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This book addresses a pertinent issue in comparative politics: how can the discipline do analytical justice to regions of the world that differ historically from the Western experience? For decades the West has served as a baseline against which all other regions are assessed, most recently in studies of democratization. Structural differences between regions have been ignored in favour of explanations based on human agency and institutions. In Theorizing in Comparative Politics, Goran Hyden uses the countries of Africa as an empirical case to demonstrate what a structural approach adds to the comparative study of democracy. Priorities like state-building challenge the effort to shape democratic regimes and call for explanations that recognize the impact of local power dynamics on the prospects for democratic development. Informative and thoughtful, this book sheds light on issues that have been underexplored in the field in recent years.
Compared to political developments in Eastern Europe and Latin America, democratization in sub-Saharan Africa has been more problematic and uneven. Looking at the performance in four subregions—central Africa, East Africa, southern Africa, and West Africa—yields no convincing evidence of a “wave” of democratization; countries next to each other differ considerably with regard to their Freedom House scores. This does not mean that democratization has necessarily stalled, but it does demonstrate that the prevailing vertical cleavages along ethnic, racial, or religious lines can make such a transition volatile, as suggested by the cases of Burundi, Mali, and even Kenya. While political competition in mature democracies, typically divided along horizontal group or class lines, tends to generate positive-sum outcomes, such competition in Africa easily turns into “prisoner’s dilemma” games. The uncertainty about the value of cooperation in such situations usually produces political “truces” that are easily abandoned if the costs of adherence exceed the benefits. Against the background of this prevailing political logic, this article calls for a new approach to conceptualizing notions of “institution” and “power” in the analysis of politics in the region.
The 1980s has been described as Africa's “lost decade.” After the largely positive economic and social developments of the 1960s and 1970s, Africa began to lose ground in the 1980s: economic progress turned into economic decline; social development into social decay. The assumption in leading circles has been that this downturn was necessary because of the costs incurred by a largely state-centered approach to development. Economic liberalization would help bring back growth. Few tangible improvements, however, were recorded in the 1980s. Since 1990, calls for political democratization have been added to the armory of policy prescriptions for Africa. Faith in the significance of democratization among Africans and friends of Africa alike provided the continent with new breathing-space but half way through the 1990s, there is little evidence that Africa has begun turning a corner.
Although per capita GNP income is in itself a measure of neither economic welfare nor success in development and measures for countries with a balmy climate always are lower than those for colder countries —something that the World Bank is the first to admit—the statistical trend for African economies that can be gleaned from studying its World Development Report for the past ten years indicates that in comparison with the rest of the world Africa continues losing ground. Although quite a few countries have registered at least a modest economic recovery in the 1990s, the number of African countries that have dropped into the bottom category of least developed countries has increased. In 1980, the number of African low-income countries (under $700 GNP per capita) was eighteen. In 1995 it had gone up to 27 or half of those listed in this category (World Development Report 1995, 162). The debt burden continues to plague the continent. Although total debt service as percentage of exports has improved for some African countries since 1980, repayment obligations are still beyond what African governments can typically afford. The result is that African countries find themselves locked out from international credit other than that provided by the publicly owned international finance institutions. The little private capital that comes to Africa is usually provided by individuals or companies interested only in a “quick buck.”
If politics is supreme, the state is both weak and soft, and the Big Man rules, it is no surprise that policy making tends to take on qualities not associated with conventional models. The “gold standard” of how to set goals, define problems, judge policy solutions, and evaluate outcomes is not automatically applicable in that context. The endless efforts by analysts and consultants to use these standards in devising policies in Africa leave us with a paradox, however: two different interpretations cannot both be true. Such is the policy-making reality in Africa, where political leaders offer one interpretation, and analysts and consultants another. This paradox is not unique to Africa. Stone (1998) discusses it with reference to the United States, where a model of political reasoning also stands in conflict with the canons of economic or technical rationality. The African version of the paradox is an extension of conventional wisdom about policy making in modern society being pushed by international analysts and consultants, typically with an economics background.
When Americans and Europeans think of policy, they usually associate it with a rational measure to solve a particular problem within the limits of what public resources permit. Making policy involves a careful calculation of how means relate to desired ends. It is about such principles as feasibility, sustainability, and efficiency – all in one. Policy analysis, as conventional textbooks confirm, is the application of economic principles to the political process. But, as the African and American experience suggests, policy making in practice does not always follow an economic rationale but rather one based on political grounds. Motives often drive policy regardless of costs.
There are many reasons why Africa's engagement with the rest of the world – the external dimension – is so important for understanding both politics and development on the continent. Its contemporary states were once territories created by the colonial powers to extract resources for their own use. Although these foreign powers made contributions to the social and economic development of these countries, at independence they were still far from modernized, lacked the human resources to manage their development, and had no real experience of governing themselves.
