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Africa: Beyond the Ballot
Jan 12, 2005 (050112)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Whatever policies are needed to address Africa's crises, it is
increasingly clear to donors, civil society, and politicians alike
that capable states are essential for implementing those policies.
The current catch-phrase "good governance" has many possible
meanings in practice. How to achieve it is even more debatable. But
there is wide agreement that free and fair elections are just the
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes excerpts from an article in the
latest Africa Renewal (formerly Africa Recovery) based on recent
research and meetings on governance, sponsored by the United
Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). See
http://www.uneca.org/adf for speeches and resolutions of the
African Development Forum held in October 2004, and
http://www.uneca.org/agr for the report of a survey of governance
in 28 African states.
for convenient background links and news feeds from AllAfrica and
IRIN on individual African countries.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Beyond the Ballot: Widening African Reform
Africa Renewal (New York)
January 6, 2005
By Gumisai Mutume, Addis Ababa
[Excerpted. For full text see
Capable, responsive governments are a prerequisite for development
Not too long ago, public demands for accountable and transparent
governments in many African countries were often made at the risk
of persecution, imprisonment or death. While repressive governments
are yet to be eliminated across the continent, significant change
is taking place in a growing number of countries. Civil society is
growing and applying pressure for better performance, the media are
demanding transparency across all sectors of society and
governments are realizing that the days of coercive politics are
In the past, demands centred on the need for multiparty elections.
Now that many countries have moved in that direction, the emphasis
is on consolidating democracy -- making sure elections are open and
transparent and deepening reforms in institutions such as the
judiciary, parliament and local government.
In Africa "there is increasing public demand for policies that
foster democracy and development, for a budgetary planning process
which is open and subject to public scrutiny, for measures that
ensure a capable, proper and functioning civil service with an
adequate level of remuneration," says Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a
veteran Liberian politician and former UN official.
In a growing number of countries, she notes, citizens are calling
for independent judges, effective parliaments, measures that
address corruption and the devolution of power from central to
local governments. "It is expected that proposed laws will be
subject to public dialogue and debate before enactment and that
those representing the people will regularly consult and seek the
people's views," she says. In a nutshell, Africans are demanding
what is known among development practitioners as "good governance."
Narrowly defined, governance means the exercise of political power
to manage the affairs of state. In a broader sense, it can refer to
the various processes relating to leadership, such as policymaking,
transparency, accountability, the protection of human rights and
the relationship among the public, private and civil sectors in
determining how power is exercised.
"Leading voices across Africa and the common citizens of our
continent are behind the demand for better governance," UN Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary K.Y. Amoako told
the African Development Forum, a regular gathering of policymakers
and government officials from the continent, in October. The
conference was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under the theme "Good
Governance for a Progressing Africa."
An increasingly active citizenry is championing the call for
responsive government, said Mr. Amoako. The previous isolation of
African civil society, media, youth and business is decreasing.
"And with all this comes a rise in pressure, from the ground up,
for performance and accountability."
A new era
A few decades ago, the picture was very different. Struggles for
national liberation in Africa during the 1960s and 1970s gave birth
to a post-independence era in which countries sought national
sovereignty. However, in many countries ruling elites imposed
fairly closed systems of government and single-party rule. Military
coups and dictatorships became the order of the day. This period
was punctuated by famines, natural disasters and corruption in
government. Barring a few exceptions, those problems shaped the
public image of Africa abroad.
But the last decade has seen the spread of democratic elections,
generating hope for lasting solutions to the continent's problems.
"Societies have started opening up," says Mr. Bengt
S„ve-S”derbergh, of the Swedish foreign ministry. Many countries
now place great importance on unleashing the energy of the whole
society for development, he says. "Coming from a member country of
the European Union, I am particularly pleased to see that good
governance is now high on the agenda in Africa."
The number of countries holding competitive elections in Africa
quadrupled between 1990 and 1995. By 1995, some 38 out of 47
countries in sub-Saharan Africa had conducted elections, many of
them for the first time. Two regional initiatives, the African
Union (a new continental political organization) and the New
Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), underscore the
importance African states are placing in good governance. All
African countries have signed onto NEPAD, a development framework
that stresses accountability as a prerequisite for economic
progress. NEPAD states that "development is impossible in the
absence of true democracy, respect for human rights, peace and good
governance." Under a NEPAD/African Union programme, 24 African
nations, representing about 75 per cent of the continent's
population, have agreed to take part in a peer reviews of their
governance performance (see article "States call each other to
But despite commitments to improving governance on the continent,
the overall picture in many countries remains poor. Findings of a
new ECA study on governance in Africa show that most countries
perform badly in efforts to control corruption. Evasion and
corruption in the tax system are rampant in many countries.
The study, Striving for Good Governance in Africa, assesses the
performance of 28 countries across a series of indicators including
democracy, respect for human rights, public-service delivery,
corruption and media diversity. The report states that countries
performed badly in the areas of efficiency of government services,
decentralization and accountability in the civil service. Scores
were also low for the effectiveness of institutions of all three
arms of government: executive, legislature and judiciary. Across
all 28 countries, respondents to the study gave the highest scores
for indicators of political representation such as the credibility
of elections and the freedom of political parties (see box, below).
