The political revolution of contemporary Africa has so far largely been
limited to the centre and to re-establishing the same institutional forms and
processes which failed Africa in the 1960s. These regimes are already showing
signs of erosion. This problem can be understood through the theory of
public goods. Key collective or ‘public’ goods problems impede the collective
action necessary for institutional development. Top-down strategies cannot
surmount these problems because they cannot integrate and unify the population
or structure consensual and sustained collective action.
As currently constituted, national levels of government in Africa will be
poor partners with local communities in development, be it of democracy or
of the economy. In many cases, national regimes only exist at all because
minimal contributing sets or political monopolists controlled, were given, or
mobilised the resources to establish constituting rule systems which they used
to sustain their existing relative advantages during the break-up of imperial
systems. As this advantage is usually at the expense of the majority which
lives outside the capitals, resources and policies to improve these areas are
slow in coming. The slow, bottom-up process by which a true public constitution
is built, one which reflects and elaborates generally held values, is
built on existing political relationships, and protects social diversity, has
never been allowed to develop.
Refounding the African state must resolve these problems if it is to succeed.
Ethnically and religiously diverse peoples will rule themselves better under
federal and consociational systems which give local leaders space to lead local
institutional development, authority to play a role in national governance, a
process to develop consensus on central policy and to check the centre when
there is no consensus. This requires a foundation of viable, real, developed
structures of local governance if it is to succeed.