13 Governance 13 Governance

Contact at AFI team is Jakkie Cilliers
This entry was last updated on 21 September 2022 using IFs v7.63.

In this theme, we explore thinking on the sequencing of democracy, good governance and development, and the evidence from Africa using various global and African datasets. Although democratisation is popular in Africa, the process is often turbulent, with the quality of governance essentially stagnating over the past two decades, largely tracking the relatively poor progress with various other development indicators. The Governance scenario modelled here shows that interventions that push on inclusion can improve the quality of governance in Africa if it raises the bar sufficiently to impact upon accountability and reductions in corruption. These translate into improvements in per capita income and poverty reduction, most notably in low-income countries.

Summary

  • Democracy is often cited as essential for good governance, which, together, are conventionally regarded as a prerequisite for development but the three are closely related.  
  • Generally, Africa’s democratisation accelerated since the end of the Cold War and most African countries now hold regular elections, although the quality of democracy is poor. 
  • Africans generally prefer democracy above other systems, but democratisation in Africa is turbulent and progress is seldom linear. We examine various indices that categorise the state of democracy in Africa. 
  • Democratic progress is then contrasted with examples of successful authoritarian developmental regimes, namely Rwanda and Ethiopia, both having made rapid developmental progress, each with a strong central party that directs development. 
  • The governance picture in Africa is therefore mixed. Generally, democratisation and improvements in governance in Africa have stalled in recent years, tracking slow economic progress, reflected in the results from various indices. 
  • Most African countries are considered neopatrimonial with high levels of corruption, but different types of neopatrimonialism have divergent development outcomes. Also, it is important to consider the appropriate level of democracy given levels of development. 
  • The Governance scenario modelled in this theme pushes on deepening inclusion, improving GDP per capita by 3% in 2043. 
  • Decentralisation has become popular as a purported means to improve accountability and as an alternative to the impact of more rapid economic growth in Africa.
  • In addition to rapid economic growth, what poor African countries need is a developmentally oriented governing elite.

The sequencing debate: development, governance and democracy

Debates about the causal relationship between democracy, governance and development are intense and there is some conceptual overlap of the three. Thus, definitions of good governance often share elements generally attributed to democracy, such as participation, the rule of law, equity and inclusiveness, accountability, transparency and responsiveness.[1Eight principles as listed by the UN. See: United Nations, What Is Good Governance?, Bangkok: UNESCAP.] Definitional clarity aside, a large body of literature argues that democracy and good governance are mainly products of economic development. But there is less agreement about the extent to which democracy and the income level at which it happens contribute to subsequent developmental outcomes.[2SM Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics, Garden City: Doubleday, 1960.]

Much of the popular discourse is that democracy, good governance and development go together and need to be pursued in this order. That sequencing would reverse the historical developmental sequence as outlined by Martin Lipset and others — and recently evident in the Asian Tiger economies and China. The mantra in much of the popular discussion is that Africa needs to adopt liberal democracy and various good governance practices as a prerequisite for development. Democracy, Africans are told, will lead to better governance, which, in turn, will improve development outcomes. Yet today’s developed countries did not experience the kind of political democracy, rule of law or independent relationships between business and the state that are recommended for Africa.[3D Booth, Addressing the real challenges of African governance, Overseas development institute (ODI), 2012] Already in the 1990s it was cautioned that, given recent historic evidence, successful transformative spurts of economic development require not necessarily a democratic state (although desirable) but a developmental state, in which leaders are genuinely committed to development and have the capacity to make it work.[4A Leftwich, Governance, Democracy and Development in the Third World, Third World Quarterly, 14:3, 1993, 620.]

To some extent, the differences in these views are about the time-span that is required for democracy to impact upon development. Associated improvements are slow and steady given the importance of institutional development that is required for the associated improvements in accountability and policy. Thus, democracy delivers better governance, more stability and improved human development over long time horizons.

Acemoglu et al[5D Acemoglu, S Naidu, P Restrepo and J Robinson, Democracy Does Cause Growth, Journal of Political Economy, 127:11, 2019, 47–100; See also: A Heshmati and N-S Kim, The relationship between economic growth and democracy: Alternative representations of technological change, IZA, 2017] found that there is a ‘robust and sizable effect of democracy on economic growth’, and that ‘a country that switches from non-democracy to democracy achieves about 20% higher GDP per capita in the long run.’ They argue that the global rise of democracy over the preceding half century yielded roughly 6% higher world GDP and that democracy also positively affects economic reform, private investment, the size and capacity of government, and reduces social conflict.

The reason for this view, hinted at previously, is linked to the ‘primacy of institutions’[6D Rodrik, A Subramanian and F Trebbi, Institutions rule: The Primacy of Institutions over Geography and Integration in Economic Development, Working Paper 9305, National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2002] that set the rules of the game rather than the whims of personalities when considering long-term economic success. Inclusive economic institutions typically feature ‘secure private property, an unbiased system of law, and a provision of public services that provides a level playing field in which people can exchange and contract; it also must permit the entry of new businesses and allow people to choose their careers.’[7D Acemoglu and J Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown Business, 2013.]

The evidence over shorter time horizons and at low levels of development is less compelling and somewhat contradictory. As democracy in low-income countries is invariably of a low, procedural type, it makes little contribution to improvements in well-being or even to the way in which the country is governed. Because the quality of democracy in Africa is poor, as we examine below, ‘more’ democracy in poor countries has not translated into better governance or more rapid development.

In poor countries, the nature and orientation of the governing elite appears to be much more important for positive developmental outcomes than the institutional setting (democratic or not). The reason is that these countries typically lack the associated institutions and extensive codification in law and regulations to embed accountability in practice.

The problem is that African states are often weak and lack capacity, and that its elites, while no more greedy or self-serving than those elsewhere, tend to extract resources for ‘safe’ investment outside the continent. In this manner, corruption does not grease the wheels of development as it often does in Asia but pours sand into the system, soaking up oil and clogging things up.

There is less debate about the relationship between democracy and stability. Once established and in conjunction with minimum income levels and education, democracy is the most stable and enduring form of governance. Analysis has shown that the probability of a well-educated democracy remaining a democracy 20 years later is 95%, whereas the probability of a well-educated dictatorship becoming a democracy within 20 years is 87%.[8EL Glaeser, G Ponzetto and A Shleifer, Why Does Democracy Need Education?, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 12128, 2006. Tunisia is a good example of the impetus that high levels of education provide to democratisation.]

In the short term, the introduction of competitive politics and economic liberalisation in fragile settings such as post-conflict societies, as say Somalia or South Sudan for instance, may even undo much of the progress previously made in ending the conflict, as politicians invariably mobilise support along ethnic or sectarian lines and soon reopen the wounds that the peace process sought to resolve.[9Consider, for example, fragile post-conflict states such as South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, and the DR Congo.]

Gerring et al[10J Gerring et al, Electoral Democracy and Human Development, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) institute, Working Paper series 2015:9 (new version), February 2016.] found that the relationship between electoral democracy and human development is maximised when:

  • elections are not marred by fraud or systemic irregularities
  • the chief executive of a country is selected (directly or indirectly) through elections
  • suffrage is extensive
  • political and civil society organisations operate freely, and
  • people have freedom of expression, including access to alternative information.

These five components lie at the heart of substantive or liberal democracy. To separate the powers of the executive, judiciary and legislature, establish a truly competitive political environment, allow for the development of a free media and independent oversight mechanisms that have some teeth require adequate resources. Building these norms and institutions takes time and money, which is an important reason for their close association with high levels of income. Governments can easily adopt the trappings of electoral democracy such as going through the motions of regular elections but without capacitated systems and institutions, elected authorities are unable to hold their executive to account.

In summary, the finding by Gerring et al is that democracy will likely only impact positively on governance and development in Africa if it is substantive. And that may require minimum levels of economic development.

The evolution of democracy in Africa

Over the past two centuries, democracy has advanced in three global waves, with much of Africa gaining independence as part of the second one. With each wave, the quality, depth and reach of democracy have peaked and ebbed in crests and troughs that have come to define what it means to be governed. Each crest has raised the high-water mark left by its predecessor, granting momentum to the tide of democracy as it envelops increasingly larger shares of the world’s population and more countries.[11Waves do not mean that all countries become more democratic, but simply that there is a generalised, sustained and significant increase.] Only China and a clutch of oil-rich Gulf states seem immune to its global allure even as the recent trend is negative, giving rise to much analysis and commentary on the apparent rise of authoritarianism.

