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- Question of the week
There are technical and political reasons for why inclusive development has been so elusive in Africa.
African governments have been poor at internal revenue mobilisation. Few countries collect beyond 20 per cent of taxes in GDP terms. Financing development therefore depends on external sources. The amounts, predictability and sustainability of resources from such sources depend on factors that are outside recipients’ control. Recipients who enjoy the favour of external financiers are rewarded with generosity. Meanwhile those that do not, usually for political or diplomatic reasons, suffer reduced funding. Lack of internal revenue-generating capacity and the unpredictability of external funding prevent governments from implementing policies consistently, whether they are inclusive or not. And when external funders are generous, they usually cannot determine where resources are eventually channelled, and whether they serve purposes that promote inclusive development.
This captures lack of capacity for policy implementation due to inexperience and inadequate training and lack of appropriate skills, the latter because there are no opportunities for refresher training. Alongside poor pay and the inability by public servants to make ends meet, these factors lead to lack of motivation and commitment by public servants to their duties. Without a capable, well-remunerated and motivated bureaucracy, development, inclusive or not, is difficult to achieve.
Since the collapse of one-party dictatorships in Africa, there has developed a certain obsession with competitive, adversarial multi-party politics among donors, the Western intellectual elite and the Western-educated African intellectual elite that advise them, or from whom they solicit opinions on politics. It is claimed that inter-party competition ensures accountability of leaders to voters. There are also claims that subjecting leaders to electoral pressures incentivises them to live up to popular expectations in their conduct and performance of their functions. Historical evidence, mainly from Western liberal democracies, supports this. In Africa’s “democracies in the making”, however, these claims rarely apply. Where they do, there is need for nuance.
Politics in Africa is generally clientelistic, not programmatic, reducing competitive politics to “competitive clientelism”. Few people vote for candidates because of their ideas or policies they propose. Most vote because of considerations such as whether they have received money or gifts for their ballots. Others elect candidates from their ethnic or religious group. This does not translate into post-election pressures on governments to perform. Inclusive development is difficult to achieve in such contexts. Pressure to buy elections is key in breeding corruption and financial misconduct, as the necessary cash must be found, leading to diversion of public resources into political schemes that are not necessarily intended to satisfy the needs of the poor. Crucially, flawed competitive elections produce conflict and elite fragmentation, ruling out the emergence of developmental elite coalitions such as those that propelled South-East Asia into prosperity.
What can be done?
Much can be done to augment resources available to poor countries. Money can be provided with the predictability that allows for proper planning and implementation of projects and programmes. However, where there are no robust accountability mechanisms, little can be achieved sustainably. How donors can plug accountability gaps is a difficult question. However, historical evidence demonstrates that quick-fix technical solutions are not the answer.
Donors can help fill capacity gaps by providing limited and well-targeted technical assistance, but only as a short-term measure. Training programmes for civil servants offer greater promise. These, however, are most effective if conducted locally, with limited opportunities for overseas training, only where it is absolutely necessary. A key reason for the lack of skills is the collapse of civil service colleges and institutes of management that previously provided tailored training to civil servants preparing for deployment and refresher courses that helped build long-term careers. Donors may want to help revamp such training institutes and programmes as part of long-term, multi-faceted efforts to promote inclusive development.
Donors can do little about clientelistic politics in countries where it is entrenched. One approach is to finding creative ways of channelling resources directly to where they are needed, not through basket funds which governments control. They can also work closely with governments that may not fulfil conventional good governance or democracy criteria but whose records on delivery and inclusive development are strong and well-established. Rwanda and Ethiopia are good examples. Donors have to decide whether supporting such governments to promote inclusive development is a defendable alternative to pushing for difficult-to-achieve political reforms in pursuit of idealistic notions of democracy and good governance. As it is usually said, good things do not always go together.
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