developers.

Box plot of Freedom House Political Rights in developing and laggard countries

There is no shortage of theories as to why this would be the case. Peter Lewis has written of the “elective affinity” between political and economic freedoms, of the greater accountability of democratic regimes to demands for better governance (a claim also made by Steven Radelet), and of the greater political voice of business communities in democratic regimes.14 Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle also argued almost 20 years ago that democratization in Africa proceeded from economic grievances; and Peter Lewis reminds us that we should not be surprised to see economic agendas at the core of democratic regimes.15 Ann Pitcher’s latest book, although focusing on privatizations more than overall governance, nevertheless makes the applicable argument that the more enforceable commitments of democratic regimes might provide some degree of explanation.16

However, the box-plot diagram above also indicates that developers are far from being uniformly democratic (actually, Ethiopia and Rwanda are two of the top three fastest growers). Booth and Cammack have also rather compellingly argued that development is less a principal-agent matter of accountability than one of collective action.17Moreover, while there is consistency in the democratic and governance transformations of the early 1990s, that does not necessarily mean that the former triggered the latter. Both might have been the effect of some other factor.

The developmental patrimonialism argument suggests that centralization of rents, long-term horizons and pro-active industrial policy are the hallmarks of developmental regimes in Africa.18 While this model matches Ethiopia and Rwanda fairly well, it is more of a stretch for the other developers in our sample, all of which are closer to the “competitive clientelism” model. The latter, however, is considered inimical to developmental governance. Even the likes of Ghana, Mozambique or Tanzania show relatively little of the proactive control that a developmental state is expected to exert over the economy. And a recent paper by Henning Melber calls the Namibian state “incompetent” rather than developmental.19 It seems to us therefore that the threshold provided by this theory is too high for explaining growth and development in most of Africa.

Finally, there is a convincing argument, mostly elaborated in the context of some Asian states, that security threats discipline states into being developmental.20 Again, this argument matches well the conditions of Ethiopia and Rwanda where minority regimes issued from violent conflicts rely on development to generate the legitimacy they need to survive. But, it is once again less of a match with the rest of the sample, although we note that there are a few post-conflict states in our group, including Mozambique, Uganda, and Namibia, but these regimes have not recently faced an existential threat. However, we could see some post-conflict rebound in our data, or maybe the reflection of more structural changes brought about by such violent crises. In the same vein, it is worth noting that there is a large number of post-socialist countries in our “developers” group.


While all these theories contain powerful explanatory elements, our data point us towards an additional albeit tentative hypothesis. What bothered us, to some extent, were the high thresholds of state behavior projected by the democratic, developmental-patrimonialism, and security theories. We did not see such transformed or transformative behavior in most of our “developers.” Rather, we saw minimal, almost baby-steps of enhanced governance somehow matched by large improvement in growth. It seemed that a more modest theory was needed to make sense of the economic turnaround in these countries, but one that could also make sense of the large effects of small changes.

We were also intrigued by the behavior of another variable that matched the growth performance of our two groups fairly well: Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). As the graph below suggests, our “developers” have been the recipients of significant and exponentially rising amounts of FDI, quite in contrast to the nearly flat line of “laggards.”

line graph of FDI net inflows in developers and laggards

We wonder to what extent “developers” might be engaged in a signaling exercise aimed at foreign capital. Maybe small but noticeable governance changes, in their bureaucracies and institutions, have been sufficient over the last decade or so to attract large flows of FDI, especially if such changes contrast with the countries that have not introduced them. In an era of low interest rates, these small changes might have been enough to mitigate the perception of risk investors associate with Africa. Their investments might be in some early stages of manufacturing or in the provision of goods and services for African consumers. They can also tap the more limited but still substantial export commodities of some of these countries, particularly agricultural, and they might represent exploration costs in mineral or energy sectors (as in Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia or Tanzania).

Interestingly, such marginal changes would be quite possible without any fundamental political restructuring and would thus be compatible with the continuation of neopatrimonial practices. By and large, a different regime can be applied to foreign investors than exists for domestic actors. “One-stop shops” and other efficiency islands can be developed to reduce transaction costs for foreign investors and improve the ease of doing business, while prebendal and neopatrimonial logics persist in other state institutions.

