Is Africa ready to rise?
It would seem that, to all intents and purposes, the days of Afro-pessimism is all but over. For many decades after independence, the African political and socioeconomic realities became so dismal and out of tune with the euphoria of independence that most scholars predict a very bleak future for the continent. Afro-pessimism is grounded on some solid empirical data of non-performance: bad leadership, authoritarian political regimes, crippling poverty, wars, capitalist exploitation, ethnic rivalries, economic depression social anomie; the list of dysfunction is endless. Nkrumah’s prediction about the emancipatory necessity of seeking the political kingdom turned out to be only politically dramatic. All the other economic, cultural and social packages of post-independence luxuries were not added.
However, pessimism also has its limit. The democratic awakening all over the world has also caught up with Africa. Since the 90s, African governments have also been involved in series of processes, programmes and events that signal a concern over the African predicament and the future of the African people. The urgent call to open up the governance space and make economic participation more inclusive has led to significant policy initiatives on the continent. We have had the Lagos Plan of Action, The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as institutional dynamics to monitor governance relationship between the government and the governed in Africa. The result is what scholars and global organisations have called the ‘Africa Rising’ phenomenon, a situation in which many economies in Africa—Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Zambia, Uganda, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, etc.—were achieving above 7.0% economic growth.
Given all this right moves in the right direction, it appears the right time to rescue the optimism that ushered in the first liberation from colonialism and the second one that enabled Africa do away with sight-tight tyrants who took over at independence. The third liberation seems like a wakeup call to get African states on to the democratic governance and development advocacy campaign all around the globe to make the citizens the centre point of decision making and policy development that are transparent and accountable to those to be affected by the policies.
The third liberation argument, according to its proponents, is “the liberation from political economies characterised by graft, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, elitism and, inevitably, widening (and destabilising) social inequality.” This optimism about the third liberation of African economies is premised on three elements that give Africa an enormous edge in developmental terms—a human capital strength grounded in Africa’s youthful and highly educated population; a rapidly evolving and entrepreneurial private sector; and an enormous natural resource base. The challenge is therefore straightforward: Can African states convert their ongoing economic momentum into governance frameworks for defeating unemployment, poverty and the infrastructural deficit that plagues the continent?
Institutions and the curse of underdevelopment
In order to understand the significance of the preceding question, there is a need to subject optimism and theoretical projections to the test of empirical evidence accruing from economic data. This exercise reveals a certain paradox: Africa seems to be rising while still starkly underdeveloped. In spite of the optimism arising from the economic growth rate in the last few years, Africa is still third and not first world; Cameroon is still very far from Indonesia, and Ghana still lacks the governance stature of Malaysia. In comparative terms, how was it possible for Singapore and Nigeria, two erstwhile third world countries, to be so different in the space of thirty years? What explains the extraordinary difference in development level between the two countries?
There are two historical arguments that have been pushed to answer these questions. The first is the geography argument, which is as old as two European philosophers—Montesquieu and Kant. The argument is simple: geography is a determinant of prosperity and poverty. This is why the rich countries are concentrated in the temperate regions while the poor ones—Asia, South America and Africa—are to be found in the tropical regions, especially the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. At first glance, this hypothesis seems cogent. According to Jeffrey Sachs, there is a sense in which the sun-baked tropical sun reduces the chance of productive agriculture while tropical diseases have a way of affecting the labour forces. However, the theory is falsified simply by identifying countries which are relatively highly developed and prosperous in the tropic; namely, Botswana, Japan, South Korea, China, South Africa, etc. The second argument is the culture hypothesis. This argument has a very strong advocate in Max Weber, the German sociologist. It states that prosperity and poverty are the function of cultural values and attitudes that are either conducive or resistant. For instance, the Protestant work ethic in the Western society says a lot about progress in those societies whereas profligacy, superstition and laziness undermine productive work in some other societies.
