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 Asian Aspiration

The Asian Aspiration: Why and How Africa Should Emulate Asia (2020), written by two Brenthurst Foundation employees (Greg Mills and Emily Van Der Merwe) and two former African leaders (Olusegun Obasanjo and Hailemariam Desalegn). The bulk of the book is 10 chapters presenting country case studies from Asia (including: Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China, and Vietnam). The book then turns to the lessons these countries offer for Africa. The ideas are generic enough not to disagree with: create jobs, learn from others and innovate, critical role of leadership and administrative capacity, build human capital via education, improve agricultural productivity, provide basic infrastructure, enable FDI. It is somewhat unclear the target audience of this book, if it was African policy makers one would have thought that making this book Open Access would have been important. If it is to the development studies academic sphere (as other recent Hurst publications, the book is more of a survey and synthesis than a new contribution per se). It also seems that part of this book is previously published material. Some notes:

"Japan's historical example shows how a focus on education can carry a country through different stages of industrialisation and make it resilient." (p. 37)

"Throughout interviews with the politicians, planners and doers (an unusually inseparable bunch in Singapore's case) of the 1960s, a number of issues came up time and time again. These can be summarised as leadership, execution and compromise. Overall, Singapore's continuous transformation and development speak of the importance of matching deeds with words and of careful planning. Its success illustrates the necessity of rooting actions in the population's principal needs..." (p. 72-73)

12 Lessons from Singapore are summarized as: unity of purpose, make the difficult trade-offs, change the patter of the colonial economy, build institutions, integrate don't isolate, catalyse don't capture, manage labour relations, work with comparative advantages, don't be a cheap date (use aid well, but don't rely on it), do some things differently. (with details on pages 289-295) 

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Know The Beginning Well

Lifelong development worker, K. Y. Amoako reflects on a career with the World Bank and United Nations in "Know the Beginning Well: An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development" (2020). The book is interesting in that the author shares inside views, but lacks critical reflection and does not offer any bold or new calls on 'the development question'. A few notes:

"The issue of racism and discrimination in the World Bank predated my arrival and outlasted my departure. I've mentioned the difficult environment that Africans faced in the 1970s, but the truth is that people of color - whether born in Africa, America, or anywhere else - have always had a tough time reaching the Bank's highest levels. According to data compiled for an internal review in 2003 and reported by the Washington based government accountability project in 2009, Black Bank employees were 36 present less likely to hold a managerial grade relative to equally qualified, non-black employees. Numbers like these are indicative of a pervasive imbalance, which the Bank has taken increasing steps to address: a racial equality program in 1998, an office in diversity program in 2001, and a code of conduct in 2009 that addressed discrimination and diversity, still the issue persists." (p. 45)

"Kofi Annan turned toward Meles and spoke before anyone else could. "I'm sure some men in your cabinet turn out to be incompetent," he said. "Why not give women a chance? they have a right to be incompetent too." (p. 237)

"He looked back at the most powerful men at the IMF and World Bank and told them point-black that African countries disliked working with their institutions - but had no choice. "Gentleman," he added, "if we were not poor, we would not come to you for help." That acknowledgement, a surprisingly raw statement that no one saw coming, summed up years of frustration for policymakers in developing African countries: without external lending and aid, there can be no long term development-but at what point will lenders start treating borrowers as partners and not beggars?" (p. 381)

"I issued a special invitation to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, an exceptionally thoughtful and forthright leader. True to his reputation, Meles deconstructed a litany of problems with the onerous business of donor assistance: the bureaucratic requirements, the contradictory conditions, the lack of clear criteria for compliance, the process of trying aid to the purchase of goods and services from donor countries, and the practice of seeking political influence through assistance. All these issues and more imperilled the effective use of aid, Meles argued, and they needed to be addressed alongside any discussion of ODA flows. His ultimate point was that donor accountability for development financing meant so much more than big commitments." (p. 395-396) 

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China's Gilded Age

China's Gilded Age (2020) by Yuen Yuen Ang is an accessible read that is well worth reading for multiple reasons. The book advances theoretical understandings on corruption and poverty, it presents creative methodologies that could inspire all sorts of new research, and presents unique findings that explain how China sustained high levels of economic growth alongside pervasive corruption. Ang also wrote the excellent book How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016).

A few notes (three long quotes, key arguments from the book):

"The durability and gigantic scale of Chinese economic expansion, juxtaposed with reports of "rising"and "explosive"corruption, cannot simply be brushed away by assertions of imminent collapse, even amid the current slowdown. How China has come this far –from an impoverished communist regime to a capitalist superpower rivaling the United States, despite a crisis of corruption that its leadership sees as "grave"and "shocking"–must be explained. This is the task of my book." (p. 5)

"Through an "unbundled"approach, my study draws a clear distinction between the quantity and quality of corruption. Wealthy economies may have low quantities of aggregate corruption, as measured by standard cross-national indices, but it doesn't mean that they have no corruption; rather, their corruption may be of a different quality –concentrated in access money, which is difficult to capture and not immediately growth-retarding. Contrary to popular beliefs, the rise of capitalism was not accompanied by the eradication of corruption, but rather by the evolution of the quality of corruption from thuggery and theft toward sophisticated exchanges of power and profit. Compared with countries that prospered earlier, China is still a relative newcomer on this evolutionary path... Why has China prospered alongside vast corruption? I offer a four-part explanation. First, the dominant type of corruption in China is access money –elite exchanges of power and wealth –rather than petty bribery or outright theft... access money may actually raise private investment –and even spur over-investment, as seen in China's real estate sector –thereby increasing growth, at least until the onset of a crisis." (p. 14)

"One of the most intractable problems of development is the trap of "corruption-causing-poverty-causing-corruption." In other words, countries are poor because they are corrupt, and they are corrupt because they are poor... The scholarly literature poses two solutions to this problem. The first is to "skip straight to Weber" by replicating the best practices of first-world public administration in developing countries. Pay is too low? Raise it. Bureaucracy is overstaffed? Slash it. Petty corruption is rampant? Vow to punish it. Although these measures appear correct in principle, in practice they routinely fail and may even backfire, raising administrative costs and undermining public sector morale. The second solution, as Fisman and Golden underscore, is to "trigger a change in social norms." Social norms are important, and muck-raking journalism and public protests can help citizens hold corrupt elites accountable. But norms cannot fill empty stomachs. Poorly paid bureaucrats often steal, extort, or moonlight in order to subsist. Reform-era China charted an unusual pathway out of this vicious cycle. Its solution was to allow street-level bureaucrats to extract some payments to top up their paltry formal salaries, while also aligning their financial incentives with long-term economic development objectives. Essentially, the state applied a profit-sharing model to the communist bureaucracy." (p. 85-86) 

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