The broad positive trend towards democracy is presented in Chart 1 that shows the evolution of two types of democracy coded by the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project, namely electoral (nominal or thin democracy) and liberal (substantive or thick democracy). The global averages are shown from 1900 and for Africa from 1960, covering the broad independence period.[12See Varieties of Democracy website V-Dem codebook. To be considered an electoral democracy, a country must not only hold de facto free and fair multiparty elections but also achieve a sufficient level of institutional guarantees of democracy. In addition, a liberal democracy has effective legislative and judicial oversight of the executive while individual liberties and the rule of law are protected. See: A Lührmann, M Tannenberg and SI Lindberg, Regimes of the World (RoW): Opening New Avenues for the Comparative Study of Political Regimes, Politics and Governance, 6:1, 2018, 60–77]  The index on the y-axis ranges from 0 (complete absence of democracy) to 1 (full liberal or electoral democracy in all countries).

Globally, levels of electoral democracy are obviously higher than those of liberal democracy, with the gap having grown over time. It is much larger in Africa than elsewhere, reflecting the low quality of democracy on the continent (i.e. many African countries have the essential elements of electoral democracy but the incidence of liberal democracy are quite limited).

  • The first wave of democracy surged in the early 19th century particularly when the vote was granted to the white, male population of the US, and ebbed in the turbulent years leading up to the Second World War. At the crest of this wave, 29 states were considered democratic. At its trough, at the height of the war in 1942, only 12 democracies remained.[13Wikipedia, List of sovereign states in the 1930s]
  • The end of the Second World War precipitated the second wave of democracy, although Ethiopia managed to evict Italy before its end, in 1941. As the number of independent states grew, so too did the number of democracies, rising to 36 internationally recognised democratic regimes in 1962 before falling modestly to 30 by the mid-1970s. During this wave, the number of independent countries increased dramatically as rapid decolonisation swept first across North Africa,[14Libya (1947); Egypt (1953); Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia (all in 1956).] and then sub-Saharan Africa, with Ghana the first West African state to become independent in 1957, followed by numerous Anglophone, Francophone and Belgium colonies. Things subsequently stagnated as independent Africa was forced to choose sides in the Cold War and lavished with unquestioned support (and large amounts of aid) including to some of Africa’s worst dictators.[15For example, Sudan under Gaafar Nimeiry; Somalia under Siad Barre; Liberia under Samuel Doe; the former Zaïre under Mobutu Sese Seko; Chad under Hissène Habré; and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak.]
  • Democracy globally and in Africa received a substantial boost with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. In the five years from 1989 to 1993, levels of electoral and liberal democracy in Africa and globally increased sharply, although the increase in electoral democracy is more pronounced than for liberal democracy.

The reason why the third wave had such a big impact in Africa after two decades of slow change in the continent was because of events that began in Portugal in 1974, with the Carnation Revolution. The coup by a number of military officers in Lisbon led to all of Portugal’s colonies achieving independence shortly thereafter, a hasty and chaotic affair that swept from Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique to Angola to São Tomé and Príncipe. The end of Portuguese colonial rule set off a train of events that, together with the collapse of the Soviet Union, would result in a series of liberation wars and the end of colonial rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1980 and South-West Africa (now Namibia) in 1990. In 1990, it would also allow the start of a negotiated settlement process that witnessed Nelson Mandela elected as president of South Africa, then Africa’s largest economy and with the most powerful military, four years later.

The collapse of the Soviet Union therefore ended a series of proxy wars in Africa, where the West and the Soviet bloc had each supported or propped up their client states. The West had triumphed, or so it appeared, and with the subsequent concerns for elections, human rights and accountability (rather than ideological orientation), came the closely associated belief in liberal capitalism. Whereas, during the post-colonial period, African states were trapped and held hostage to a bipolar world order that effectively rewarded loyalty rather than democracy or effective governance, the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed a brief post-Cold War peace dividend that saw levels of conflict decline, examined in the theme dealing with stability .

Even before that, from the 1970s, Africa’s Western development partners had invested in civil service reform and efforts to improve public financial management and helped to set up anti-corruption watchdogs and public audit bodies. Multiparty elections, democratic decentralisation and other methods of achieving citizen participation were equally popular. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were at the forefront of these efforts to ensure governments’ withdrawal from productive sectors, limiting their role to policymaking and regulatory functions.

Many analysts hailed the Arab Spring of 2010 as either the start of a fourth wave of democratisation — as it originated in the region with the lowest levels of political and economic inclusion globally — or proof that the third wave had not yet fully run its course. Libya, Egypt and a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have subsequently suffered devastating blows to peace and stability — and to democracy. To date, only Tunisia has emerged from this turmoil with substantially higher scores on the various measures of democracy, although its transition is increasingly shaky given the lack of improvements in livelihoods.

In 2018 and 2019, a new wave of popular protests swept first across North Africa, starting in Ethiopia and then spilling over to Sudan and Algeria as citizens challenged long-standing parties and rulers. This suggested that before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies, democratisation in Africa was still on an upward trajectory, despite the absence of many of the supposed pre-conditions for democratic consolidation, described as ‘a coherent national identity, strong and autonomous political institutions, a developed and autonomous civil society, the rule of law, and a strong and well-performing economy.’[16N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015; N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, 2015]

Democracy in Africa has therefore improved significantly since the end of the Cold War in 1989 but its pre-COVID-19 trajectory was flat. Freedom House calculates that in 1989 only 16 out of the 49 African countries on which it reported could be classified as ‘free’ or ‘partly free’. In 2019, the year before COVID-19 impacted on the quality and nature of governance in Africa, that number had grown to 29 out of 51 countries and had largely remained stable since 2000.[17Freedom House, Publication archive]

As in other regions, the process of democratisation in Africa has often been turbulent and violence has become increasingly election related, pointing to the extent to which democracy has become the arena where the struggle for political dominance plays itself out. Generally, political power in much of Africa is now decided at the ballot box and not through the barrel of the gun, as had often been the case before. The vast majority of African countries now hold regular elections, although the quality is often low and incumbents resort to various manoeuvres (legal and illegal) to extend their stay in power.

The rise of terrorism, populism in the US and Europe, and the influence of an authoritarian China have, however, turned the early optimism about a rising tide of democracy into a degree of democratic pessimism and a commensurate weakening of the global impetus towards democratisation. The Trump administration and its chaotic conclusion best reflected the leadership vacuum in established liberal democracies, leaving the image of the US, the so-called leader of the free world, severely tarnished, while the nationalist reactions in Europe to migration would similarly cloud its image. In addition, Western influence in institutions such as the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court and support for civil society and pro-democracy advocacy groups is declining in line with the reduction in Western economic dominance. Overt discord among the US and Europe and the impact of Brexit have accelerated even as Russia has sought to actively engage in interference in the domestic affairs of a number of democracies, particularly in the US and a number of European countries, eventually launching its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The current state of democracy in Africa

Cheeseman argues that since 1990, democratisation has taken place against the odds in a number of poor and unstable countries that have lacked these preconditions for democracy. Democratisation in Africa, therefore, rests on weak foundations, he argues, opening the possibility of a regression to lower or more ‘appropriate’ levels, while a façade of regular elections hides the reality of no or little change in the balance of political and social power.[18N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015]

Historically, the reason for this trend towards earlier or premature democratisation is likely because of the dominance, until recently, of the liberal democratic West who provided significant amounts of development assistance to Africa. Furthermore, in an interconnected world, citizens can compare their domestic conditions with those in other countries and this has steadily led to the conviction among the majority of Africans that democracy is the most desirable governance model given their lived experience of decades of brutal post-independence authoritarianism. Although electoral democracy has hardly delivered better developmental results in Africa, the process of being consulted and having the power to affect changes in leadership has reshaped the dynamics of power and the perception of accountability.[19N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015/.]

