On Friday June 14, as I tuned into the 2013 edition of the New York Africa Forum in Libreville, Gabon, alot went through my mind. The focal points of this year’s forum centred on urgent issues ranging from pressing issues such as peace-keeping, security, good governance, Africa to Africa partnership for growth, youth participation, the role and obsession with China’s involvement in Africa and of course economic growth. There were varying perspectives by alot of non-Africans about what Africa needs, what will work in Africa; some more idealistic than others, I was particularly fascinated by the perception of ex-African leaders and government officials on varying subject matters.
It was interesting to hear about their struggles, fears and how they rate their performance in office in comparison to the present state of their individual countries. The most interesting for me was the panel moderated by CNN’s Vladimir Duthiers with discussants, Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa’s president D.E. Klerk. This panel saw two former presidents in Africa disagree on issues of governance and economic development. It led me to wonder; if African leaders struggle to agree on what works, what role should advanced economies play in “cooking and dishing out” African solutions?
The nature of the discussion during this panel raised some very interesting questions for me. The disagreement points were highlighted when an audience member asked what the two presidents thought about the intensely growing unemployment rates across Africa and how best to reduce the growing numbers. President D.E. Klerk highlighted the important role the private sector should play in curbing unemployment and that the government cannot do it and should therefore play a minimal role.
President Obasanjo disagreed, proposing that yes the private sector is important but, unless the government were frontiers of job creation; ensuring wealth distribution, creating the conditions for small businesses to emerge, encouraging healthy competition thus creating more jobs and also act as effective regulators of the private sector, Africa rising would indeed remain rising popular myth, as poverty and inequality continues to grow in the midst of plenty. This is so because, there are no evidence directly pointing to intentional policies that lead to the Africa’s sporadic growth story. With globalization, timing, technology, African economies were bound to take off, however, because it was not intentional, such growth was not prepared for. As a result, it highlights challenges such as inequality which would have otherwise been less obvious. Supporting President Obasanjo’s stance that government cannot afford to play a passive role in inducing job creation and reducing inequality.
President Obasanjo went ahead to give an example of how during his term in office, Africa’s billionaire Dangote was importing Dangote’s cement and he approached Dangote asking why he imported cement? Dangote said it was cheaper to do so than produce locally so he asked “what would it cost you and my administration for it to be locally produced?” They eventually worked together to make that happen. It is important to note that this was done without the help of the “almighty” China, leading me to question;
Should African government seek to replicate each others’ methodologies and also what works in advanced capitalist democracies? Evidently no. Yet for the past two decades, development has meant exactly that. Global conferences and forums gather yearly to make unrealistic recommendations for Africa when even across Africa we differ and cannot even agree on what works. Millions of dollars are spent annually on initiatives seeking to make private enterprise work in Africa as it does in the United States, projects seeking to make elections work as they do in Sweden, public goods and service scrutiny as they do in Germany and civil society as it works in the Netherlands, treating Africa as if it were a country rather than a continent with varying nations with different culture and ways of doing thing thus, cannot seem to agree on what works, forgetting that there is no fixed component of what good governance is and that African democracies are fairly young, as a result will go through series of trial and error to get to what works in the long run.
Challenging the Norm
As it is currently, the term “good governance” has no tangible disposition to it. Regardless of the continuous uncovering of these challenges, recommendations for Africa’s governance advancement continues to mirror what seems suitable in developed countries and in practice in developing nations is usually to the advantage of elite, government and donor nations, instead of paying attention to history, learning from experience, such ideology fails to consider context, time-scale and trade-offs. In bid to change this assumption, an initiative by the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP) is seeking to influence by building on tangible evidence on what works and what does not work in the African context. Its focus is divided into four key areas; (1) the implication of a best fit approach (2) the relationship between elections, empowerment and public policies (3) development leadership and nature of regimes in practice and lastly (4) what is required to improve the efficiency of aid flow.
Best practice or Best fit?
The idea of a universally accepted methodology in measuring approaches to effective governance for development is at best unrealistic. As there is no institutionally accepted design valid across board for all stages of a nation’s development therefore, it is impossible to measure. And as such, a suitable approach to governance for development is best fit not best practice as is globally accepted. And that relates to being prepared to question ideological efforts, vested interested and the political pressure that promotes institutional identical replication at a global and continental level. No elections can be conducted in South Africa as is done in Sweden and also, trying to structure Nigeria’s upcoming election to fit how Kenya’s concluded election was is a recipe for disaster; success for Kenya is no way near what Nigeria needs .
If anything can be drawn from the 2013 Nigerian and South African president’s panel at the New York Africa Forum is that, institutional innovations work when they are built constructively on existing platforms of what is working. As supported by the APPP initiative; institutions in the African context are referred to as good when when they can be imported to a globally generic approach and be adapted to individual local context. In the local context, the people’s need hierarchy of preference is more important than the government preference as measurement requires local inputs and not what the government says. Governance is shifting and shaping performance measurement and as such more attention needs to be paid to localizing solutions to fit what the people want before giving the people what they need. Nigerians want jobs yet the government feel paying millions of dollars monthly to maintain temporary peace in a country where children go to bed on an empty stomach daily is more important. In measuring development; whose voice should measurement be based upon; the people or the government? Very recently, the Nigerian president told CNN’s Christine Amanpour that the issue of electricity in Nigeria was improving and that our economy was growing and GDP growing was spreading to create more jobs. Nigerians took to social media to disagree with the president’s opinion and the world is beginning to pay more attention to Nigerians than what the leaders say at the G8 summit meetings and the fancy economic reports.