The European powers had not anticipated that their colonies would gain independence so quickly. Many officials in the mother countries also argued against independence on the ground that the colonies were not yet ready to “go it alone.” This position was brushed aside not only by African nationalists but also by governments in other regions of the world. In fact, just prior to the first wave of African independence in 1960, the United Nations had adopted a resolution (No. 1514), which stated that there are no specific preconditions before a country can be granted independence and recognized as a sovereign state.
With independence granted by the international community when the African colonies were still economically and politically weak, the fifty years since this landmark event have been characterized by continued dependence on wealthier and more powerful countries. The economic dimension of this dependency relation dominated the academic and policy debate in the first two decades after independence, whereas the political dimension, manifest in a dependence on the international donor community, has come to the fore since the 1990s.
No region of the world is more closely associated with ethnicity than Africa. Public media fall back on this truth to explain conflicts. Policy analysts wishing to predict Africa's development have tried their hands at it. Social scientists too have spent a lot of intellectual energy attempting to understand its role in African society and politics. Thus, there is a rich and varied literature on the subject. The purpose of this chapter is to try to do justice to what has been written over the years and come up with an interpretation that acknowledges its significance but does not overstate its role as explanatory variable. This means examining how the concept is being defined in the scholarly community and how it compares for explanatory purposes with other potential variables.
Before proceeding to a closer analysis, it might be helpful to provide a brief description of how people in Africa experience ethnicity and how it differs from the way in which Westerners have used the term over the years. As suggested in Chapter 4, Africa's informal institutions, ethnicity being one of them, may be distinguished by the extent to which they are symmetrical and inclusive. Within these parameters, however, the most striking thing about these institutions is their malleability. They are constantly being reoriented and reshaped in response to emerging constraints and opportunities in society. That is why they are also tenable. They constantly recur to meet new challenges. Most Africans are used to this way of life. Constant social maneuvering, if not fun, is at least what they are ready to excel in. This is a reality that is very different from what people know in countries where formal institutions dominate. In Europe as well as in North America, certainty and predictability are among the most highly held values. Where the state is consolidated, it becomes an economic planning and steering instrument aimed at minimizing threats to the system. The public is being socialized into believing that society can manage itself through formal institutions without harm to individuals and groups.
Where Africa may be heading – the question asked in the title of this chapter – is an issue that has become increasingly urgent and important to Africans and outsiders alike. The vast majority of Africans are no better off than their parents were. Despite struggling hard to make a living, they are caught in webs of relations of dependence that are becoming more and more costly to sustain. Although there are those who wish to break out of these affective relations, they are frustrated because there is no formal and predictable system in place to latch on to. Foreign investors and aid agencies share much of that frustration. They want to contribute, but their funds become constant prey to well-placed individuals – investment partners or public officials – for whom they constitute an attractive opportunity to make a quick gain. Even donors who have maintained a constant optimism about Africa and the difference that their own contributions can make have become increasingly skeptical about the future. For instance, after decades of espousing an almost unbounded optimism regarding the prospects of policy reform, the World Bank (2000) is now questioning whether Africa will really be able to “claim the twenty-first century.”
The issue is whether these signs of frustration with the state of development in Africa should be called into question. Isn't Africa changing for the better? Aren't there signs that the region is turning a corner? There are reasons to address these questions here to place both past and present in the light of the future. The chapter begins with a review of the strategies that have been part of mainstream discourse over the years, followed by a discussion of the problems that donor dependency has caused for African countries wishing to chart their own development path. This review is followed by an analysis of the factors in the present that point to a “new” Africa emerging, and a discussion of which practical proposals for better governance derived from political science research might be considered. It concludes with an overall assessment of where Africa is after fifty years of independence.
If informal institutions are so dominant and the state so weak and soft, how do countries in Africa govern themselves? This is an issue that occupies a significant place in the literature. Price (1974; 1975) as well as Jackson and Rosberg (1982) were among the first to argue that individuals and organizations do not engage in politics to win the right to govern or to influence government policy within an overall framework of legitimate rules. Instead, politics in most African states is rather like politics in the international arena where the unsanctioned use of coercion and violence takes place in the absence of agreed-upon rules. Consequently, politics in Africa is less restrained and more personalized than in places with formalized systems of rule. The results, as the three authors argue, are higher stakes and greater risks for those who engage in the political game and greater uncertainty for the general public.
Personal rule remains prominent in Africa. Many perceive it as highly problematic. The international donor community wishes African countries could transcend its limits. So do some citizens who are disgruntled with the way in which politics is being conducted and with politicians who believe they are above the law. The unbound nature of African politics has raised the question of how rules can be made more effective in holding leaders to the norms and principles of modern institutions.
A main purpose of this volume has been to sift through half a century of scholarship on politics in Africa. As such it has covered more ground than other similar texts. It has been an intellectual journey that at times might have appeared taxing yet in the end is hopefully rewarding. Nearing the end of our discussion, we should take stock of the lessons learned. This penultimate chapter addresses three questions: (1) How do we acquire our knowledge? (2) What accumulated wisdom is now available? (3) How is knowledge applied in Africa?
HOW DO WE ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE?