The recent African Development Forum conveyed a key message: in
order to find lasting solutions to Africa's problems, a capable
African state must be developed. This means building a state with
functioning and effective institutions, such as courts and
parliaments -- one in which the different arms of government do not
interfere with each other's work.
During the years of dictatorship and authoritarian rule,
parliaments (where they existed) and judiciaries were severely
undermined. But during the 1990s, a decade marked by the growth of
multiparty political systems, parliaments began to assert
themselves as separate from the executive arm of government.
The broader policy environment does not favour the development of
state institutions. Economic liberalization policies have tended to
trim the civil service and curtail the ability of the state to
In Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Benin, Botswana,
Lesotho, Morocco, Senegal, Mozambique and the Gambia, citizens who
took part in the ECA study considered their legislatures to be free
from the control of the executive. In these countries, the
parliament oversees public institutions to some extent, makes laws
that protect citizens and exercises power over the national budget,
notes the ECA report.
But the majority of legislatures in Africa still have a long way to
go. Dialogue and debate in many parliaments are hindered by weak
opposition parties. Often ruling parties are so entrenched that
they use the state apparatus to hinder the opposition. Some employ
a system of patronage, for instance, distributing state resources
according to party allegiances. Some write election rules and
procedures in their favour and deny opposition parties time or
space in state media. In some cases legislation directs state
funding only to major political parties, to the disadvantage of
smaller ones. ...
Lack of training
Some African legislatures are compromised by poor education and
training among parliamentarians. In Ethiopia, for example, less
than a quarter of parliamentarians have education at the 12th grade
or above, reports the ECA. While a number of parliamentary training
programmes exist on the continent, they are few and often
underfunded. Delegates to the African Development Forum stressed
the need for more resources to enhance the training of legislators
as a precondition for strengthening parliaments.
However, training should not only be targeted at policymakers, said
Kenyan parliamentarian Peter Aringo. There is also a need to
intensify civic education of the electorate to allow citizens to
participate in the parliamentary process. Mr. Aringo said the
strengthening of democratic institutions to promote more responsive
decision-making by those in parliament is only the beginning. "An
alert citizenry is what makes democratic institutions and processes
Opening up the legislative process to allow broader participation,
such as by conducting public hearings and simplifying the
parliamentary process, could make policymaking more inclusive. "The
first step in the effort at achieving effective policymaking in
Africa . . . is to begin by demystifying the policy process
itself," writes Mr. Adebayo Olukoshi in a research paper for the
Canada-based International Development Research Centre.
Seeking independent judges
Another area of governance in need of reform is the judiciary.
Because court systems in many countries are underfunded and staffed
by undertrained personnel, they are often overwhelmed by the
demands made on them. In a number of countries it can take years
for criminal cases to be heard, notes the ECA report. And as the
old adage goes, justice delayed is justice denied. In Burkina Faso,
there are only 300 judges serving a country of 12 million people --
one judge for every 40,000 people.
But perhaps the most pressing need is for an independent judiciary.
On paper, the constitutions of most countries uphold the
independence of the judiciary, but in reality courts are not free
from interference by political leaders. There are exceptions. In
Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda, the
judiciary is considered to be largely independent from other
branches of government, the ECA reports. But in most countries the
role of the executive in the hiring and firing of judges remains
"So long as judges are appointed, paid, promoted or removed from
office by persons or institutions controlled directly or indirectly
by the executive, the judiciary's independence may be more
theoretical than real," says prominent Ghanaian Judge Akilano
Judge Akiwumi, who serves on Botswana's Court of Appeal and
currently heads a panel investing corruption among judges in
Kenya's Court of Appeal, says that in many African Commonwealth
countries the independence of judges is protected because they are
not employed as ordinary civil servants but are paid out of
independent funds. In Uganda, for example, a special fund pays the
salaries of independent officials, including the auditor general,
thus preventing parliament from deliberating on the remuneration of
judges. To limit the influence of the executive in the appointment
of judges, some countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia,
South Africa and Zambia, have judicial service commissions that
recommend and hire judges.
However, the situation is different in many former French colonies,
where judges, especially in the higher courts and constitutional
tribunals, are directly appointed by governments. ...
Strengthening local government
Another government institution whose reform could radically
transform the governance environment is local government. In recent
years, decentralization -- the devolution of power from central to
local government -- has been increasingly viewed as an effective
means of promoting development and democracy at the local level.
Development planners believe that decentralization improves service
delivery, as it enables local people to influence decisions that
affect them. Decentralization of government also brings politicians
and policymakers closer to clients and, at least in theory,
However, the existence of local government does not necessarily
translate into democracy. In some cases officials are appointed
rather than elected. Many do not generate their own revenue, but
depend on central governments, giving real power to those who fund
Lately, aid agencies in Africa have been increasingly emphasizing
local participation in their programmes. Countries that stress
broader participation tend to get more support. Also, the growth of
civil society groups and non-governmental organizations in Africa
is presenting a new counterweight to the powers of central
governments. Some of them developed out of tiny self-help
associations created by people in response to the failure of the
state to provide basic services.