The third argument which has gained enormous ground in development studies has to do with the significance of institutions in the grounding of development and progress in any nation. A few years ago, while on his first visit to Africa, President Barack Obama made the famous statement that Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions. This argument makes the important point that the evolution of strong institutions in Africa ensures that institutional procedures, values and regulations are enough to reduce the arbitrary behaviour of rapacious and corrupt individuals whose negative attitude are anti-developmental. Thus, once a state develops the political will to transform its various socioeconomic and political structures into sturdy institutions, then such institutions then carry the burden of facilitating development planning and national progress.
According to Acemoglu and Robinson, the authors of Why Nations Fail (2012), the prosperity and the poverty of nations around the globe are explainable in term of the type of institutions they allow to flourish.
Thus, nations that develop inclusive institutions prosper, while nations whose institutions are essentially extractive remain poor. Extractive institutions are those that exist solely to exploit the national resources for the benefits of the elites in the society. of course, there would be some meagre economic growth resulting from the elites’ desire to keep their economic base functioning to their gain. But in the final analysis, extractive institutions lead to long term impoverishment for the large populations. On the other hand, inclusive institutions are founded on the democratic premise of opening up the governance space to enable political and economic participation of the citizens in the decision making processes of the society. in other words, such institutions facilitate the entrepreneurial and creative economic energies of the individual citizens and what s/he is able to contribute to the larger economic growth of the state.
There is no doubt that the institution hypothesis is central to the understanding of Africa’s third liberation. If the rhetoric of ‘Africa Rising’ must be squared with the evidence of gross underdevelopment in terms of literacy, poverty, inflation, income inequality, gender imbalance and unemployment, then we need a deep understanding of how Africa’s basic institutional dynamics have remained essentially extractive, and its political orientation has remained patrimonial.
Africa’s terrible postcolonial trajectory began immediately after independence with a statist political dogma inherited from the framework of the colonial state in Africa. The colonial state was perforce a violent state devoid of any of the positive, legitimizing mutual links and reciprocal dynamics of rights and obligations between state and society. The transition from the colonial to the post-colonial stateoccasioned, to a large extent, a direct carry-over and continuation of colonial attitudes, values and modus operandi by Africa’s nationalist elite. This inevitable consequence of this transition was the evolution of an authoritarian and centralized control over the polity and the eventual stifling of any democratic tendency. It is not therefore surprising that the immediate post-independence period was marred by the one-party ideology and the scourge of military rule which lasted well into the 90s.
The result of this approach is not only to stifle all opposition and the opportunity for more viable alternatives to development, it has also meant the use of the bureaucracy as a means of political intervention in the economy and society, thereby compromising its neutrality, impartiality and anonymity. In addition, it strengthens the bureaucracy’s power vis-à-vis other institutions, and also renders it immune from accountability, whether from the people or their representatives. A politicized bureaucracythat loses its neutrality and impartiality becomes dysfunctional in terms of having a highly compromised capacity to rationally and efficiently allocate resources for development purposes.
We therefore have a statement of how the institutions dominating the political and economic landscape of most African states were already compromised in terms of how the rules of the budding African states would be made, and in whose interests. Furthermore, the patrimonial nature of the operation of these institutions ensures that they would be essentially extractive rather than inclusive. The reason for their non-inclusive nature is to be found squarely within the euphoria-induced neglect of the political leadership.
Let me explain. The abundant literature on anticolonialism and nationalist protests against colonialism points at a vigorous attempt by the nationalist elites to wrest power away from the colonizers in other to establish a continental wide reconstruction of the national spaces of the African states. Unfortunately, once political independence was achieved, it became the gateway not to an unfolding template of emancipatory politics but rather a path to untold postcolonial socioeconomic anomie and deprivation of all forms. The simple reason is the unwillingness of the nationalist elites to deconstruct the state and its apparatuses which colonialism left behind as a ‘legacy’.
