Moving Beyond Africa’s Crisis of Institutions

Photo © Artem Bali/Unsplash
Photo © Artem Bali/Unsplash

This paper explains the dysfunctional state of African institutions and suggests possible interventions for effective and resilient institutions at the national, regional and continental level. It argues that institutional failure in Africa can be diagnosed at the conceptual and operational level.

Conceptually, most African institutions are largely Western imports that do not reflect the socio-economic and cultural realities of modern African states. This mismatch not only results in institutional subversion by powerful interests but also accounts for the tension between formal state institutions, on the one hand, and informal and traditional institutions, on the other. In some cases, however, institutional dysfunction reflects the prevailing philosophy about political authority, espoused mostly by the old guard of African leadership, which is a carryover from Africa’s colonial past and essentially at odds with the mechanisms of modern democratic governance. At the operational level, the dysfunctionality of African institutions can be explained by the dearth of responsible and ethical leadership on the continent, growing political alienation on the part of the African citizenry, inadequate state capacity to enforce rules, and limited economic opportunities, which encourages individuals and groups to subvert state institutions for rent seeking and the illegal accumulation of wealth.

Against this backdrop, the paper makes the case for institutional designs that are responsive to local contexts, are adaptable to changing circumstances, and reflect a shared consensus and aspirations. Additionally, addressing the institutional malaise on the continent requires efforts to engender a new generation of African leadership that is not only skilled in the mechanics of modern democratic governance but also ethical and transformational. Safeguarding the integrity of Africa’s political institutions will also benefit from encouraging greater civic engagement and harnessing the power and influence of civil society in its role as watchdog and ethical guardian of society.

12 Oct 2015