Democracy and Development in Africa

While a visiting scholar at Brookings, Claude Ake wrote "Democracy and Development in Africa" (1995), published by Brookings. As nearly three decades have passed, I focus less on the specifics (e.g., agricultural policy recommendations) and highlight the general arguments, a few notes:

"Many factors have been offered to explain the apparent failure of the development enterprise in Africa: the colonial legacy, social pluralism and centrifugal tendencies, the corruption of leaders, poor labour discipline, the lack of entrepreneurial skills, poor planning and incompetent management, inappropriate policies, the stifling of market mechanisms, low levels of technical assistance, the limited inflow of foreign capital, falling commodity prices and unfavourable terms of trade, and low levels of saving and investment. These factors are not irrelevant to the problem, Alone or in combination they could be serious impediments to development. However, the assumption so readily made that there has been failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development." (p. 1)

"African leaders adopted the ideology of development to replace that of independence. But as it turned out, what was adopted was not so much an ideology of development as a strategy of power that merely capitalized on the objective need for development... The emphasis was shifted to a dedication to hard work; East African leaders changed the nationalist slogan from Uhuru (freedom) to Uhuru na Kaze (freedom means hard work). The hard work was to be done literally in silence; the overriding necessity of development was coupled with the overriding necessity for obedience and conformity. African leaders insisted that development needs unity of purpose and the utmost discipline, that the common interest is not served by oppositional attitudes. It was easy to move from there to the criminalization of political opposition and the establishment of single-party systems." (p. 8-9)

"African leaders and the international development community alike are now less interested in grand strategies of development. The emphasis has shifted to pragmatism, to such policy instruments and options as encouraging foreign investment, eliminating or reducing the debt burden, improving the terms of trade, and realizing greater production, export intensity, and better prices for commodities. Those options suggest that development can be achieved by relatively modest adjustments on the vertical relationship between Africa and the North. However, doing so is not an appropriate policy option." (p. 112)

"The African experience shows that exogencity defeats democracy, whatever the intentions of the developmental and economic policies associated with it. External development agents, who are presumably democrats, have felt constrained to give market reform priority over democracy. The most important issue of public policy, namely, structural adjustment programs (SAPs), is not subject to democratic choice, because the agents distrust the people's ability to choose correctly on an issue in which "the right choice" is absolutely clear. At the same time, SAPs are so draconian that they are assumed to require imposition." (p. 120) 

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The Concept of Human Rights in Africa

"Human rights talk constitutes one of the main elements in the ideological armoury of imperialism. Yet from the point of view of the African people, human rights struggles constitute the stuff of their daily lives. For these two interconnected reasons, human rights talk needs to be subjected to a closer historical and political scrutiny." (p. vii)

The above quote is drawn from the book "The Concept of Human Rights in Africa" (1989) by Issa G. Shivji (Professor of Law, University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania). Shivji writes with a fire that ignites. Parts are dated, as one would expect from a book published in 1989,  others remain provocative and topical for today. This is well worth a read for anyone interested in human rights, and in particular those looking for alternative voices on the subject. Chapter 1 (on the discourse) is reflective of the 80s, however the historical review of the legal basis of human rights remains important. The critique waged in Chapter 2 puts down "fundamental premises" and "political and ideological consequences of such a discourse on the anti-imperialist, democratic struggles of the broad masses", which inspire continued debate and discussion. The latter chapters, on the way forward and examples of dominant and revolutionary tendencies, is situated at the end of 1980s but provides examples for how analyses might be undertaken of more recent human rights agreements. This book was also published by CODESRIA (as a number of other books by African authors in the social sciences). Some quotes:

"Just as in the early Christian crusades it was legitimate to save the soul even if it meant trampling the body, so in the human rights crusade it was fair to protect rights even while napalming the humans. 'Human rights ideology' is an ideology of domination and part of the imperialist world outlook. Like other ideologies of domination in yester-epochs, the dominant human rights ideology claims and proclaims universality, immortality and immutability while promulgating in practice class-parochialism, national oppression and 'patronising' authoritarianism." (p. 3)

"Classical democracy is linked with the Western bourgeoisie which arose in Europe during the revolution that overthrew feudalism in, what have since been called, bourgeois democratic revolutions. The bourgeoisie marched apace and within a century transformed their countries of birth while marauding the rest of the world and planting its fangs all over the globe, including Africa. While unashamedly taking under its wings varied reactionary and backward social forces, from feudalists to zamindars and chiefs..." (p. 5)