Based on survey data, Afrobarometer[20Afrobarometer, Analyse online] reports that ‘on average across the continent, Africans support democracy as a preferred type of political regime. Large majorities also reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorship, military rule, and one-party government,’[21R Mattes and M Bratton, Do Africans still want democracy?, Afrobarometer, November 2016, 2.] a trend confirmed in subsequent surveys even as Africans’ positive view of authoritarian China has overtaken that of a democratic US.[22JA Sanny and E Selormey, Africans welcome China’s influence but maintain democratic aspirations, Afrobarometer Dispatch no. 488, 15 November 2021]

There are two views about autocratic leadership in Africa. The first is that it is a relic of a colonial era, resistant to change. The second is that democracy in Africa is inappropriate or, at best, premature, particularly propagated by China in recent years. Perhaps not unsurprising, the latter is a view shared by many of Africa’s coterie of elderly, male leaders.[23Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon were Africa’s longest modern rulers. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea seized power in 1979. Paul Biya has presided over Cameroon since 1982, and King Mswati III of Eswatini and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda since 1986. José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola was president for 36 years, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for 35 years before he was forced to relinquish power. When he was toppled by his military in April 2019, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir had been in power for 30 years.]

Long-term incumbency often leads to the looting of the state and almost inevitably culminates in a violent uprising and turbulent transition. Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaïre, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), allegedly stole at least US$4 billion while serving as president. More recently, Obiang’s son and vice-president of Equatorial Guinea was accused of embezzling more than US$100 million. Human Rights Watch describes the situation in that country as one where the state foregoes investment in health and education in favour of grandiose infrastructure projects that really function as ‘conduits for enriching the ruling elite’.

Although elections in Africa are becoming increasingly frequent, the increase in the number of incumbents who cling to power and block executive rotation or replacement presents a worrying trend. Incumbents will even change the constitution to retain the presidency if that is what it takes.[24Paul Biya of Cameroon, serving as the prime minister, has been in power since 1975, but has only technically been president since 1982. If his time as prime minister is included, his length of rule comes in at 43 years.] Leaders in these countries invest significant resources in ensuring a favourable electoral outcome by constraining the democratic space. This is done by rigging the registration process, running interference (for instance, by tying opposition candidates down in spurious legal cases or barring public gatherings), misusing state resources to dispense patronage, controlling the diet of information (particularly through the abuse of public media in favour of the ruling party) and, if all else fails, directly manipulating the results or frustrating any subsequent legal challenge.

Presidents Dennis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda all recently amended their constitutions to allow for unlimited presidential incumbency. In the DR Congo, outgoing president Joseph Kabila and his party simply ignored the actual results of the December 2018 elections, which Martin Fayulu of the Lamuka coalition had clearly won. Kabila instead installed his own choice in the form of Felix Tshisekedi who was duly inaugurated as president on 24 January 2019.[25S Wolters, Will this election change the DRC?, Institute for Security Studies, 2019, https://issafrica.org/iss-today/will-this-election-change-the-drc. The results eventually announced by the Commission Électorale Nationale Indepéndante were vastly different from the findings from the 40 000 observers deployed by the Catholic Church, which established a large and comprehensive parallel compilation process.] The rest of the continent remained silent, thankful that the transfer of power (if that is what it could be called) occurred peacefully.

V-Dem’s Democracy Report 2021 (including data up to 2020) noted the steep global decline in democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America since 2010, concluding that ‘the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 is down to levels last found around 1990’ and that the quality of democracy had suffered a similar retreat. Liberal democracies, it noted, could now only be found in 32 countries, representing only 14% of the global population. The trend in Africa has only recently followed that global downturn.

V-Dem distinguishes between four regime types,[26A Lührmann, M Tannenberg and SI Lindberg, Regimes of the World (RoW): Opening New Avenues for the Comparative Study of Political Regimes, Politics and Governance, 6:1, 2018, 60–77] namely:

v-dem-chart

The situation in Africa in 2020, with these criteria applied, is summarised in Chart 2 with Ghana considered the only liberal democracy in Africa.

Chart 2: Regime types by country in Africa, 2020

The IFs forecasting platform does not yet include V-Dem results, instead it uses the Polity index from the Center for Systemic Peace that categorises states according to their regime characteristics as essentially authoritarian or democratic.[27The Polity index categorises states according to their regime characteristics, with attention to six component measures: regulation of executive recruitment; competitiveness of executive recruitment; openness of executive recruitment; constraints that exist on executive action; regulation of political participation; and competitiveness of political participation. MG Marshall, TR Gurr and K Jaggers, Polity IV Project: Political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800–2016, Center for Systemic Peace, 25 July 2017] The index ranks countries from –10 (hereditary monarchy) to +10 (consolidated multiparty democracy). Countries that score from –5 to +5 are considered anocratic (or mixed/hybrid) regimes that display elements of democracy (e.g. regular elections) that coexist with autocratic behaviour and institutions (e.g. limited legislative oversight).

The most recent Polity data, for 2018,[28Whereas Polity was originally conceptualised to understand regime characteristics (autocratic vs democratic) and later evolved and combined as a measure of democracy, V-Dem is explicitly designed to measure the extent to which countries evidence different types of democracy and delves deeply into the associated characteristics of each. Practically, Polity is closest to the V-Dem conceptualisation of electoral democracy or polyarchy, but there are important methodological and conceptual differences between the two.] is presented in Chart 3 and can be compared with Chart 2, indicating which African countries could be considered autocratically stable (such as Eswatini and Eritrea), countries with mixed regime types (ranging from Cameroon to Zimbabwe) and countries that could be considered largely democratic and stable (ranging from Burkina Faso to Mauritius). The group of anocracies in the middle band across the chart (Cameroon to Somalia) are those with mixed/hybrid regimes. According to Persson and Rothstein, ‘hybrid regimes are comparatively more clientelistic and corrupt than both full-fledged democracies and outright dictatorships … and tend not only to perform worse than consolidated democracies but also than authoritarian regimes on a large variety of public goods indicators, including population health, education, access to clean water and sanitation, as well as to basic infrastructure such as roads and electricity.’[29AL Persson and B Rothstein, Lost in Transition: A Bottom up Perspective on Hybrid Regimes, Annals of Comparative Democratization, 17:3, 2019, 10.]

The process of democratisation in Africa, i.e. movement from either autocracy to anocracy and from that to democracy, is turbulent and progress is seldom linear. Recent years have seen imaginative efforts by incumbents to amend the rules in their own favour. From 2000 to 2019, there were 25 attempted constitutional amendments to favour presidential third-term projects. Of these, only seven failed; 18 were successfully implemented or enforced.[30D Zounmenou, Third terms for presidents of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea must be stopped, Institute for Security Studies, 30 September 2020]

However, the island state of Cape Verde is an example of how things can rapidly improve once leaders set an appropriate example. Cape Verde is ranked among the world’s most stable democracies, with good governance and a well-functioning multiparty system.[31A Atta-Assomoah, Presidential power play undermines democracy in Africa, Institute for Security Studies, 1 October 2020, https://issafrica.org/iss-today/presidential-power-play-undermines-democracy-in-africa.] A single action is generally seen as having made a large contribution to this situation, when, in 2016, sitting President Jorge Carlos Fonseca handed over power to the speaker of the national assembly two months before the elections to campaign for a second term, although he still received his full salary while stepping aside. According to the constitution, no candidate may hold public office nor the post of the attorney general or chief or vice-chief of the armed forces, from the announcement of their candidacy to the official declaration of the election results. Fonseca eventually won with 74% of the vote in an election considered free, transparent and fair.

Requiring an incumbent to step aside in this manner requires political maturity and goes a long way to ensure that incumbents are not able to abuse their political office and tilt the playing field to their advantage. Positive trends are widespread. In 2017, elections delivered peaceful power transfers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria experienced a peaceful handover to the opposition in 2015 for the first time since the advent of democracy in that country in 1999. Ghana has done so over the past two decades, and The Gambia’s long-serving ruler was pressured into vacating his post after losing the election in 2016.

Meanwhile, the judiciary in a number of African countries have taken a stance against abuses of power and executive overreach. For example, in Kenya in 2017 and in Malawi in 2019, election results were annulled owing to misconduct and irregularities. An independent judiciary also prevailed in South Africa in 2020, where former president Jacob Zuma was forced to serve prison time for contempt of court when he refused to submit to a commission of inquiry on corruption during his presidency.

Recent coups in Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan do not mean that democracy in Africa is failing. The evidence suggests that while the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is inevitably placing downward pressure on democracy, a robust democratic culture is, in fact, growing in many parts of the continent. However, while many countries in Africa are nominally democratic, the quality of the subsequent democracy is poor, in part because of the essential limited accountability aspect (essentially the fear of incumbents of retribution at the ballot box).

