The Politics of Good Governance: The State, Legitimacy and Development in Africa
To what extent do ordinary African citizens demand good government? How do people living in extreme poverty avoid or engage directly or indirectly with political actors and institutions? And how is statehood perceived and practiced in daily life?
These were some of the questions that were addressed during a NORHED project conference recently organized in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, by the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) and University of Malawi’s Department of Political and Administrative Studies (PAS). The conference – entitled “The Politics of Good Governance: The State, Legitimacy and Development in Africa” – brought together participants from academia, think tanks, diplomats and development agencies.
The state - border guard and engine of development
According to the noted political scientist Francis Fukuyama, while recent years have seen considerable interest in the study of political institutions that limit or check power, far less attention has been awarded to the institution that accumulates and uses this power – the state. The conference, which was officially opened by Mr. Bjarne Garden, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Lilongwe, provided an opportunity to debate issues related to the legitimacy of the state and its role in fostering (or constraining) development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Bård Anders Andreassen from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo accordingly observed that as the state is “both the border guard and engine of development”, it has an instrumental value in fostering development, again highlighting the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
While recent years have seen considerable interest in the study of political institutions that limit or check power, far less attention has been awarded to the institution that accumulates and uses this power – the state.
Supply and demand of democratic governance
An important discussion that arose during the conference related to the normative nature of linking democracy to good governance, and the intrinsic vs. instrumental value of democracy as perceived by African citizens. Dr. Happy Kayuni, from the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College argued that evidence from Malawi shows that contrary to much theory, the poor are more likely to have voted in elections than the non-poor. The poor are also, however, more vigilant about the quality of democracy, and less satisfied with what it supplies than the non-poor. This feature, argued some, could possibly be attributed to the non-poor (e.g. middle class groups) being less dependent on the state as a service provider. Professor Dan Banik illustrated how a weak and at times an invisible state may perform certain visible functions, such as establishing roadblocks, to insert itself in people’s daily lives and thereby make itself more visible, legitimate and credible to its citizens. Several discussions at the event addressed how state legitimacy is related with government responsiveness and quality of political leadership, with some arguing that the annulment of the recent Kenyan election results is a landmark decision for democracy in the African continent.
Evidence from Malawi shows that contrary to much theory, the poor are more likely to have voted in elections than the non-poor.
The colonization of state interest
Another set of discussions focused on the interplay between the state and other non-state actors, such as civil society organizations, opposition parties and development assistance donors. The exchanges highlighted the importance of exploring the potentially adverse influence of external actors on the legitimacy and effectiveness of the
African state. Dr. Pearson Nkhoma from the Center for Multiparty Democracy provoked discussion with his paper on the influence of the donor on the African state, and the “colonization of interest”. He argued that the performance of the state could not be seen without also taking note of the “other state”, the donor, who “pulls the strings” and controls interests with its financial power. Dr. Nandini Patel from the Catholic University of Malawi and Dr. Ngeyi Kanyongolo from the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College used case studies of privatization of previously state-owned institutions and the electoral reforms process in Malawi to illustrate the impact of respectively international agencies and bilateral donors on political and economic development in Malawi. A selected number of papers presented at this conference will be published in a special issue of a development studies journal in 2018.
Performance of the state in Malawi can not be seen without also taking note of the “other state”, the donor, who “pulls the strings” and controls interests with its financial power.