AFRICAN TIME: ESSAYS ON CONTEMPORARY POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE

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This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. All students are required to obtain permission of the Teacher Responsible by completing the online application linked to LSE for You. Admission to the course is not guaranteed.

This course examines contemporary sub-Saharan African politics and society in three parts, exploring some of the toughest challenges the continent has faced in the post-independence period. It begins with a review of twentieth century African politics, exploring the experiences and legacies of colonial occupation, and what these tell us about the present day.

Finally, it explores humanitarian governance and development aid in the twenty-first century, drawing from literature spanning a wide variety of subfields and epistemological traditions. This component of the course considers the nature of public and private authority, as well as the role played by countries in the global north in intervening in the domestic political affairs of sovereign states.

If efficiency is measured by the government's ability to meet the needs of its people, they suggest, then "the first task of government is to make sure citizens' lives improve on a daily basis, because if citizens do not see improvement, their enthusiasm for supporting government policies wanes. There was overwhelming agreement among participants that poor governance has adversely affected the efficient use of economic and social resources for development in African countries.

The misuse or diversion of assistance and domestic funds by corrupt officials, which was tolerated during the cold war to receive support in the international system, is being replaced by a new emphasis on good governance. In the past, said a number of participants, "aid appeared to be driven by certain political factors without a congruence of interests between givers and receivers. Among some participants, the assumption is that such groups can act as watchdogs, serving as the best deliverers of assistance; a number of participants did not agree, arguing that newly democratic governments should receive and channel such aid.

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In any society, holding citizens responsible for their actions, in public service and the private sector, is significant to ensure some level of accountability. With regard to public officials, participants pointed out that mechanisms must be devised to hold leaders responsible when they use public resources in ways that society considers unacceptable. To that end, they noted that any public accountability system should include periodic competition and a clear set of rules and expectations. Participants emphasized the notion that the principle of accountability, essential to democracy, requires exposing the truth, with stated and enforced consequences for violating the rules, without exception, even for those in power.

The lack of accountability in Africa has led to the gross misuse of public resources. For example, single-party systems in Africa do not allow for much in the way of accountability. The effect has been rampant corruption and the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions—an indication that people in Africa were governed without being able to control their governors.

One participant argued: "Besides financial and economic accountability, there is also a need for electoral accountability, for the right to recall representatives if they do not deliver on their promises and don't govern well. International financial institutions and bilateral donors have addressed their expectations of both economic and financial accountability from African countries. The economic objectives of public accountability sought by.

This not only requires systems of financial accountability, but also the capacity and willingness to monitor the overall economic performance of the government. Another challenge discussed under the rubric of good governance was to achieve transparency in government transactions. In most African countries, participants noted that it is difficult to find functioning establishments in which government accounts, external procurement procedures, and central bank operations are discussed objectively: "In examining the way the economy is managed and the structure of relationships between government and society, there is need for greater transparency.

The state must be deprivatized [from domination by the few] and a public arena must be created where there would be room for argument and discussions based on what is good for the entire society. Things should be argued in public terms so that everyone can participate on an equal basis. Several participants pointed out that government should not conceal information from its citizens. A number of suggestions were put forward by participants regarding the ways in which transparency might be achieved in Africa. These included freedom of the press, donors' insistence that governments make their ledgers and gazettes public knowledge, requiring declarations of assets from public officials, exposing and confronting corruption, and accountability from below.

Some participants also raised the question of whether donors genuinely verify democratic conditions in recipient countries, such as Liberia and Kenya. In the case of Liberia, participants suggested U. With regard to Kenya, participants pointed out the inconsistency in application of the good government policy advocated by the British, compared with other bilateral donors. Despite Daniel arap Moi's initial reluctance to yield to the demands for multiparty politics, Kenya received substantial British investment and was defended by both Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd and Aid Minister Lynda Chalker as having a good human rights record.

One participant argued, "Perhaps democracy is being used as a legitimation of intervention. There is a need for transparency in the advice donors give to African governments. When projects [that have been agreed on behind closed doors] fail, the onus is put on African governments. In this regard, it was suggested that donors also need to apply governance reforms to the way they conduct business.

One participant stated, "Having worked for several aid agencies, I will add that the donors need to undertake governance reforms. I hope that the progressive and democratic forces in Africa both during and after the transition will demand those reforms of the donors. For example, demand the publication of confidential reports of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. They are confidential only in lessening the level of accountability of these agencies to populations and opposition. I think there should be much more transparency in the policy-making process, especially during structural adjustment negotiations.

That lack of transparency has satisfied only the donors and the governments, and it will be interesting to see, after the transition, whether newly democratic governments will open up this process to the press, and I think they should, because it will much improve the structural adjustment process. The issue of corruption was identified as posing a profound threat to all systems of government. In most African countries, corruption constitutes an important means by which individual wants and needs, especially in patronage-ridden personal regimes, can be satisfied.

