The “resistance” of African states to good Governance

Introduction

States are more and more called upon to deal with some ethics in their political, economic, and social actions. The art of governing has induced a paradigm shift, and we have moved from the concept of government, which reflected political centrality and individualism, to that of governance, associated with the criticism of the all-State (1 ). This new “way of seeing” ( 2 ) makes it possible to gauge the content and implementation of public policies in terms of “good governance” or public “mismanagement” (Jacquemot 2010:13 1). If this is a global dynamic, we must recognize that it is particularly in Africa that a good governance qualifier is required (World Bank 1989).

It is from this perspective that good governance has become, for African countries, a “conditionality” or even a prerequisite for benefiting from international aid (Bakkour 2013:16). Although the concept of governance is a blended word, this notion is generally mentioned when a performance problem appears within a system (Bakkour 2013:2). Governance therefore appears as a new “social management technique” (John Pitseys 2010), which represents both a “descriptive idea of reality, and a normative ideal associated with transparency, ethics and the efficiency of public action” (Ibid.).

Globalization issues that were once solely handled by States are now the subject of global governance coordinated by institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. According to the latter institution, governance induces respect for six indicators, namely: citizen voice and responsibility; political stability and the absence of violence; the effectiveness of public authorities; the quality of regulation; the state of law and control of corruption. Several African states, however, resist good governance in the sense that they oppose the effective implementation of these indicators.

This policy brief on governance in Africa is set within the time frame of 2018 to 2023. It considers at least two dimensions, namely the presentation of the state of governance in Africa from a few African states (I) and the implementation of some recommendations for the emergence of a culture of good governance in Africa (II).

I. The state of governance in Africa: factors explaining the “resistance”

Looking at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2020 Report on Governance, governance trends in Africa are declining. In 2019, the continent saw a -0.2 point drop for the first time in ten years. More concisely, the report specifies that the only progress that has been made over the last decade is that obtained in the following categories: foundation of economic opportunities (+4.1) and human development (+3.0), while the categories of participation, rights and inclusion (-1.4), security, and rule of law (-0.7) recorded a worrying decline (IIAG 2020: 2). Only eight countries managed to make progress in each of the four categories. They include Angola, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Seychelles, Sudan, and Togo. On the contrary, the overall figures for Cameroon reveal resistance in terms of governance. The country is among the 29 countries with a very high rate of deterioration in the participation, rights, and inclusion category, as well as among the of 22 countries with a high rate of deterioration in the security and rule of law sectors (IIAG 2020: 3).

There are several parameters justifying these poor governance scores and, therefore, the democratic decline in Africa. These include, among others:

a.Contempt for fundamental rights and freedoms: In several African states, the enjoyment of certain rights and freedoms is still equated with disturbance of the peace by those in political power. These mainly concern freedoms of assembly, association, and strike, which are still repressed in countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria. In the first country, some leaders and activists of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) are still imprisoned for having participated in the “silent marches” of September 26, 2019, which consisted of protesting against the results of the presidential elections of October 7, 2018 (3). Similarly, in Nigeria, a peaceful strike by young people and women against police violence on October 17, 2020, resulted in the deadly repression of the protesters (4).

b.The multiplication of coups d’État and sources of socio-political crises: From 2020 to 2023, six coups d’État have been recorded in West Africa: in Mali (2020 and 2021), in Guinea (2021), in Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022), and in Niger (2023). In the same region, there have also been coup attempts in Gambia and Guinea-Bissau (2022). In the Central African region, there was a coup d’État in Gabon (2023) and an attempted coup in Chad (2022). In East Africa, a coup attempt was recorded in Sudan (2021). In addition to these coups, Africa is also experiencing several socio-political crises and civil wars. This is the case of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon and the Tigray War.

c.The undemocratic nature of political institutions of some African countries: According to the 2020 report of the World Bank for Africa on the assessment of national policies and institutions (CPIA), several African states are struggling to improve their institutional environment. Countries are rated on a scale of 1 (lowest score) to 6 (highest score) for 16 indicators grouped into four categories: economic management; structural policies; social inclusion and equity policies; public sector management and institutions (World Bank/CPIA Africa 2020:1). The overall CPIA score is 3.1 for the 39 countries tracked by the International Development Association (IDA). Rwanda tops the ranking with 4.0, followed by Cape Verde (3.8) (CPIA 27). Thereafter come Benin and Ghana, whose overall score rose from 3.5 in 2018 to 3.6 in 2019, and Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, each with an overall score of 3.5. These high-ranking CPIA countries also have the fastest-growing economies in the region (Ibid.). Cameroon and Nigeria are among the average performers, with overall scores of 3.3 and 3.2, respectively. Fifteen countries considered to be “fragile States” scored below the regional average. These include South Sudan (1.4); Eritrea (1.9); Somalia (2.0); Sudan (2.2); Guinea-Bissau (2.5); etc. (ibid.).

d.Corruption: According to Transparency International (2021), corruption amplifies the effects of a crisis, whether socio-political, economic, or health-related. In a report published in January 2021 on the Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the NGO highlights the results for some 180 countries. It shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the lowest score, at 32/100, compared with 62/100 for Western Europe and the European Union (100 = very little corruption; 0 = severely corrupt). Disaggregated data shows that the least corrupt African country is the Republic of Seychelles, which ranks 27th with a score of 66, followed by Botswana at 35th with a score of 60. By contrast, the most corrupt countries in Africa are Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan; Burundi; Congo; and Guinea-Bissau, etc.

II. Recommendations for a better public governance in Africa

The factors that influence good governance in African countries depend on the political will of leaders and the awareness of other actors.

a.African governments must:

  • Put an end to what Jean-François Bayart calls “rhizome states” (Bayart 1989), that is, states that function on the surface with official Western-inspired institutions and unofficially with underground rhizomes (personal networks, political centrality through ties of kinship, cooptation, alliance, and friendship);
  • Work to establish democratic institutions that promote inclusion and contribute to poverty reduction;
  • Guarantee, constitutionally and in political practice, the independence of the legislative and judicial powers so that laws and court decisions primarily serve the people and not the political interests of a minority;
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability in the management of public goods through results-based management and permanent audits;
  • Rigorously sanction corruption and misappropriation of public property by requiring senior officials to declare their assets before taking office;
  • Limit the number of presidential mandates to place alternation at the heart of African democratic culture;
  • Establish governance structures and mechanisms to empower the people and members of different institutions to hold designated administrators legally responsible for their actions and decisions.

b.Political parties must:

  • Demonstrate good governance and transparency in the management of funds within their political stables before claiming national governance of public goods;
  • Serve as a sentinel in denouncing bad governance practices.

c.Non-governmental organizations and the media must:

  • Carry out their activities in compliance with professional ethics and professional conduct;
  • Denounce acts of poor governance by all means (writings, interviews, and reports).

Conclusion

In a nutshell, public governance in Africa is the fruit of an association of endogenous and exogenous logics (Balandier 1955, 1959, 1961) or even of a hybridization (Bayart 1989) between transposed techniques and the realities specific to States. The recommendations made here are judicious in improving governance processes in Africa.

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Aboudi Vanessa is a Research Associate in the Democracy and Governance Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Yaoundé II and is particularly interested in governance and gender issues. She is the author and co-author of several articles published in national and international journals.

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JENGU Guy Beaudry est doctorant à l’Université de Yaoundé II, Soa et chef du département tendances et conjonctures du Centre Africain de Recherche en Sciences Morales et Politiques (CARES-MP). Il est particulièrement intéressé par les questions de sociologie des relations internationales et les études stratégiques.

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