Exceptions to the rule: Rwanda and Ethiopia

In Africa, the most commonly quoted examples of successful authoritarian developmental regimes are Rwanda and Ethiopia. Both countries have made rapid developmental progress. Rwanda comes off a higher base than Ethiopia, making the improvements in average levels of income of Ethiopia until recently even more impressive.

At an average rate of nearly 10% per year for more than a decade, Ethiopia achieved the most robust GDP growth of any country globally (see Chart 4) until recently, surpassing countries such as China and Qatar. Average incomes in the country nearly tripled and the proportion of the population who have access to electricity, for example, has doubled.[32The World Bank, Access to electricity (% of population), 2016] But the situation regressed after the sudden death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012, the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the most powerful party within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

In February 2018, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who had been appointed by the ruling coalition of parties to succeed Meles Zenawi, resigned in response to escalating unrest following elections and efforts to expand the city limits of Addis Ababa (which would encroach on valuable agricultural land of the surrounding Oromo ethnic group).

In April 2018, Abiy Ahmed Ali, the chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party, was elected as chairman of the EPRDF and prime minister. He launched a sweeping reform programme in an effort to undercut the discontent that had led to the violence, even changing the name of the EPRDF to the Prosperity Party, now no longer an alliance of ethnically based parties but a single party. Previously, the dominant grouping, the TPLF did not join the Prosperity Party, eventually seeking to openly defy the government in Addis Ababa and seek greater autonomy. These events eventually deteriorated into a regional and civil war, when Abiy invited military support from neighbouring Eritrea in an effort to defeat the Tigrayan forces. At the time of writing, government forces were steadily grinding down on the TPLF even as famine and slow growth stalked Africa’s previous high-growth success story.

Rwanda’s history after the 1994 genocide (one of many in the region) is well known. The mass killings of Hutus started after the Rwandan presidential plane, with Juvénal Habyarimana on board, was shot down, resulting in a victory of the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front and, eventually, Paul Kagame’s presidential assumption.

In both countries, a national trauma has driven the burning desire to develop — the genocide of the Red Terror in Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam, which lasted until 1978, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

In the wake of trauma, governing elites in the two countries intervened decisively in the economy in favour of productivity, often exerting considerable short-term pain for the sake of achieving long-term gain — policy choices that are much easier to implement in an autocratic than a democratic setting. All have clear pro-growth policies and stick to them, although the war in Ethiopia is having a debilitating effect. In each of these countries, a determined pro-development governing elite was united behind a visionary leader (Meles Zenawi and Paul Kagame) intent on escaping debilitating poverty and underdevelopment.

Evident in these two countries, strong authoritarian leaders, who are at the helm of an organised party that has a firm grip on the country, politics and development, are likely to deliver more rapid results in low-income settings. But the dependence on a single key figure readily undoes progress once that leadership clings to power or is replaced by a flawed successor, as it has in Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Algeria.

Poor quality of democracy means that both Ethiopia and Rwanda suffer from a large democratic deficit: levels of democracy are significantly lower in both countries when compared with other countries at similar levels of development. Both countries also have intermediate regime types. Being neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic, they are in a middling category within the Policy index of so-called anocracies, which are inherently unstable.

Sustained growth in an autocracy is more brittle and volatile than in a democracy (evident in Ethiopia) and it seems inevitable that, unless the RPF invests substantively in succession planning, Rwanda will face challenges once Paul Kagame steps down or loses power.

The state of governance in Africa

The focus on good governance as an apparent prerequisite for development in Africa gained traction in the 1980s, as international development institutions sought to respond to the challenge of slow growth, high levels of indebtedness and corruption in Africa. Initially, the focus was on the private sector and non-government organisations as an alternative to corrupt governments, but eventually, the evident importance of a government able to direct development in poor countries shifted the focus back to the need to build government capacity and improve its effectiveness, this time framed in the context of governance reforms as a condition for international aid and debt relief. In the absence of other means to respond to Africa’s slow pace of development, the focus on good governance is essentially a technocratic response from donors and others to bad policies and, especially, bad politics in many African countries.

Organisations such as the World Bank and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation are among those that measure changes in the quality of governance over time, as does the IFs forecasting platform using its own conceptualisation. We briefly examine each.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, set up in 2006 to focus on the need for good political leadership and public governance in Africa, defines governance as ‘the provision of political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their government, and that a government has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.’[33See: Ibrahim Index of African Governance, About] Its Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) tracks performance in Africa across four categories: foundations for economic opportunity; participation, rights and inclusion; security and rule of law; and human development.

The index for each of these four subcategories is presented in Chart 5. As far as such an aggregate measure can tell a story for Africa as a whole, the picture is mixed. On the one hand, the two sub-indices relating to economic and human development reflect a modest increase, but scores for security and participation modestly decline.

Improvement has slowed in the last five years and in 2019, for the first time in a decade, the combined score for all African countries fell year on year. The decline is because of a deterioration in the sub-index on participation, rights and inclusion. As a result, the 2019 African average score for overall governance declined by 0.2 points compared with the previous year. As the last data point is for 2019, the results do not yet include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the World Bank, which manages and publishes the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), governance is determined by the traditions and institutions used in a country to exercise authority. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.[34See: World Bank, Worldwide Governance Indicators, http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/.]

An extract of data from the WGI presented in Chart 6 for the period 1996–2020 tells a similar story to that of the IIAG. The WGI reports on six broad dimensions of governance, namely: voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law; and control of corruption.[35For definitions of the dimensions, see: World Bank, Worldwide Governance Indicators. WGI scores conventionally range from –2.5 to +2.5 but have been adjusted to range from 0 to 100 for comparison with the IIAG data in Chart 6.] Similar to the IIAG, the inclusion of voice and accountability reflects democratisation being considered an integral part of good governance and essential to the delivery of improved livelihoods.

Whereas the IIAG trend is stagnant and modestly positive until recently, the overall trend from WGI data is modestly negative.[36The reason for the slight divergence between the two indices is likely statistical. WGI ranks country scores annually and any improvements in trends in governance in Africa is outpaced by larger improvements in the rest of the world. As a result, the gap tends to increase. However, when dimensions of governance are measured year on year, independent of global trends (essentially what IIAG does), modest improvements are seen.]

Indices of the quality of governance inevitably correlate with levels of development. For example, Chart 7 compares the two WGI sub-indices of government effectiveness and regulatory quality with levels of democracy from the Polity V dataset. It does so for low-income, lower middle-income and upper middle-income Africa for 2019. In low-income countries, government effectiveness and regulatory quality are poor and they have nominal democracy compared with middle-income countries. Government effectiveness and the regulatory quality improve in tandem with higher levels of average income.

For the purposes of modelling and measuring governance in IFs, Hughes et al use modernisation theory and the notion that governance historically develops through three sequential transitions: a security transition,[37In IFs, security is driven by a performance and risk index, and state failure from internal event occurrence. Each is in turn driven by a variety of other indicators. For example, state failure from an internal event occurrence depends on levels of development (poor countries evidence more conflict), infant mortality (often used as a proxy for government capacity), size of the youth bulge (a larger youth bulge indicates greater propensity for turbulence), nature of the governance system (mixed regime types are more prone to instability), levels of education and integration into the global system (relationship of exports to GDP).] followed by a capacity transition,[38The IFs capacity index combines data on tax collection from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank’s World Development Indicators project, and uses the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International as a proxy for capacity to manage those resources.] and finally a transition towards greater inclusion.[39Once governments achieve a minimum degree of security and have developed appropriate capacity, pressure mounts for greater inclusion in political and economic structures and processes as part of an emerging social contract between government and its citizens. The IFs model forecasts its inclusion index based on regime type (using Polity V data) and a measure for gender empowerment as a proxy for horizontal inclusion.] The security transition, they argue, ‘begins with overcoming anarchy through the consolidation of territorial governing authority to establish sovereignty.’[40BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Strengthening Governance Globally: Patterns of Potential Human Progress, Boulder: Oxford University Press, 2014, 6.] After achieving sovereignty over a defined territorial area and a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, governments typically shift their focus to creating and building capacity to effectively administer that territory. The third transition is one of inclusion, wherein a society develops the social contract required to sustain various dimensions of progress.[41Generally, Africa did not follow this pattern of state formation, which largely reflects the European experience. In much of Africa, the natural transitions of state formation were interrupted by colonisation. The borders created during this period were subsequently frozen by the Cold War, with Africa serving as an important proxy battlefield.]