Such an approach would reproduce the signaling practices of many African countries towards donors. Matt Andrews has shown that a few easy and relatively costless steps are usually taken to get the aid flowing before reforms actually stall.21 It would also be consistent with the “partial reform syndrome” that has been prevalent on the continent.22 More importantly, it would not require any significant changes to neopatrimonial practices (nor much institutional or policy capacity), as it would essentially bifurcate the institutional environment, making governance improvements in some sectors largely aimed at foreigners, while maintaining the same neopatrimonial logic for the rest of the state (and using some of the resources derived from the foreign sector to feed redistribution in the domestic one).

In this respect, the similarity between the logic and timing of governance and democratic reforms might not be particularly causal. They might both derive, on average, from the same signaling logic and might both preserve in the end, rather than reform, neopatrimonialism.

Although it must be emphasized that this hypothesis is at a preliminary stage, the combined data from both groups of countries is consistent with such a signaling argument. As we mentioned earlier, and the two graphs below illustrate, “developers” do not perform particularly well in absolute value. However, once countries pass a minimal threshold of differentiation with the performance of “laggards”, there is a visible FDI response.

Scatter plot of FDI and control of corruption for sample countries

Scatter plot of FDI and bureaucratic quality for sample countries

In conclusion, we suspect that the economic turnaround in Africa’s resource-poor countries might derive from marginal and politically affordable governance changes largely geared towards attracting FDI without undermining the redistributive logic of domestic politics. If this hypothesis turns out to be accurate, then such strategies might be tested by likely changes in monetary policy in the West which could affect the cost-benefit calculus of investors.

Once again, our findings are preliminary and we offer them in the hope of contributing to discussions of this important topic. In summarizing our findings here, we have glossed over some nuances and variations. The next stage of this research will involve refining the quantitative work, breaking down the nature and sectors of foreign direct investments, developing qualitative narratives of governance reforms in “developers” to further examine the signaling hypothesis, and implementing other useful suggestions that readers of this blog will be kind enough to share with us.


  1. “The Political Adjustment of Politics in Africa,” World Development, 18, 7 (1990).
  2. The full title of the draft paper from which this essay is derived is ‘Small steps for Governance but a Giant Leap for Development? The Politics of Growth in Resource-Poor African Countries’. Some of these preliminary findings were presented at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, this past November.
  3. For example, see and
  4. Mushtaq Khan. “Governance and Growth: History, Ideology, and Methods of Proof.” In Akbar Noman et al (eds.). Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Development Strategies. Oxford University Press, 2012, 51-79.
  5. E.g., Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle. Democratic Experiments in Africa.Cambridge University Press, 1997; Richard Joseph. Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria. Cambridge University Press, 1987; Richard Sandbrook, “The State and Economic Stagnation in Tropical Africa.” World Development, 1986, 14(3): 319-332.
  6. Steven Radelet. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way.Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2010; Peter Lewis. “Democracy and Economic Performance.” In Ellen Lust and Stephen Ndegwa (eds.). Governing Arica’s Changing Societies: Dynamics of Reform. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012, 45-72.
  7. Ann Pitcher, Mary Moran and Michael Johnston. “Rethinking Patrimonialism and Neopatrimonialism in Africa,” African Studies Review, 2009, 52(1):125-156; Daniel Bach and Mamoudou Gazibo. Neopatrimonialism in Africa and Beyond.London: Routledge, 2012.
  8. Tim Kelsall. Business, Politics and the State in Africa. London: Zed Books 2013; Booth, David and Fred Golooba-Mutebi. “Developmental Patrimonialism? The Case of Rwanda.” African Affairs, July 2012, 111(444): 379-403.
  9. Hazel Gray and Lindsay Whitfield. “Reframing African Political Economy: Clientelism, Rents and Accumulation as Drivers of Capitalist Transformation.” London School of Economics: Working Paper Series 14-159, October 2014.
  10. Meles Zenawi. “States and Markets: Neoliberal Limitations and the Case for a Developmental State.” In Noman et al. op.cit., 140-174.
  11. We did not include Liberia because of the role of donors in its economic performance, which has disconnected policy choices from domestic political realities. See Amos Sawyer. “Emerging Patterns in Liberia’s Post-Conflict Politics,”African Affairs, 2008, 107(427):180; and Radelet, op.cit., 7.
  12. The index starts in 2000, but not all indicators have data for every year. We average data for available years.
  13. Ibrahim extrapolates this indicator backwards from 2006 to 2000, hence the straight line over that period, but the trend is similar for those that have actual data going back to 2000.
  14. Peter Lewis, op.cit., 47-48; Radelet, op.cit.
  15. Bratton and van de Walle, op.cit.; Lewis, op. cit.
  16. Anne Pitcher. Party Politics and Economic Reform in Africa’s Democracies.Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  17. David Booth and Diana Cammack. Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems. London: Zed Books, 2013.
  18. Kelsall, op.cit., inspired by the work of Khan.
  19. Henning Melber, “The Namibian State of Development: Evidence for a Developmental State?” Paper presented at the 2014 meeting of the African Studies Association, Indianapolis, Indiana.
  20. Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie and Dan Slater. “Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective,” International Organization, 2005, 59, 327-361.
  21. Matt Andrews. The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  22. Nicolas van de Walle. African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 1979-1999. Cambridge University Press.

