Democracy in Africa: The Hard Road Ahead

By Marina Ottaway | Go to book overview

5
Democracy, Adjustment, and Poverty Reduction in Africa: Conflicting Objectives?

Carol Graham

After decades of debate about the effects of economic reform (adjustment) on the poor, there is increasing evidence that the poor fare worse in countries that fail to adjust. 1 And, despite its short-term costs, economic reform also can provide unique political opportunities for governments to redirect public resources to poor and previously marginalized groups. Safety-net programs that reach such groups and also incorporate their participation can enhance the political voice as well as the economic potential of the poor. In such scenarios, economic reform can have positive effects on the process of democratization as well as on poverty alleviation.

This is by no means the case in every country that adjusts, and to a large extent the impact of adjustment on democracy depends on the pace and scope of economic change. Rapid and far-reaching economic change, which undermines the positions of entrenched interest groups, creates new political opportunities for governments implementing reform. In contrast, stalled reform or more closed political systems allow established interest groups to protect their privileged access to state resources and to the political system.

In addition to the pace and scope of economic and political change, the manner in which adjustment policies are presented and communicated to the public will determine their public acceptability and sustainability. In the longer term, the sustainability of economic reform hinges on its achieving political legitimation beyond the governing elite and among a variety of social sectors. And the sustainability of new resource allocations to less privileged groups depends on how effectively their political voice has been enhanced.

I posit here that the processes of economic reform and political liberalization can be mutually reinforcing, that rapid progress in one arena often creates opportunity in the other, and that the pace and scope of reform makes a great deal of difference in determining its acceptability in the short

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