Although corruption is a general problem for all governments, governments of developing countries tend to exhibit the problem in a particularly noteworthy way. In countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zaire, and the Central African Republic, corruption is so extensive that it is viewed as a way of life. Making or receiving bribes in most African countries is considered a practical tactic to look after one's needs and interests, achieving incomes and security far greater than provided by one's monthly salary.

Because of an absence of effective structures with autonomy and strength to check corruption, the governing elites of most African countries have engaged in high and sometimes egregious levels of corruption, increasingly diverting state resources for personal gain. In Zaire, for example, one participant mentioned that corruption has been termed a structural fact, with as much as 60 percent of the annual budget misappropriated by the governing elite.

Foreign aid, noted the participants, although designed to contribute to development, also has served as an alternative source of wealth for corrupt elites. One commented: "While many African leaders have become rent-seeking and corrupt, there is a corruptor and a corruptee. They then. It was also pointed out that, to the extent that government has been immersed in patron-client relations and in cases in which state office is granted as a means to amass personal wealth, corruption has increased in scale and proportion. One significant suggestion advanced by participants in both the Benin and Namibia workshops was that public monies siphoned off by corrupt leaders and public officials and deposited in the West must be returned.

They made a plea for donors to suggest steps that African countries could take that might help retrieve the stolen money deposited in foreign accounts by these public officials. One participant stated, "Stolen monies do not belong to the few individuals who perpetrated the thefts. The people of African countries were robbed.

If donors were to try to help get this money back, it maybe would contribute to democracy and democratization. Although participants acknowledged that corruption in Africa emanated from the lack of democracy and accountability, they emphasized that corruption is not unique to Africa and also may be found in liberal democratic systems. Consequently, they were of the opinion that the real issue is the absence of institutions capable of tackling corruption.

As one participant argued, "With regard to corruption and stolen money, my own advice is to let sleeping dogs lie and engage ourselves more in how to create institutions that will help make a repeat performance impossible. I also think we can suggest to donors that we want a change in the form in which aid comes. For example, donors no longer should give direct monetary aid, because this can be misutilized, but could provide assistance in other ways that would ensure it is effectively utilized.

Although the discussions on corruption revolved primarily around the return of stolen money, there was general agreement that it will be difficult to achieve democracy without eradicating corruption and establishing effective measures to ensure some level of accountability and transparency in African countries. The protection of freedom of information and human rights was identified as a means of bringing about improved governance. One person observed: "The media play a critical role in the maintenance of democracy by providing a bridge between all of the different elements in society.

For example, it was stated that almost everywhere in Africa "radio and television are under direct government control. Radio is often particularly important in rural areas, and among people not literate in European languages, whereas newspapers are expensive to run and can be subject to government censorship or indirect pressures over matters such as the supply of newsprint. In countries like Mozambique, the media were assigned a political role as agents of mobilization. In South Africa, although restrictions have been eased, newspapers still retain a high degree of self-censorship.

Participants strongly believed that the media should be free from state control and entrusted to professional journalists who, in areas such as Nigeria and southern Africa, have maintained a courageous commitment to press freedom. It was acknowledged, however, that professional training is needed for journalists, especially in countries whose press has been under state control.

One participant called for African journalists to train younger colleagues, organize themselves into associations and trade unions, and to sponsor conferences around the issue of the press and democracy. These steps, he offered, "could contribute to the emergence of a free and independent press in Africa, with persistent reporting in turn contributing to improved governance. While supporting privatization of the media, participants recognized a danger that, in places such as South Africa, this might concentrate ownership in the hands of the wealthy: "A dispersed and variegated press is needed, including a local press, so that readers can vote with their money against inadequate reporting.

It also was pointed out that reforms of press laws will be required in a number of countries.

Politics and Government

Some participants advocated that a code of ethics for the press be instituted simultaneously with such new laws. As one participant illustrated, "ultimately, freedom of the press reflects the freedom of society itself. In countries such as Swaziland and Zambia, the refusal of the press to be coopted was a major factor contributing to an open society. In Nigeria, there are over 50 newspapers and lots of magazines, with many of them in local languages and dialects. Generally, the more press there is, the greater the difficulty government has in suppressing it. Participants indicated that regular indigenous institutions for monitoring should be established, although assistance from international civil society also could be very supportive, ideas that will be discussed further in the next chapter.

The use of alternative media, such as drama, news murals, and posters to educate people about rights was also recommended. Political autonomy and policy participation for local communities and ethnic groups in society are significant factors of government legitimacy. Participants noted that, in politically fragmented countries, decentralization might allow the various political, religious, ethnic, or tribal groups greater representation in development decision making, thereby increasing their stake in maintaining political stability.