Article cross posted from

Is Pan-Africanism a child waiting to be born or is it an old man that has gone? #dgtrends

You can not be a Lizard in your village and expect to be a Crocodile overseas- Nigerian proverb.

African Youth I celebrate and salute you for your diversity, your energy, your enthusiasm and eagerness for change and your appreciation of the enormous task ahead of you; the task to transform and unite this continent.

This week I attended the African Union youth consultation to the Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The theme being ‘Silencing the guns in Africa’ which is in direct response to the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration adopted by the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government on 26th May 2013 to end all wars in Africa by 2020.

 To be honest I wasn’t quite sure on my expectations. These dialogues happen all the time; we draft beautiful and lofty resolutions but hardly ever come up with tangible and impactful implementation. Why the gap? Why the inconsistency?

I was both relieved and challenged by this forum. This dialogue was different. Not because we discussed key thematic topics such as youth, power and politics for sustainable peace or the engagement strategy for youth in the Africa Governance Structure within the African Union framework, or even the role of young people in fostering accountable, responsive and effective governance in Africa. All these have been discussed time and again on various platforms. What sparked my interest is simply the fact that young African leaders from over 40 countries across the continent shared one ideology; pan African consciousness; an African renaissance brought about by consciously depicting our identities and charting our destinies. What do I mean by this? And why is this so important in silencing the guns?

Majority of us are aware of the dire need to address the conflicts on our continent; to silence the guns that have been blazing and bleeding our continent dry. Our leaders have envisioned this by the year 2020, quite a brave and ambitious declaration if you ask me and even for most, an unrealistic one.

We have read numerous reports that state that majority of Africans are poor and living below the poverty line, that corrupt government officials are robbing us of our resources and that leaders are thriving off this very conflicts and riding the wave of the poorly told African narrative. This is true to a very large extent but I beg to differ with one thought. Africans are not poor and this ideology is artificial.

The intellectual, brilliant and clear sighted Brian Kagoro, rightly put it, we need an emergence of self confident, self believing African individuals who are ready to steer and propel this continent forward and this begins by creating identities built on consciousness. Kwame Nkrumah consistently reiterated the fact that political independence is not independence in its entirety. Independence begins in the mind.

We fight over resources, we face challenges in rising insecurity, and we have a youth demographic that is bursting at the seams. It is these youth who are picking these guns, youth who are frustrated and experiencing numerous challenges on this resource rich continent.

Pan africanism is not about disowning our brothers fighting and focusing on our growth individually. Nor is it a reserve for intellectuals. Pan africanism is about accepting our challenges and moving forward together regardless of our diversity, an inclusive and collective effort in developing this continent to one of peace and prosperity.

As Mr. Kagoro stated, “The true emancipation of African youth lies in this consciousness that our humanity, our freedom and our justice is indivisible.” This involves inclusiveness and tolerating one other at our weakest moments; and that moment being right now with wars sweeping across the continent. A great example of this inclusiveness and toleration that I speak of is Malcolm X, the revolutionary young man who changed black history. Did you know that this man had attempted to straighten his hair and bleach his skin? Had society decided to shun this man based on this temporary moment of weakness, black history would not be what it is today.

Pan Africanism is about you and I consciously shedding light on this continent by telling our own stories, by helping each other arrive at this consciousness in ways we know best. If a photographer, let not the gun but the camera shoot.

Many times as youth we do feel the need to critic and involve ourselves in the immature politics of hurling insults at our governments. We want to be ‘big’ without even peering through the window to know let alone concern ourselves with what our neighbor is doing or facing. Focusing solely on our economic progression without realizing it is our very regression. Let us resist the temptation to be important before our time and not put title and class before humanity.

If you develop yourself consciously I consider you pan African, if you help even just one other person arrive at this consciousness, I consider you too to be pan African. As Brian Kagoro put it, “In a world bound by such dark clouds of conflict, violence and bitterness, no one light suffices to dispel evil. Light many lights of peace, love and joint prosperity.”

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