"Since the second world war, human rights talk has been one of the central planks in the foreign and domestic ideologies of the United States. It is clearly expressed in the cold-war struggle with the Soviet bloc on the one hand, and in the oppression and domination of the Third World, including Africa, on the other. In some periods more intensely than others, the human rights ideology has been used by different regimes in the US on both these levels. In this regard it has played a double, if contradictory, role. On the international level, it is a rationalization for interference and intervention as well as domination of the Third World countries ('in the interest of democracy and free world') and on the domestic level it is an important element in reproducing the hegemony of imperial-bourgeois ideology by bolstering the image of the US as a country maintaining civilised human standards internationally." (p. 53)

"This should not come as a surprise to any African who has the slightest knowledge of reality beyond the thin veneer of official imperialist 'brain washing'. Who does not know that Mobutu, who gracefully presides over death and detention chambers of Zaire, was installed by the CIA? Who is so ignorant as to forget that the Lion of Juddah (Haile Selassie), who turned his country into a jungle where people in their thousands starved to death in fear and famine, was one of the greatest beneficiaries of US military arsenal? Many know that the US is one of the staunchest allies of [apartheid] South Africa; the military supplier of UNITA in Angola; the benefactor of dictators like Banda and Moi and the protector of Liberia's military nincompoop Samuel Doe. On the one hand, these facts are so well-documented that they need no repetition, yet on the other hand they have been so successfully suppressed in the mainstream human rights scholarship that they need to be broadcast from roof-tops." (p. 55) 

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The Future of Africa

Looking for an introduction to the issues facing Africa today and into the future? Jakkie Cilliers' Open Access book "The Future of Africa: Challenges and Opportunities" (2021) is a good option, and is available for download here. The author is a leader in strategic studies focusing on Africa, founding an independent institute (Institute for Security Studies) in 1990. This book draws on decades of research, much of which is brought together in this book. The book is thematic in structure, with chapters on demographics, health, agriculture, education, poverty, inequality and growth, future of work, innovation, trade and growth, peace, governance, aid, remittances and FDI, and climate change. In each area, Cilliers takes a future orientation, based on the assumption that "Long-term trends are affected by deep drivers that are slow-moving but powerful, like demographics, education or commodity super cycles, which also unfold over decades" (p. 19). The book went to press when the global pandemic was in its early days and the Ukraine conflict yet to start, both of which give examples of the impact that shorter term events can have on the long term (no surprise to the author, I am sure, as these types of shocks are not new). It is hard to cover a continent in a book, and one might argue that such a task will almost necessarily result in exclusions and emphases of some countries at the expense of others (and potential biases in making those selections). Nonetheless, for students this is a good reference textbook. Chapters also have "further reading" suggestions, on the respective topics, which makes this additionally useful for students. 

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Elections and Development in Africa

What does democracy / democratization result in within African contexts? Robin Harding argues that due to the increase of elections, combined with a majority of many countries being rural, is an increase in rural interests as an outcome. The answer is summarized in his 2020 book "Rural Democracy: Elections and Development in Africa", which is part of Oxford's series on African Politics & International Relations. The book draws on doctoral work, with research done in Botswana and Ghana (which have case study chapters). This is a brief book of 169 pages, but makes a clear and compelling case for the this rural interest process as one influence on elections as well as outcomes of elections. I began the book skeptical, and probably shared some of the biases of the literature that focus on ethnicity and clientelism (interestingly, the countries I have more experience with are mostly not included in the 28 countries included in the sample). I would have liked to see some discussion on governance systems (Nigeria and South Africa, included in the sample, are federal; and South Africa is an outlier; in these contexts the expression of rural interests may differ. Would have also liked to see this tested not only in improvements of outcomes, but in actual expenditures. Could further strengthen the case, in both instances. Well worth a read (fortunately a paperback version makes the book somewhat more accessible to those beyond the gated walls of privileged academia - Oxford sells the hardback for $155!). Very short summary by the author is here.

From the start: "Elections are a powerful thing, but they are not a panacea. Despite being a means to peacefully manage conflict, they remain inherently conflictual, creating winners and losers out of those with competing interests and ideals. In light of this recognition, this book is in part an attempt to understand who has benefited from democratic electoral competition in sub-Saharan Africa, and why." (p. vii)

"Urbanites across Africa are unhappy with their governments. Evidence from public opinion data demonstrates this clearly; urbanites are significantly and substantially less likely to support incumbents, and more likely to express dissatisfaction with democracy itself. While there are likely multiple facets to any explanation for this situation, it is not merely the result of structural factors, because these differences transcend demographic variations, and differential access to information. My argument in this book is that the large residual differences, those unexplained by structural factors, result from the differential experiences of urban and rural residents with regard to government policy choices. Put simply, urbanites sense that they are getting a raw deal." (p. 54-55) 

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