So far only a handful of African countries have begun to
decentralize. One of the early innovators was Uganda. The history
of decentralization in the East African nation dates back to early
post-colonial governments, but the most far-reaching measures were
undertaken after 1986, when the rebel National Resistance Movement,
led by President Yoweri Museveni, came to power. The movement
argued that decentralization would introduce popular democracy in
a country that had been destroyed by a series of authoritarian
Uganda's system is based on a hierarchy of local councils and
committees at village, parish, county and district levels. The
localized political structures were legally affirmed through a 1993
statute that was eventually incorporated into the constitution in
1995. The objectives of decentralization were to bring political
and administrative control to the point where services are actually
delivered, to involve local populations in decision-making and
problem-solving, to reduce the cost of service delivery and to
raise efficiency and accountability at the local level, notes Mr.
Moses Golola, a professor at Bugema University in Uganda. The local
councils perform tasks that were previously performed by government
ministries, such as political administration, minor judicial
services and the supervision of local development programmes.
"Local councils are composed of elected local people, who often
hold personal stakes in the welfare of the area," writes Mr. Golola
in a recent publication of the United Nations University on
reforming African institutions. These local representatives often
defend the interests of their local area against the whims of
central government, he notes. A certain number of seats on the
councils are reserved for women and a gender committee pays special
attention to women's needs.
Early evaluations of the programme point towards success in parts
of southern Uganda, where it is reported that local government
councils have improved efficiency, accountability and transparency.
However, the greatest impediment to local governments in Uganda is
the lack of their own financial resources. This limits the extent
to which local leaders can deliver on their promises and often
results in interference from central government. Also, in areas
where local structures are dominated by corrupt politicians or
elites with allegiances higher up the political chain, results have
been less encouraging.
From rhetoric to action
In a growing number of African countries, the need to develop
strong institutions of state is not contested. The challenge,
however, is to transform political rhetoric into action. The need
is particularly great when the broader policy environment does not
favour the development of state institutions. Economic
liberalization policies, adopted by most African countries since
the 1980s, have tended to trim the civil service and curtail the
ability of the state to deliver services. While there is now
growing acknowledgement that past policies have eroded African
state institutions, current liberalization programmes still
emphasize lean governments.
The majority of African countries continue to implement structural
reforms initiated more than two decades ago. "The economic reform
measures imposed by international finance institutions do not take
proper account of social and political backgrounds of countries,"
writes Mr. Seyoum Hameso, an Ethiopian economist. "Since such
programmes visibly intend to reduce the role of the state, they
make it in effect incapable of catering for social services."
Often there are no mechanisms to deal with ensuing problems such as
growing poverty and inequality, violence and conflict, which in
turn further destabilize the state. And because the state is forced
to impose unpopular policy prescriptions by the international
financial institutions, "the state and its institutions are
rendered even more unpopular," writes Mr. Hameso.
The challenge goes beyond simply holding routine general elections,
filling parliamentary chambers with legislators from all sides of
the political spectrum or devolving power to rural areas. It
requires finding lasting solutions to the funding problems
afflicting governments across Africa and reawakening states that
are devastated by health crises such as HIV/AIDS and that continue
to lose professionals to nations that can afford to pay higher
salaries. African states will need to produce an educated and
active citizenry to operate these institutions and develop truly
independent, viable economies that do not depend on the dictates of
external lenders. "In Africa, the challenge is not just to prevent
states from failing," says Mr. Amoako of the ECA, "but to encourage
states to succeed."
Striving for good governance in Africa
In October, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) released
its first major continent-wide study on governance in Africa,
entitled Striving for Good Governance in Africa. It examines
African institutions and human resources relating to effective
government in 28 countries. The report assesses performance in
areas such as political representation, corruption control,
economic management, media freedom and diversity, and human rights.
Input was obtained from expert panels of about 100 people per
country from all professional classes, as well as academia and
civil society. The ECA also conducted public-opinion polls in about
2,000 households per country -- rural, urban, rich, poor,
illiterate and educated. The perceptions were then scored on an
overall index of 0 to 100.
Some of the key findings are that constitutional government is
getting stronger and more democratic and that multiparty elections
are becoming the only acceptable means of transferring power.
However, the police and military in many African countries still
violate the rights of citizens, electoral commissions need more
independence, shortages of manpower limit the ability of
governments to function effectively and costs and red tape greatly
hinder business in Africa.
The report identifies 10 areas in need of urgent action, including
strengthening parliaments, protecting the autonomy of the
judiciary, improving the performance of the public sector,
supporting the development of professional media, encouraging
private investment and decentralizing the delivery of services. In
turn, donors must live up to their commitments to provide greater
support, the ECA recommends.
To attain more efficient governments, African countries need to
recruit and retain skilled personnel and tap into information and
communication technologies, especially in key institutions such as
the legislature and public services. The most serious challenge
facing African governments is HIV/AIDS, the ECA reports. Strong
leadership is needed to deal with the impact of the epidemic and
more resources must be dedicated to fighting AIDS.
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