The good governance agenda, advocated in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and the Washington Consensus, has focused on the structural and formal institutional arrangements of the African state. It assumes that pointing out institutional problems will bring positive change. However, the experience of nearly 30 years of various forms of structural adjustment has not delivered the expected results. Is the problem that the good governance prescriptions need to be refined or are there other political forces and systems at work? Neo-patrimonial political practices, which dominate in much of Africa, are in constant tension with the norms of accountability, transparency and formal institutional rule. To understand why calls for good governance alone have not worked, one needs to understand how neo-patrimonial power is exercised, how it affects the operation of the state, and how it integrates formal and informal political processes and determines the nature of the ‘social compact’ between rulers and ruled. Governance must be good in terms that make sense locally. However, development requires a commitment to forms of management that may not be compatible with neo-patrimonialism. So, the search for an effective approach will demand a new conceptualisation of the relations between the politics and economics of accountability.
SAIIA sincerely thanks those who acted as peer reviewers for these papers.
Perspectives on Governance: Founded to promote public debate and research on crucial issues of public policy, the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) is pleased to send you these occasional papers that we hope will contribute to a more robust conversation about the nature of Africa’s governance challenges.