But then, the institutional argument requires some serious readjustment. The preceding analysis demonstrates that institutionalism cannot be understood except in the light of cultural values and valuation which underpin elite behaviour and becomes eventually critical to development or underdevelopment. So, while we can outrightly reject the geography argument as not supported by empirical fact, there are abundant data to recommend that culture plays a very significant role in prosperity and poverty in any state. And furthermore, the kind of cultural values and attitudes that state’s elites favour serve as the template for understanding the difference between extraction and inclusion in institutional dynamics.
In ‘A Cultural Typology of Economic Development,’ Grondona outlines twenty cultural factors with two contrasting poles that could facilitate economic development or resist it: religion (whether it is ‘publican’, favours the poor and therefore resists development or it is pharisaic’, favours the rich and hence promotes incentive for investment); trust/mistrust in individual’s entrepreneurial creativity; moral imperative (whether the citizens comply with the laws and norms or operate in a ‘real world of furtive immorality’); wealth (whether it consists of what exists—land, or what does not yet exist—innovation); competition (whether it is condemned or accepted as the key to excellence); justice (as concerned with the present alone or with future generation); value of work; attitude to doubt/heresy; the role of education (as innovative or brainwashing); the significance of utility (the practical or the theoretical); lesser virtues (the difference between tidiness, courtesy, punctuality and love, justice, courage); time focus (the worship of the past or the control of the immediate future); rationality (the difference between smaller achievements and grandiose planning); authority (whether power resides in the law or in individuals); worldview (the world as setting for action or the search for utopia); life view (does life happen to me or I am the chief protagonist in life’s drama?); salvation (escape the world or transform it); utopianism (is utopia nearby or beyond reach); optimism (due to personal effort or the gods); democracy (absolutist or liberal).
We can easily extrapolate how each of these values can be turned into a signifier of development-resistant values which have not only undermined the process of institutionalization but have equally turned Africa into the most underdeveloped zone on the globe. But we can also extend Grondona’s thought into specific cultural outline of efficiency in democratic governance. First, while leadership and the grounding of viable and sustainable institution are keys to establishing democratic governance in Africa, we must not lose sight of the critical significance of followership in democratic and developmental purposes. For instance, the conceptual dimension of the recent slogan of ‘stomach infrastructure’ in Nigeria speaks to a psychology of poverty conditioned by the emptiness of the policy architecture to deliver concrete outcomes that could alleviate endemic suffering in Nigeria. Second, policy failure in service delivery points at a culture of instrumentality that undermines any and every attempt at a policy renaissance. This implies the need for the anti-corruption campaign to actively unravel the stranglehold of the vested interests on Africa’s development efforts.
Third, Grondona’s cultural typology also speaks to the need to ground accountability on competitive meritocracy rather than the rabid ethnic agenda that eventually undermines democratic governance. Fourth, there is the need to decouple the educational policy from the tendency to politicise almost every sensitive dimension of the development dynamics. Fifth, there is the urgency of profiling the religious mentality that alienate the citizens from development dynamics through a prosperity theology that direct the citizens’ effort towards miracle rather than the necessity for hard work and frugality. Sixth, and finally, Africa must urgently heed the warning not to found the democratic culture on an absolutist rather than a liberal framework. Absolutism negates issues of accountability and transparency in ways that make development regressive.
But the larger insight is to turn these issues into a larger template for rethinking the idea of democratic governance on the one hand, and the relationship between culture and institutions as the engine of economic development on the other.
Democracy and the governance paradigm
Governance simply refers to the authority wielded by a government over the political and administrative affairs of a society. It is the totality of the governing dynamics which include the rules of engagement by which the government interact with the governed, the decision making processes, and the policies put in place to make the society function. In governance, we are concerned about the manners in which the norms and values, regulations and rules, policies, procedures and processes, and actions are established, implemented, sustained, evaluated and held accountable. Traditionally, governance is reckoned in terms of the activities of government and its apparatuses, especially the public service system (i.e. bureaucracy). Specifically, traditional governance concerns how the government goes about the process of delivering public services to its citizens in a manner that is efficient and effective and would make their lives meaningful.