IFs uses these transitions as a conceptual framework for comparing countries and to forecast governance over time. To this end, IFs includes an index (0 to 1) for each dimension, with higher scores indicating improved outcomes. A composite governance index is a simple average of the three.[42BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Patterns of Potential Human Progress: Strengthening Governance Globally, Boulder: Oxford University Press, 2014, 6. IFs also forecasts several indices related to governance, including the World Bank measurement of government effectiveness and regulatory quality, but these do not drive the forecasts.]

Thinking of governance in terms of security, capacity and inclusion provides a useful lens to compare how countries progressed over time, as well as to compare the state of governance between countries and groups of countries. Although it is useful to think of these transitions as distinct phases, in the real world, states are continually struggling to improve security, enhance capacity, and become more inclusive contemporaneously.

Chart 8 compares the results for Africa’s low-income, lower middle-income and upper middle-income countries. The analysis shows that Africa generally does well on levels of inclusion, slightly worse on security but very poorly on capacity, which helps to explain the poor results from governance on the continent. It is because of its capacity constraints that foreign donors support African governments through development assistance, as discussed in the theme on financial flows.

Despite different methodologies, the various indices to measure governance all come to largely the same conclusion, namely that the quality of the governance in Africa has essentially remained unchanged over the last two decades, likely reflecting slow economic growth and modest improvements in average incomes. Only in terms of levels of electoral (or nominal) democracy (or more broadly, inclusion as used in IFs) does Africa do well, but high levels of inclusion without commensurate government capacity (in which Africa does poorly) likely fuels corruption and patronage.

Corruption, neopatrimonialism, competition and inclusion

The preceding analyses showed that African governments, although more inclusive, lack the capacity to give substance to that broader representation. In addition, slow economic growth, corruption and the apparent resilience of neopatrimonialism, which we examine below, contribute to the lack of progress.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is the most widely used dataset that compares public-sector corruption in countries globally and it is useful to refer to its findings. Not unsurprising is the finding that low-income countries are more corrupt than high-income countries. Chart 9 presents the average CPI score for each global country income group.[43The CPI is a composite index that is constructed from a range of data sources: African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (2018); Bertelsmann Stiftung Sustainable Governance Indicators (2018); Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (2020); The Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service (2019); Freedom House Nations in Transit (2018); Global Insight Country Risk Ratings (2018); IMD World Competitiveness Center World Competitiveness Yearbook; Executive Opinion Survey (2019); Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Asian Intelligence (2019); PRS Group International Country Risk Guide (2019); World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (2018); World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey (2019); World Justice Project Rule of Law Index Expert Survey (2019); and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) (2019). See: Transparency International, Corruption perceptions index] Results are normalised to a scale of 0–100, where 0 equals the highest level of perceived corruption (and lowest level of transparency) and 100 equals the lowest level of perceived corruption (and highest level of transparency). Low-income countries invariably score poorly since public service, institutions and systems function poorly, education levels are low and incomes barely exceed subsistence levels. Rich countries, with ample resources, score well. In that sense, the dataset largely mirrors the impact of substantive democracy and institutionalisation in countries discussed previously.

The Worldwide Governance Indicators from the World Bank tells a similar story [44The six aggregate indicators (see: World Bank, Worldwide governance indicators) are based on over 30 underlying data sources reporting the perceptions of governance of a large number of survey respondents and expert assessments worldwide. ] and when the data from these two indices are compared, only six African countries do better than the average for the rest of the world, namely Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana, Rwanda, Namibia and Mauritius. All other African countries do worse.

The emerging picture is concerning. Poor countries score badly because they do not have mature systems and institutions characteristic of rich countries, yet, if one were able to calculate where most corrupt money changes hands, it is inevitably in richer countries as the pool of money is much larger. In effect, Transparency International largely reflects perceptions of petty corruption and the extent of transparency in a country, hence its name.

Max Weber used the term patrimonialism to refer to traditional forms of government that dominated before steadily being replaced by the advance of democracy. In that approach he captured the essential modernisation challenge of poor levels of institutionalisation in Africa referred to previously. The term neopatrimonialism is intended to signify that, following colonialism, African systems can no longer be treated as purely traditional but have been infused with the trappings of modern statehood.[45N Cheeseman, E Betrand and S Hsaini, A Dictionary of African Politics, Oxford University Press, 2019] Corruption has become recognised as an integral part of Africa’s neopatrimonial regime type — where patrons are able to use state resources to purchase support. Actually the degree to which authoritarian neopatrimonial regimes have been able to adapt to the formal trappings of electoral democracy has been cited as one of the most remarkable characteristics of contemporary African politics. Englebert and Dunn write that ‘to a large extent, neopatrimonialism has proved compatible with democracy rather than having dissolved in it. It has endured and reproduced despite a generalised change in the formal rules of politics.’[46P Englebert and KC Dunn, Inside African Politics, Cape Town: UCT Press, 2013, 191.]

But the problem is not patrimonialism itself, writes Cheeseman, as it is characteristic of almost all countries at low levels of development. What matters, he argues, is the type of patrimonialism that emerges.[47N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 200.] One approach is to distinguish between centrally managed patrimonial relations, so-called ‘developmental patrimonialism’[48Thus: ‘Rent centralisation permitted the leadership in these countries to put some limits on rent seeking and to play a coordinating role, steering rent creation into areas with high economic potential, or to areas that must be resourced in the interests of political stability.’ D. Booth, Development as a Collective Action Problem: Addressing the Real Challenges of African Governance, London: Africa Power and Politics Programme, 2012.] such as with Ethiopia and Rwanda discussed previously, and decentralised, competitive patrimonial systems such as in Kenya and Nigeria.[49Centrally managed patrimonial relations, according to Cheeseman, are the result of very specific conditions: where leadership consists of national liberation forces after the war, as still evident in many countries in Southern Africa, and in the aftermath of a severe crisis or shock to the system involving large-scale violence such as experienced in Rwanda and Ethiopia. N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 48. At a global level, China is the most enduring example.]

Similar to Ethiopia and Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria regularly go through the motions of elections but without the support of mature institutions, the rule of law and a system of accountability, electoral democracy in these countries has opened up the door for rampant corruption. In decentralised or competitive neopatrimonial systems, competition is about ethnic and personal benefit, and politics is about who governs rather than policy or improved livelihoods. Issues around personality, affiliation and identity dominate. It is particularly damaging if the national constitutional dispensation is of the winner-takes-all variant, which gives the electoral victor wide discretionary powers to appoint, approve and reward.

Finally, while elements of competition and inclusion strengthen multiparty systems, too much of either can also be detrimental to the process of democratisation.[50N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015] The most notable examples of ‘excessive inclusion’ are governments of national unity or where there are power-sharing arrangements. This is a common approach to paper over divisions in a society, typically producing a measure of political stability but engendered paralysis in governance and economic performance.[51M Miguna, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, Nairobi: Arrow Press, 2012; On Zimbabwe, see: T Hoekman, Testing Ties: Opposition and Power-sharing Negotiations in Zimbabwe, Journal of Southern African Studies, 39:4, 2013, 903–20; B Raftopoulos, Towards another stalemate in Zimbabwe, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, October 2012, http://solidaritypeacetrust.org/1243/towards-another-stalemate-in-zimbabwe/.] Lack of development, in turn, leads to social instability and in these circumstances, a government of national unity sometimes unwittingly plants the seeds for the next crisis since it is often unable to sustain or promote economic growth.

Within the IFs forecasting platform, we turn to the Polity score to consider the level of autocracy/democracy in a country and then to compare that with the average for countries with similar levels of education and GDP per capita. This interpretation allows the identification of countries that have particularly high levels of democracy compared to other countries at similar levels of development (a democratic ‘surplus’) or low levels (a democratic ‘deficit’), as shown in Chart 10.

According to this interpretation, Niger, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya and Comoros have constitutions and democratic practices that are considered out of kilter (more democratic) when compared with other countries at the same levels of development. In contrast, in Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Egypt, Morocco, the Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Cameroon, Sudan, The Gambia, Angola and Mauritania, the levels of democracy are substantially lower than in other countries at similar levels of income and education. A difference of five points from zero in either direction is taken as indicative of a surplus or deficit.