This question applies not only to students of African politics and development but is also one that is especially relevant in a literature review that stretches fifty or so years. Knowledge does not emerge or function in a social or political vacuum, nor is the knowledge of one discipline necessary superior to others. Finally, there are many different ways of producing knowledge. Let us explore every one of these three propositions.
Although the ambition of comparativist scholars is to produce knowledge that can translate across geographical and historical boundaries, there are limits to how far one can take knowledge developed in one country or regional setting to another. As this book has tried to communicate, context, including history, matters. Cross-country or cross-sectional comparisons are important and valuable in their own right, but their purpose is to look at a small slice of reality with a fine lens.
Transforming agriculture in Africa was one of the principal objectives of the colonial powers. The effort was driven not only by the demand for tropical products in Europe but also by the perception that peasant farming in Africa was backward and needed to be modernized. The colonial powers spent a lot of energy trying to bring the largely subsistence-oriented farmers into the market economy and thereby stimulate their interest in producing more. They also realized the problems of fulfilling demands in the mother country through support of peasant farmers only, and therefore embarked on establishing large-scale plantations for growing crops like peanuts and cotton that were in especially high demand at the time in Europe. In between these two modes of transforming agriculture was yet another – settler farming. Life in the industrial cities of England in the early 1900s was unattractive, and many workers preferred to emigrate. Most of them ended up in Australia or North America, but a good number settled in southern Africa, notably South Africa and what is today Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).
A small number of aristocrats in the British countryside wanted to escape what they perceived as the detrimental effects of industrialization and urbanization and saw moving to Africa as return to a natural paradise. These people had been influenced by the explorers who traversed East Africa and reported on its beauty, its bounty of wildlife, and its stretches of what they considered unsettled lands. They became the “upper-class” settlers of the Rift Valley in Kenya and northern Tanganyika who were celebrated in the 1987 movie, The Happy Valley but also received a critical analysis by two Africanist historians, Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale (1992).
Much of the study of politics centers on the tension between human agency and constraints on choice. Political leaders typically emphasize their ability to act in a sovereign fashion, describing politics as the art of the possible. What they less often refer to are the institutional and structural constraints that they face when trying to chart a new path. The old pathway is hard to escape, making them all captives of a certain path dependency.
This path dependency can typically be traced back to a historically important event, a critical juncture in the development of their country. In the United States, the most common reference is to independence, and especially the adoption of its democratic constitution. In France, it is the Revolution and its immediate aftermath, including the adoption of the Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and established a government based on merit. In China, despite its long history, the most critical juncture for its development was the Communist Revolution and takeover in 1949. The list of such junctures in the history of individual countries could be extended, but suffice it to state here that these events set each country on a course that is difficult to change.
The gender issue has become a prominent part of international development discourse in the past three decades. Gender came to the forefront as a public issue in Africa in the 1980s. It was a reflection on what was happening elsewhere in the world. The role of women in politics and development got a special boost from the international conferences that the United Nations organized in Copenhagen 1980 and Nairobi 1985 in order to showcase this theme as a concern of all. The idea of holding the second international conference in Nairobi was deliberate. The situation of women in Africa was generally considered critical. Not only were women poor, but they also carried a heavy burden of work on the land. Furthermore, in a cultural context where group rather than individual rights tended to prevail, their status was generally of secondary importance. They had difficulty gaining the recognition they deserved for their contribution to society.
The literature on gender tends to be as prescriptive as it is analytical; the one that deals with women in Africa is no exception (Mama 1996). Most writers are women and the subject matter invites an understandable moral concern. It sets the conditions of women against those of men and points to the long legacy of discrimination, if not oppression, that has characterized gender relations for generations. Much of the analysis is cast in materialist terms, pointing to the adverse consequences the growth of a capitalist economy has had on the status and role of women. The main thrust of this literature is emancipatory: Women should be given equal status with men and enjoy the same rights.
What do we know about politics in Africa after more than fifty years of research on the subject? How does the accumulated knowledge fit into the rest of the discipline of political science and especially the field of comparative politics? What, if any, are the practical implications of this knowledge for Africa's development prospects? These are the three questions that this volume addresses. It is informative and analytical as well as policy-oriented. It speaks to newcomers to the subject by providing basic data about the continent and its politics. It appeals to the more informed students of politics in Africa by analyzing and discussing key issues that feature in current research. It also invites policy analysts and practitioners to examine the issues discussed in this volume by showing how politics bears directly on development on the continent.
Africa in this volume refers to the region south of the Sahara Desert – usually called “sub-Saharan Africa.” It is a region of great cultural and geographic diversity. But with a few exceptions, like Botswana, Mauritius, and South Africa, countries in the region share the common fate of being among the poorest in the world. In the context of the current global economy, they are marginal. Various explanations have been provided for this miserable state of affairs: colonialism, traditional values, lack of capital – human as well as financial – and so on. This book takes a critical look at the character of African politics. It suggests that its still untamed nature is a significant part of the explanation of Africa's current predicament. The accumulated knowledge that political scientists have generated over the years, therefore, is of special significance for the issue of how to understand and deal with the continent's plight.