But since the 90s, there has been a serious clamour for a critical redefinition of the role of the state in governance issues. This led to the subsequent opening up of the governance space to accommodate non-state and non-elected actors, markets, networks and partnerships also complicit in policy processes, implementation and democratic service delivery. However, opening up the governance space raises very crucial problems for what we can call a democratic auditing of the governance processes. In other words, while democracy raises the issues of transparency and accountability in the decision making and policy crunching processes, these democratic values are compounded once the governance space is enlarged to involve non-state actors and networks. This is where the concept of ‘good governance’ makes its appearance.
The idea of ‘good governance’ ties the issues of democracy, development and governance together. It implies a normative understanding of the social contract between the government and the citizens that insists that any decision made on behalf of the people must be such that leads, in the final analysis, to the betterment and empowerment of the citizens.
Governance is ‘good’ to the extent that the policy making processes and the institutions are transparent, accountable in a manner that promote such democratic norms and values like pluralism, accountability, participation, rule of law, equality, etc.
It is very easy to see how the good governance dynamics facilitate development. When the institutions of any state are grounded on democratic tenets and ethos, it becomes smoother to facilitate the tackling of development problems like poverty, unemployment, income/gender inequality, environmental degradation, insecurity, etc.
There are eight criteria for identifying good governance. First, there is an open playing field for participation in the decision making processes in the state. Second, a state must build trust and responsiveness that ensure that the needs of the citizens are adequately addressed at reasonable times. Third, good governance, especially within the context of the plural states in Africa, requires that such states must always seek fair means by which differences—ethnicity, religion, language, class and gender—can be mediated with a mind towards consensus and consistency. Fourth, good governance fundamentally implies accountability. A state must be accountable to those affected by the decisions made and the policies implemented. Fifth, and as a corollary of the fourth, accountability presumes transparency. This simply means that the stat must always strive to make the decision making processes as open as possible so that those affected would be given the understanding of what government is doing and why.
Transparency requires that government must always justify its decisions and actions to its citizens. Sixth, good governance also requires that the various institutions involved in the decision making processes must operate by legally binding frameworks that are fair, impartial and incorruptible. Seventh, there must also be a system of visioning in place that ensures that good governance is backstopped by a process of development continuity in economic and social terms. And eight, the fundamental objective of good governance is to guarantee the rights of individuals while improving their well-being in a manner that is inclusive and participatory. Anything other than these eight principles can only be bad governance.
My final hypothesis is that the breakthrough for African development lies in our capacity to facilitate a unique relationship between democratic consolidation and institutional stability. Good governance, in other words, can only become viable if we can locate its sustainability within two seemingly contradictory truths: On the one hand, cultural frameworks have the capacity to shape the political and economic behaviour, as well as the democratic institutions, of the society. On the other hand, institutional consolidation in any society is essentially significant for undermining cultural traditions. In the last part of this paper, I will discuss how these variables factor into Nigeria’s national development, especially within the change paradigm of the present President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) administration. I expect that the conclusions I will be drawing within the Nigerian political experiment would resonate with a larger continental implications that could enable us make some significant developmental progress.
Democracy is productivity is development: Change and its contents
Nigeria holds a lot of fascination and significance for Africa. When recently in 2013, Nigeria rebased it Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from $270 billion to $510 billion, the more than 90% increase confirmed its economic strength and size over most other African states. Nigeria also wields a demographic advantage as the most populous country in Africa, and hence the one with the most potential to convert the entrepreneurial energies of its youthful population into a solid economic capital. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s foreign relation slogan of being ‘the giant of Africa’ lost its appeal within the context of her gross inability to convert her comparative advantages to socioeconomic national strength. For instance, apart from the economic and demographic strength, Nigeria is also considered the corrupt and the most religious country in Africa.