Localize Problem Solving
There is a clear implication for the government and civil society support systems to help at the local level. Direct funding of research, implementation groups and organisations inevitably means developing specific institution formats, to monitor control and accountability purposes. That said, this could have a negative impact on the capacities for genuine self-help. More attention should be paid to openness, to initiatives that are both technically sensible and locally anchored. Locally anchored refers to locally driven,culturally considerate and accepted by local people both at the community level and within a multi-stakeholder setting. It is worth noting that this process is cost intensive as it invents everything from scratch. Apparently, culturally recognized methodologies with prospect are beneficial when they are to be built upon as identified on a case by case bases.
Public Goods and Voting
In the long run, democracy is certainly a desirable goal and a more efficient approach of improving public policies in all societies. However, its effectiveness is dependent on social and economic structures lacking in Nigeria and much of Africa. Furthermore, competitive elections, checks and balances and other components of a typical liberal democracy have undoubted advantages if it can be made to work in Africa. However, it is ultimately relevant to measure these things in realistic terms. Evidently, the formal arrangements of the average liberal democracy is radically different in varying forms of social and economic context. Much of Africa’s young democracy are not necessarily developmental as much as it is about freedom of expression even that is recently threatened by tyrant democracy. It is obvious in practice why this is the case; the components of a functioning democracy is still lacking in much of Africa, ultimately, it is a governance challenges. This further explains why inequality is growing, because the void of these lacking components, is required to implement the trickle-down effect, as such, the elites gain due to their power and influence in society.
In many cases, clientelism is cheaper and more certain for desperate politicians than hurdles of “raw” campaigns and debates to depend on flamboyant unrealistic promises . From the voter’s perspective, there is usually very little evidence supporting politicians’ ability to deliver, often they jump on the targeted benefits believed their candidates will channel to them. As such, the big question remains; is it a mistake to believe that more and cleaner elections are a reliable approach to ensure improved public policies and more development? Additionally, without development, democratic deepening is likely to diminish overtime, and the dividends of democracy such as freedom of expression, press and the people will become more and more scarce, a route the present administration in Nigeria is pushing towards.
The Illusion of Citizens Empowerment
The mustering of citizens as clients of public goods and services is another dimension by which more realistic measures is required however, in Nigeria there is yet to be a localized toolbox of what such agenda consist of . The APPP has re-assessed the tangibility upon which such assumption is based, particularly since the 2004 World Development Reports on service delivery. I find that the feedback to be obtained from citizens (client) empowerment by advocating openness and transparency has been overly hyped on the basis of fragmentary reading of tad-bits evidence. There is strong evidence suggesting that client voice is a weak determinant of result based accountability if it is not accompanied by strong top-down pressures of some sort. Mechanisms for elevating incentives within government institutions are essential components of performance improvement.
Speculating on the demand perspectives may seem somewhat harmless, however, doing so can provide evidence for all those who rather not tackle the challenges and are chiefly responsible for the poor quality of public goods in Nigeria. Ultimately, these are leadership challenges.
Raising Development Leaders?
President Obasanjo told a story how he recently asked a fellow African president who was not re-elected why he did not want to leave office and the response he got was that “there was nobody suitable and capable for replacement. President Obasanjo went ahead to suggest that maybe it was time for there to be a school for emerging and intending politicians to ensure thorough leadership training and mentorship from former leaders. He also suggest that while in office, leaders should not forget to replicate themselves in preparation for continuity of their good works. What Nigeria and much of Africa is currently lacking is good leaders with the right mix, as well as constructing sufficiently inclusive coalition of support. It is therefore, significant that external factors such as donors, international communities and ex-leaders are capable of; (a) recognising development leadership pattern when they see it, by becoming more accommodating to the varying forms of democracies and how they function. (b) Refrain from tendencies to assess African policies using the the Chinese, India or the globally accepted components.
The implication of best fit at context-specific level is that external actors base their conclusions and policy dialogue on a thorough understanding of predominant institutional arrangement. As a result, lend support to aspects of the set-up that are efficient enough for development than than paying attention to the preconceived norms and expectations. For Nigeria, this may mean taking cues from the citizens and social media provides a platform for that. Further, the APPP initiative confirms that, a fairly perfect standards of accountability and transparency are often considered usable as long as there is peace, development is tangible and the distribution of benefits among the various sectors of society is perceived as mostly fair.
In appraising government support to private investment, for example, the challenge is not whether or not policies meet the criteria applied to developed nations; level playing field, minimizing rent seeking and arms length regulation as these norms are not only a tasking criteria to achieve but, according to the APPP, it has relatively severe weakness and chance of failing to address some of the central challenges facing Nigeria. Nigeria needs to stop obsessing with what is working for Ghana, Kenya, America or England and take its eyes away from what is not working and start looking at what is working right now and build on that.
The challenge however, remains convincing the government and citizens that development challenges are as much about institutional blockages as about focusing on what is working right now, as this has implications for where and how money is being spent.