Excessive inclusion and excessive competition are therefore also bad for democracy and give rise to the question of what is the appropriate nature of democracy at different development levels?[52N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015, http://democracyinafrica.org/the-state-of-democracy-in-africa/.] But the point at which inclusion becomes excessive remains unclear. It depends on the context and may wax and wane over time.

The problem with the twofold distinction between centralised and decentralised patrimonialism systems is that countries with centralised patrimonial systems do not necessarily produce better outcomes. Other factors may come into play. In fact, a number of relatively recently liberated countries in Southern Africa (e.g. Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa) would probably fit into the category of a centralised patrimonial system. Former liberation parties still dominate politics, but generally with disappointing results. In South Africa, where the governing African National Congress (ANC) did not come to power through the extensive political indoctrination and associated broad-based people’s war that took place in countries such as Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, a liberal constitution, active civil society, entrenched Bill of Rights and independent judiciary have barely been able to constrain the party’s neopatrimonial inclinations.

Eventually, the degree to which centralised patrimonial systems can advance development depends heavily on the quality of the top leadership. A strong, visionary leader can have a significant impact on development outcomes while they are in power. But there is no guarantee that this leader will not succumb to the attractions of office — as was the case with Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. Both Museveni and Kagame have extended their terms in the belief that their leadership is indispensable for their countries’ futures. In South Africa, Thabo Mbeki also tried to extend his leadership of the ruling party as a way to maintain the power behind the scenes once his two-term constitutional limit as president of the country came to an end, but was defeated in that effort and succeeded by a wily successor, Jacob Zuma, who allowed the looting of the state and effective dismemberment of mechanisms of oversight and accountability during his two terms.

Modelling the impact of greater inclusion on development: the Governance scenario

By itself, democratisation in Africa has clearly not altered the conditions of most Africans. Deep-seated divisions based on ethnicity, regionalism and class will only be bridged with progress towards substantive democracy, which, in turn, is only likely to accompany or follow more rapid economic growth. Fortunately, regular elections and the growing depth of civil society in Africa mean that progress towards liberal democracy is more probable than the reverse but the impact of the scenario that follows is inevitably limited without more rapid growth, in other words when more inclusion accompanies scenarios such as Free Trade, Manufacturing and Leapfrogging examined elsewhere on this website.

Afrobarometer’s findings on the strong support for democratisation on the continent reflect this trend. However, democratisation (particularly the move from anocracy) is associated with more protests and violence as expectations steadily rise, as explored in the theme on stability . The likely development is that the next global waves of democratisation will be less pronounced than the previous three, although a regional wave in the Middle East, which is clearly headed for massive governance changes, seems inevitable. National and regional dynamics play an important role, as does the rise of China and the extent to which Africans increasingly trade with that country instead of the West.

The Governance scenario models the continuation of a positive trend towards more inclusion in the IFs forecasting platform using the measure of regime type developed by the Polity project.[53In 2014, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures published a forecast on governance that includes additional detail on many of these aspects. See: BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Strengthening Governance Globally: Forecasting the Next 50 years, New York: Routledge, 2014. For additional information, see Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, International Futures Help System, 2019. The Polity measure roughly equates to the concept of electoral democracy used by V-Dem]

The Governance scenario proceeds on the assumption that democratisation, currently under pressure as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, will regain its momentum as incomes, urbanisation and education levels all improve.

Chart 11 presents the logic that underpins the Governance scenario using data from the Polity project, Transparency International and gender empowerment from the UN Development Program, in line with the IFs conceptualisation on inclusion.[54The Gender Empowerment Measure has subsequently been replaced by various other indices, including the Gender Equity Index. However, these have not yet been modelled in IFs, nor have the various types of democracy used by the V-Dem project been included.]

Chart 11: Modelling the Governance scenario
Chart

The interventions raise Africa’s general levels of inclusion by 25% above the Current Path forecast by 2043, to above the average for South Asia and slightly higher than the average for the world except Africa, although still below levels of inclusion in South America. Improvements are more significant in low-income countries (31%) than in lower middle-income (22%) and upper middle-income countries (4%). At the individual country level, inclusion increases most in Eritrea (by 31%), followed by Togo and South Sudan. Seychelles, South Africa and Cape Verde benefit the least.

Chart 12 presents the impact of the Governance scenario on GDP per capita for each African country compared with the Current Path forecast in 2043. Improvement ranges from US$43 in Somalia to US$491 in Egypt. In addition to Egypt, six lower middle-income countries do particularly well, namely Angola, Eswatini, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The Governance scenario reduces the number of extremely poor Africans by 20.2 million by 2043, equivalent to a difference of one percentage point. The DR Congo gains the most, followed by Nigeria.

Given the strong relationship between institutionalisation (the defining feature of liberal democracies compared to other regime types) and state capacity (which is typically reflected in levels of income), we need to emphasise that substantive democratisation in Africa is likely to accompany and amplify more rapid economic growth. The relatively modest impact of the Governance scenario reflects the fact that the scenario does not include measures that accelerate economic growth. Should we combine the Governance scenario with other powerful growth scenarios on the website such as Agriculture, Free Trade, Manufacturing/Transfers and Leapfrogging, the integrated nature of the IFs forecasting platform sees much larger contributions flowing from higher levels of inclusion. However, the question does arise if there are other governance means through which Africans can improve accountability and improve on government effectiveness?

The trend towards decentralisation

Most African countries still apply the government systems that were established during colonialism. However, demands for more effective public spending, public accountability and more innovative approaches to local challenges are eating away at the colonial model.

Countries that emerge from conflict sometimes also strengthen provincial or local government to give local groups a voice. Decentralisation may not end corruption but could unlock a more competitive type of patrimonialism that allows for more rapid development. Advocates of decentralisation are particularly focused on the challenge of providing the devolution of more authority to Africa’s growing number of metropolitan areas such as Luanda, Lagos and Cairo. Even the African Union placed decentralisation on the agenda in 2014,[55See: Status list of the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Decentralisation, Local Governance and Local Development] with some countries going as far as to adopt federal systems. This is the first real effort of the African Union to promote decentralised systems of governance on the continent.

The constitutions of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and Comoros have all established federal systems, while those of South Africa, Kenya and the DR Congo contain elements of a federation. Others, such as South Sudan and Somalia are actively considering moving towards federal systems. A key characteristic of a federation is that it provides for representation in a second house of Parliament. Some constitutions also recognise a third level of government, namely local government. However, in many countries, local governments’ functions are dictated by parliament, which does not guarantee much authority at the local level.

An obvious challenge in the devolution of powers by parliament is often a lack of accompanying financial means — the ability to tax to fund their activities. The result is that sub- and sub-sub-national levels are reliant on transfers from the centre. Nor are sub-national or local structures permitted to adopt local policies or by-laws, meaning they only implement national laws, do not adopt their own budgets and do not control their own bureaucracies, all of which diminish their autonomy. Another is that many countries do not embed the division of powers in a supreme constitution enforced by an independent court that protects the division of powers.[56J de Visser, N Steydler and T Chigwata, Fact sheets on decentralisation in Africa: A short-cut guide, Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights, 10 August 2021] For example, the Constitution of Zambia contains a list of exclusive local government matters. Article 189 of the Constitution of Uganda lists national powers and allocates all remaining powers to local government. Generally, the more specific the powers are, the stronger and more secure is the sub-national government’s autonomy.