The fundamental question facing the PMB administration of change is: How does real change translate into a real paradigm shift in terms of democratic governance and development? It is to be expected, with all empirical evidences, that when democracy inflects the governance dynamics of a state, the impact is felt by the extent to which the democratic institutions impede the corrupt actions of state officials and politicians. The reduction in corruption, again to be expected, leads to increase in productivity, technological advancement and economic development. This is not a seamless transition as Nigeria and many African states prove. Nigeria’s institutional dynamics is still in the throes of maturation, and hence still grappling with the necessity of imbibing democratic stability doses that would strengthen it against negative cultural values. According to the World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index for 2015-2016, South Africa ranked 49 with a 4.4 value while Nigeria ranked 124, out of 140 states, with a value of 3.5. The GCI provides deep insight into the drivers of productivity and prosperity.
So, change must work. But, there is no chance to make that happen in a sequential manner. The struggle to consolidate democracy must be simultaneous with the effort to entrench a sustainable productivity paradigm as the basis of a new social contract with Nigerians based on sincerity, trust, transparency and accountability. How then can the PMB change narrative be turned radically into a game changer in the democracy-governance-development dynamics in Nigeria? I have three fundamental suggestions that, I believe, have deep implications for other African countries.
What seems most immediate is the need for a productivity model that would not only address Nigeria’s dwindling revenue base and the enormous cost of governance, but also seek to leverage the efficient productive framework that would enable us to produce more with less. The productivity exigency also requires a comprehensive reform package that would speak critically to the capacity readiness of the public service system to backstop government policy execution and management. This is because good governance and its democratic components must necessarily lead to the stimulation of administrative reforms that improve government capacity to affect its citizens’ lives. For instance, without optimally functional MDAs, there is no hope that any state would ever achieve a productive level that can serve as the governance basis for democracy to function in a manner that can qualitatively improve the lives of the citizens.
At the other end of the institutional renewal and reconstructive national surgery is the need for a wide-spread reorientation of national values as the basis by which any state can reengineer its fundamental institutions. Etounga-Manguelle calls this a ‘cultural adjustment program’ which involves infusing institutions with those African humanistic values—solidarity, social interaction, love of neighbours, care for the environment, etc. (2000: 75). The cultural adjustment program, according to Etounga-Manguelle, must begin urgently in four significant sectors: education, economics, politics and social life. For instance, an educational reform must find a way to achieve a curricula that promote a discursive collaboration between science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the humanities and social sciences (HSS). Education is also very significant as the bedrock for the establishment of development-friendly values—meritocracy, civility, patriotism, critical thinking, creativity and imaginativeness, respect for differences in terms of religion, gender, culture, etc.
In this wise, there is a crucial need, within Nigeria, to reform the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the organisation saddled with the task of value awareness and rearticulation. To all intents and purposes, NOA is presently nothing more than a pedestrian organisation without any national clout. A deep reform of its organisational strength will involve elevating the agency’s operational capacity in a way that enables it to deploy research tools towards creating some value and attitudes guidelines and practical initiatives that could be integrated into development policies, planning and programmes. The objective of value reorientation Nigeria requires for achieving development is huge, and NOA is barely even managing to scratch its surface.
The objective is simple but fundamental: the gradual but steady evolution of a new mental model that shifts focus away from the culture of patronage to meritocracy, from short-term to long-term considerations, from indolence to hard work, from certificated illiteracy to reflective practices and skills orientation, from profligacy and rabid consumerism to an investment mentality, etc.
The possibility of achieving this translates into a genuine collaboration between NOA and (a) the ministry of education, (b) the National Universities Commission (NUC) and all Nigerian universities, (c) the Nigerian judicial system which could backstop the incentivization and justiciability of the values and attitudes Nigeria wants to inculcate in its citizens.
Africa’s institutional renewal must be accompanied simultaneously by the deliberate manufacturing of a critical mass of new national elite grounded on purposeful and professional leadership in politics and administration. This new corps of patriotic leaders would be delineated by their conscientious and purposeful attitude to service as a Levitical vocation. The best way to manufacture this new generation of national leaders would be to achieve a deep reform of the system of incentives and reward in the national economy.
––Being the text of the speech delivered by Dr. Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), as guest lecturer at 3rd Covenant University International Conference on African Development last week