Academic journal article African Studies Review

Developments in African Governance since the Cold War: Beyond Cassandra and Pollyanna

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Developments in African Governance since the Cold War: Beyond Cassandra and Pollyanna

Article excerpt


Twenty years ago, most African countries seemed permanently mired in malgovernance and repression. The end of the Cold War triggered two contrasting developments: governance improvement associated with the end of superpower competition, and deterioration caused by the resurgence of suppressed ethnic conflicts. Based on a variety of evidence, three subperiods can be identified: fragile governance progress from 1989 to 1995; backsliding associated largely with civil conflict between 1996 and 2002; and resumption of progress in recent years. These broad trends mask major intercountry differences-with Ghana the best-known case of improvement and Zimbabwe the worst case of reversal. Overall, African governance is now somewhat better than it was two decades ago. However, the progress is fragile, and improvements in administrative and economic governance have lagged behind those on the political front. Consolidating democracy will thus require institutional capacity building through a combination of appropriate civil society efforts and constructive external pressure to strengthen accountability.

Résumé : Il y a vingt ans, la plupart des pays africains semblaient enfouis pour de bon sous les problèmes de mauvaise gestion et de répression. La fin de la guerre froide a déclenché deux impulsions contradictoires : une amélioration de la gestion gouvernementale associée à la fin de la compétition des superpouvoirs, et une détérioration causée par la résurgence des conflits ethniques. Trois périodes peuvent être identifiées si l'on se base sur les sources disponibles : Le progrès gouvernemental fragile entre 1989 et 1995 ; la régression due largement aux conflits civils entre 1996 et 2002 ; et le retour du progrès dans les dernières années. Ces tendances générales masquent des disparités majeures entre certains pays, comme le Ghana, cas modèle d'amélioration, et le Zimbabwe, à l'autre extrême des cas de régression. De façon générale, la gestion gouvernementale en Afrique est meilleure qu'il y a vingt ans. Cependant, le progrès effectué reste fragile, et les améliorations au niveau administratif et économique restent à désirer comparé aux améliorations du domaine politique. La consolidation de la démocratie va ainsi nécessiter un mouvement institutionnel demandant à la fois des efforts de la société civile et une pression constructive provenant de l'extérieur pour renforcer le niveau de déontologie gouvernementale.

"I Wan Bi President"

Every street go carry my name

I go rename all University for de country

AU de towns go carry my name

If dem publish newspaper or magazine

Wen dey curse me even small

Na bomb I go take teach dem lesson

I wan bi President.

Nigerian poet Ezenwa-Ohaeto, circa 1992

The Fluid Meaning of Governance

As presaged in general by Huntington (1991) and by McFerson (1992) for Africa, the year 1989 is now generally accepted as marking the beginning of sub-Saharan Africa's "democratization wave" (Rakner Sc van de Walle 2009) - mainly because the end of the Cold War relieved Africa from the pressures of superpower competition. A generation earlier, however, the end of colonialism had also given rise to democratic forms and modalities that eventually crumbled throughout much of the continent. Is the post-1989 "democratization wave" genuine and widespread? Has it been accompanied by the kinds of institutional development and improvements in public management necessary to consolidate it? What have we learned about African governance since then?

Governance, a term used almost only by academics just twenty years ago, has become the watchword for development theorists and international aid policymakers - as epitomized most recently by President Barack Obama's choice of Ghana, an example of substantial governance progress, for his first official visit to Africa in July 2009. Yet the concept continues to be elastic and is understood by different scholars and organizations in different ways. …

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