Examples of decentralisation efforts include the following:

  • In the DR Congo, governance is characterised by networks of rent-seeking political, military and economic elites, where an experiment with greater devolution may shortly unfold. Despite its vast size, the DR Congo has been a highly centralised state until, in terms of the 2006 Constitution, the former 11 provinces were divided into 26 new territorial units. Whereas two earlier constitutions (in 1960 and 1964) also provided for a semi-federal model, the DR Congo has effectively been governed as a unitary state and limited progress has been made in decentralisation as set out in the 2006 constitution. By starving the provinces of money, Kinshasa effectively manages the country from the centre. Between 2007 and 2013, for example, the central government only transferred 6%–7% of taxes to the provinces instead of the 40% prescribed in the constitution.[57DP Zongwe, Decentralization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Autonomy Arrangements in the World, doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20028.08321.]
  • In Angola, the government is embarking upon an ambitious decentralisation programme from the central government to its 164 municipalities but largely bypassing its 18 provinces. However, it has yet to devolve more powers to its capital Luanda, which hosts a quarter of its population. The project is staggered with the first 70 municipalities to have received legal personality and considerable autonomy in 2020. The entire process is to be completed by 2035, but without significant efforts to build the technical capacity of these authorities, it will struggle.
  • In Kenya, a new constitution was promulgated in 2010 and with it came administrative changes that created 47 counties, replacing its previous system of provinces. The county form of government was implemented in 2013 and departs from the steady centralisation of authority that had occurred since the early years after independence. Each county has a governor, senator and Members of Parliament (MPs) affiliated with it. In total, Kenya has 390 MPs, of whom 12 are nominated and the rest elected. County governments form a critical element of the decentralisation strategy but the jury is still out as to its impact on better governance.[58Government of Kenya, Constitution of Kenya, 2010]

Eventually, the potential of devolution as a means to advance accountability would require bold steps on top of steps to strengthen institutions such as the judiciary to make decentralisation work in addition to a commitment to the budgetary and spending autonomy of sub-national entities. It also seems crucial that the delimitation of local government boundaries be primarily based on their potential towards financial viability and their capacity to manage those matters for which they are responsible. That was, for example, not the situation with the creation of an ever larger number of states in Nigeria. The basic principle is that authorities should, as far as possible, themselves raise the necessary revenue to finance the functions allocated to them in the interests of accountability and good financial management, complemented by transfers from a national government to ensure equity between regions.

We do not yet have firm evidence of whether decentralised systems advance accountability or merely increase the opportunity for corruption, but what is clear is that much greater community activism is required to translate devolution into better accountability.

Conclusion: What Africa needs

If better governance is indeed a prerequisite for growth, Africa seems to be in trouble. Yet, if better governance (like democracy) largely follows development, the prospects may be more positive. In fact, there is an influential school of thought that argues that ‘the development agenda should not be overloaded with governance reform.’[59See, for example: JK Sundaram, Does good governance always boost development? World Economic Forum, 25 June 2015] The implication of this approach is that slow improvements in government effectiveness in Africa have tracked mediocre economic trends and that rapid economic growth will translate into better governance. A major challenge in this regard would be for Africa to find ways of dealing with neopatrimonialism, with decentralisation having some potential in this regard.

It is easy to underestimate the challenges of governance in Africa and the time horizon required to improve development outcomes, although determined leadership can change things much more rapidly. At low levels of development, these changes are more easily achievable in an autocratic than a democratic context, but it is critically dependent on appropriate leadership. Factor endowments such as ethnic fragmentation, geography and history are important, but what a country does is more important for its future.

Despite their failure to generate growth, Africa’s post-colonial patrimonial development models based on personal networks and exploitation of the state for profit have proved to be remarkably resilient since independence.

Yet, the steady improvements in the levels of electoral democracy in Africa since 1989 mean that democracy is now the dominant form of government on the continent although much of it is of a low, procedural type. The big outlier on the future evolution of democracy globally is clearly China, and the question is if it will succumb to greater political liberalisation to match the substantive economic liberalisation of the last four decades. Eventually, a competitive economic system requires a more competitive political system, particularly once a country gets to upper middle-income status, and it is unlikely that China will be able to defy gravity and escape its large democratic deficit forever. In the meanwhile, the impact of China on Africa exerts downward pressure on increased democracy — a trend resisted by Africa’s increasingly connected and young populations.

Over several successive decades, democracy improves the quality of governance and eventually, livelihoods. Democracy contributes to growth by increasing investment, encouraging economic reforms, improving the provision of schooling and healthcare, and reducing social unrest. Democracies invest more in broad-based public goods and are more likely to enact economic reforms that would otherwise be resisted by politically powerful actors. Through credible elections, democracy provides a mechanism to hold the power of the elite or special interest groups in check, it ensures the separation of state powers into discrete branches of government and protects human rights and the rule of law. In turn, democracies engender confidence for the pursuit of long-term investments. Non-democracies are less likely to do so.[60D Acemoglu, S Naidu, P Restrepo and J Robinson, Democracy Does Cause Growth, Journal of Political Economy, 127:11, 2019, 47–100]

Technically, what poor African countries need is not necessarily a democratic state, but a developmental state where the ‘political and bureaucratic elite has the genuine developmental determination and autonomous capacity to define, pursue and implement developmental goals.’[61A Leftwich, Governance, Democracy and Development in the Third World, Third World Quarterly, 14:3, 1993, 620.] The challenge is that this requires either a developmentally oriented governing elite or liberal democracy, where accountability translates into impact at the ballot box. Although the latter is a more desirable path than the former, it takes longer to achieve and is fragile at low levels of development.

In this regard, modern technology has an important role in allowing for the establishment of parallel monitoring systems during elections and providing a voice to many. It is clear that civil society in Africa is better able to hold governments accountable, monitor elections and guard against abuse with each passing year. In that way, illustrated recently by Sudan, Algeria and Ethiopia, Africans are taking it upon themselves to hold their leadership to greater account. In the meanwhile, every effort needs to be made to hold on to the gains that have been achieved such as regular elections, ongoing electoral reform, establishing a tradition of robust election monitoring by locals and foreigners, and rigorous adherence to term limits.

Eventually, there is no escape from democracy being the only regime type that allows for greater fulfilment for the citizens of states, irrespective of geography, religion or culture. According to the World Values Survey, the desire for free choice and autonomy ‘is a universal human aspiration’.[62World Values Survey]

Endnotes

  1. Eight principles as listed by the UN. See: United Nations, What Is Good Governance?, Bangkok: UNESCAP.

  2. SM Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics, Garden City: Doubleday, 1960.

  3. D Booth, Addressing the real challenges of African governance, Overseas development institute (ODI), 2012

  4. A Leftwich, Governance, Democracy and Development in the Third World, Third World Quarterly, 14:3, 1993, 620.

  5. D Acemoglu, S Naidu, P Restrepo and J Robinson, Democracy Does Cause Growth, Journal of Political Economy, 127:11, 2019, 47–100; See also: A Heshmati and N-S Kim, The relationship between economic growth and democracy: Alternative representations of technological change, IZA, 2017

  6. D Rodrik, A Subramanian and F Trebbi, Institutions rule: The Primacy of Institutions over Geography and Integration in Economic Development, Working Paper 9305, National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2002

  7. D Acemoglu and J Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown Business, 2013.

  8. EL Glaeser, G Ponzetto and A Shleifer, Why Does Democracy Need Education?, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 12128, 2006. Tunisia is a good example of the impetus that high levels of education provide to democratisation.

  9. Consider, for example, fragile post-conflict states such as South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, and the DR Congo.

  10. J Gerring et al, Electoral Democracy and Human Development, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) institute, Working Paper series 2015:9 (new version), February 2016.

  11. Waves do not mean that all countries become more democratic, but simply that there is a generalised, sustained and significant increase.

  12. See Varieties of Democracy website V-Dem codebook. To be considered an electoral democracy, a country must not only hold de facto free and fair multiparty elections but also achieve a sufficient level of institutional guarantees of democracy. In addition, a liberal democracy has effective legislative and judicial oversight of the executive while individual liberties and the rule of law are protected. See: A Lührmann, M Tannenberg and SI Lindberg, Regimes of the World (RoW): Opening New Avenues for the Comparative Study of Political Regimes, Politics and Governance, 6:1, 2018, 60–77

  13. Wikipedia, List of sovereign states in the 1930s

  14. Libya (1947); Egypt (1953); Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia (all in 1956).

  15. For example, Sudan under Gaafar Nimeiry; Somalia under Siad Barre; Liberia under Samuel Doe; the former Zaïre under Mobutu Sese Seko; Chad under Hissène Habré; and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak.

  16. N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015; N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, 2015

  17. Freedom House, Publication archive

  18. N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015

  19. N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015/.

  20. Afrobarometer, Analyse online

  21. R Mattes and M Bratton, Do Africans still want democracy?, Afrobarometer, November 2016, 2.

  22. JA Sanny and E Selormey, Africans welcome China’s influence but maintain democratic aspirations, Afrobarometer Dispatch no. 488, 15 November 2021

  23. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon were Africa’s longest modern rulers. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea seized power in 1979. Paul Biya has presided over Cameroon since 1982, and King Mswati III of Eswatini and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda since 1986. José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola was president for 36 years, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for 35 years before he was forced to relinquish power. When he was toppled by his military in April 2019, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir had been in power for 30 years.