One participant convincingly argued, "With reference to decentralization, I would simply like to say that we have to look at things from the point of view of democratic society. Are we going to tolerate diversity? If it's a dialogue among peers, then we can't concentrate the political and economic power in the hands of just a few people.

I think we have to tolerate this diversity, and political and economic decentralization should be admitted as having the right to exist. We do not have to try to achieve uniformity because it is perhaps not the best thing. I think that decentralization of power is not bad. It will, of course mean that there is a limitation on the centralization of power in both the political and economic fields.

There was clear agreement that centralization and personalization of power by rulers has been a major obstacle to democracy in African countries: "Africa's problem is unequivocally and fundamentally political. Political centralization has led to economic centralization, which has led to economic crisis. Institutionally, because most African countries are overly centralized, there needs to be both horizontal and vertical decentralization of power.

One specific suggestion was to decentralize politics first so that the legislative and judicial branches of power could become independent and their powers strengthened, in order to act as a check on the powers of the executive. Participants further pointed out that the power and authority of most African heads of state blatantly override the powers of the legislature and the judiciary.

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In other words, because of the personalization of power by the rulers, an enormous gap exists between the rulers and the people. In some African countries, constitutions and other laws have been revised to give rulers the right to exercise exceptional powers. For example, in Sierra Leone and Kenya, constitutional amendments and statutory provisions have.


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Most participants believed that, in the future, it would be necessary to limit the excessive concentration of power in the hands of the executive in order to ensure some level of accountability through the other branches of government. There was a clear sense that the role of the centralized state must be limited. As one person suggested: "Local government must be allowed to work. The state's monopoly control must be broken down. The formal structures in the state are highly centralized, whatever way you look at it.

This is the problem as far as the issue of centralization is concerned.

Politics and Government

One participant advocated that the state communicate with societal elements, such as clans and tribes, and not just with one ethnic group in society: "Decentralization can absorb ethnic issues at the middle level; groups have something they can control at their level. Decentralization will be territorial and ethnic based. Another participant, however, cautioned that decentralization should not be allowed to result in the replacement of authentic, grass roots leaders with party members. In short, the participants agreed that decentralization could be useful in encouraging local autonomy, strengthening civil society at the grass roots level in both rural and urban areas, and providing ways for women to participate in issues of immediate local concern to them.

The discussions on decentralization also focused on the devolution of power.

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One participant argued that "decentralization has been cloaked in rhetoric without devolution, resulting in the further illegitimacy of the state and the weakness of civil society. As African states became increasingly incapable of delivering [on their economic and political promises], associational life emerged at the local level. This often took the form of a shadow state, where people organized themselves to provide basic services that, in their communities, had been ignored by the state.

In this bubbling up process, these groups would then try to extract necessities from the state in order to provide services. Civil society, therefore, emerges in this form to meet basic human needs at the local level, not resulting from macro-level concerns. If there is to be an efficient link between state and society, with effective articulation by associations, then local government, in the form of devolution, would be most appropriate.

Social Change and Modernization in African Societies South of the Sahara - Persée

In this way, devolution could provide the missing link between the center and periphery in rural areas. Yet autonomous local governments hold out important prospects, not only in rural areas, but also in urbanized areas, such as those in South Africa. Some participants, however, expressed caveats in the discussions about decentralization: "As far as decentralization is concerned, it can be a little. In such situations, there is an inordinate amount of stress on certain ethnic communities or characteristics. This may not always be optimal, as far as the Africa of tomorrow is concerned.

But, if we are aware of these dangers, I think we can overcome them. Another participant suggested that societies with diverse ethnic groups centralize power primarily because that has been the easy and cheapest way out of anticipated problems. He maintained, "When we talk of decentralization, I can tell you that I participated in a number of discussions in my country in which the people of certain regions said they were opposed to decentralization because they were the rich sections of the community and they had the mineral resources.


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  • Therefore, they argued, they should have more money and their incomes should be bigger than the other areas, as they supply the resources. Consequently, if centralization were developed in some areas, it was because it was the cheapest way out.


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    • Democracy, of course, calls for money and for financing. The issue of modes of representation in African countries also was a topic of discussion in the three workshops. Many participants argued that federalism might be the best known mechanism, although not the only method, of giving autonomy to different societal groups, thereby accommodating what participants termed the "ethnic variable. Yet the difficulty in coming to any clear agreement concerning representation was illustrated by one participant, who asked, "On what does one base federalism?

      If one resorts to ethnic groups, which primarily are territorially based, then people worry about ethnicity. They see that disputes can lead to intergroup conflicts when groups live in proximity, such as is the case in Lebanon. If groups live in the periphery, it can lead to separatism.


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