  24. Paul Biya of Cameroon, serving as the prime minister, has been in power since 1975, but has only technically been president since 1982. If his time as prime minister is included, his length of rule comes in at 43 years.

  25. S Wolters, Will this election change the DRC?, Institute for Security Studies, 2019, https://issafrica.org/iss-today/will-this-election-change-the-drc. The results eventually announced by the Commission Électorale Nationale Indepéndante were vastly different from the findings from the 40 000 observers deployed by the Catholic Church, which established a large and comprehensive parallel compilation process.

  26. A Lührmann, M Tannenberg and SI Lindberg, Regimes of the World (RoW): Opening New Avenues for the Comparative Study of Political Regimes, Politics and Governance, 6:1, 2018, 60–77

  27. The Polity index categorises states according to their regime characteristics, with attention to six component measures: regulation of executive recruitment; competitiveness of executive recruitment; openness of executive recruitment; constraints that exist on executive action; regulation of political participation; and competitiveness of political participation. MG Marshall, TR Gurr and K Jaggers, Polity IV Project: Political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800–2016, Center for Systemic Peace, 25 July 2017

  28. Whereas Polity was originally conceptualised to understand regime characteristics (autocratic vs democratic) and later evolved and combined as a measure of democracy, V-Dem is explicitly designed to measure the extent to which countries evidence different types of democracy and delves deeply into the associated characteristics of each. Practically, Polity is closest to the V-Dem conceptualisation of electoral democracy or polyarchy, but there are important methodological and conceptual differences between the two.

  29. AL Persson and B Rothstein, Lost in Transition: A Bottom up Perspective on Hybrid Regimes, Annals of Comparative Democratization, 17:3, 2019, 10.

  30. D Zounmenou, Third terms for presidents of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea must be stopped, Institute for Security Studies, 30 September 2020

  31. A Atta-Assomoah, Presidential power play undermines democracy in Africa, Institute for Security Studies, 1 October 2020, https://issafrica.org/iss-today/presidential-power-play-undermines-democracy-in-africa.

  32. The World Bank, Access to electricity (% of population), 2016

  33. See: Ibrahim Index of African Governance, About

  34. See: World Bank, Worldwide Governance Indicators, http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/.

  35. For definitions of the dimensions, see: World Bank, Worldwide Governance Indicators. WGI scores conventionally range from –2.5 to +2.5 but have been adjusted to range from 0 to 100 for comparison with the IIAG data in Chart 6.

  36. The reason for the slight divergence between the two indices is likely statistical. WGI ranks country scores annually and any improvements in trends in governance in Africa is outpaced by larger improvements in the rest of the world. As a result, the gap tends to increase. However, when dimensions of governance are measured year on year, independent of global trends (essentially what IIAG does), modest improvements are seen.

  37. In IFs, security is driven by a performance and risk index, and state failure from internal event occurrence. Each is in turn driven by a variety of other indicators. For example, state failure from an internal event occurrence depends on levels of development (poor countries evidence more conflict), infant mortality (often used as a proxy for government capacity), size of the youth bulge (a larger youth bulge indicates greater propensity for turbulence), nature of the governance system (mixed regime types are more prone to instability), levels of education and integration into the global system (relationship of exports to GDP).

  38. The IFs capacity index combines data on tax collection from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank’s World Development Indicators project, and uses the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International as a proxy for capacity to manage those resources.

  39. Once governments achieve a minimum degree of security and have developed appropriate capacity, pressure mounts for greater inclusion in political and economic structures and processes as part of an emerging social contract between government and its citizens. The IFs model forecasts its inclusion index based on regime type (using Polity V data) and a measure for gender empowerment as a proxy for horizontal inclusion.

  40. BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Strengthening Governance Globally: Patterns of Potential Human Progress, Boulder: Oxford University Press, 2014, 6.

  41. Generally, Africa did not follow this pattern of state formation, which largely reflects the European experience. In much of Africa, the natural transitions of state formation were interrupted by colonisation. The borders created during this period were subsequently frozen by the Cold War, with Africa serving as an important proxy battlefield.

  42. BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Patterns of Potential Human Progress: Strengthening Governance Globally, Boulder: Oxford University Press, 2014, 6. IFs also forecasts several indices related to governance, including the World Bank measurement of government effectiveness and regulatory quality, but these do not drive the forecasts.

  43. The CPI is a composite index that is constructed from a range of data sources: African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (2018); Bertelsmann Stiftung Sustainable Governance Indicators (2018); Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (2020); The Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service (2019); Freedom House Nations in Transit (2018); Global Insight Country Risk Ratings (2018); IMD World Competitiveness Center World Competitiveness Yearbook; Executive Opinion Survey (2019); Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Asian Intelligence (2019); PRS Group International Country Risk Guide (2019); World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (2018); World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey (2019); World Justice Project Rule of Law Index Expert Survey (2019); and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) (2019). See: Transparency International, Corruption perceptions index

  44. The six aggregate indicators (see: World Bank, Worldwide governance indicators) are based on over 30 underlying data sources reporting the perceptions of governance of a large number of survey respondents and expert assessments worldwide. 

  45. N Cheeseman, E Betrand and S Hsaini, A Dictionary of African Politics, Oxford University Press, 2019

  46. P Englebert and KC Dunn, Inside African Politics, Cape Town: UCT Press, 2013, 191.

  47. N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 200.

  48. Thus: ‘Rent centralisation permitted the leadership in these countries to put some limits on rent seeking and to play a coordinating role, steering rent creation into areas with high economic potential, or to areas that must be resourced in the interests of political stability.’ D. Booth, Development as a Collective Action Problem: Addressing the Real Challenges of African Governance, London: Africa Power and Politics Programme, 2012.

  49. Centrally managed patrimonial relations, according to Cheeseman, are the result of very specific conditions: where leadership consists of national liberation forces after the war, as still evident in many countries in Southern Africa, and in the aftermath of a severe crisis or shock to the system involving large-scale violence such as experienced in Rwanda and Ethiopia. N Cheeseman, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 48. At a global level, China is the most enduring example.

  50. N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015

  51. M Miguna, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, Nairobi: Arrow Press, 2012; On Zimbabwe, see: T Hoekman, Testing Ties: Opposition and Power-sharing Negotiations in Zimbabwe, Journal of Southern African Studies, 39:4, 2013, 903–20; B Raftopoulos, Towards another stalemate in Zimbabwe, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, October 2012, http://solidaritypeacetrust.org/1243/towards-another-stalemate-in-zimbabwe/.

  52. N Cheeseman, The state of democracy in Africa, Democracy in Africa, 14 August 2015, http://democracyinafrica.org/the-state-of-democracy-in-africa/.

  53. In 2014, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures published a forecast on governance that includes additional detail on many of these aspects. See: BB Hughes, DK Joshi, JD Moyer, TD Sisk and JR Solórzano, Strengthening Governance Globally: Forecasting the Next 50 years, New York: Routledge, 2014. For additional information, see Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, International Futures Help System, 2019. The Polity measure roughly equates to the concept of electoral democracy used by V-Dem

  54. The Gender Empowerment Measure has subsequently been replaced by various other indices, including the Gender Equity Index. However, these have not yet been modelled in IFs, nor have the various types of democracy used by the V-Dem project been included.

  55. See: Status list of the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Decentralisation, Local Governance and Local Development

  56. J de Visser, N Steydler and T Chigwata, Fact sheets on decentralisation in Africa: A short-cut guide, Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights, 10 August 2021

  57. DP Zongwe, Decentralization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Autonomy Arrangements in the World, doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20028.08321.

  58. Government of Kenya, Constitution of Kenya, 2010

  59. See, for example: JK Sundaram, Does good governance always boost development? World Economic Forum, 25 June 2015

  60. D Acemoglu, S Naidu, P Restrepo and J Robinson, Democracy Does Cause Growth, Journal of Political Economy, 127:11, 2019, 47–100

  61. A Leftwich, Governance, Democracy and Development in the Third World, Third World Quarterly, 14:3, 1993, 620.

  62. World Values Survey

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Cite this research

Jakkie Cilliers (2022) Governance. Published online at futures.issafrica.org. Retrieved from https://futures.issafrica.org/thematic/13-governance/ [Online Resource] Updated 21 September 2022.