Analysis & Opinions - Business Daily

Africa Must Make Tough Choices to Build Democracy

| January 7, 2011

Lawrence Haddad started the year with provocative predictions.

Below are my comments, knowing that in the end we will get most of it wrong anyway. The future always has the last laugh.

Governance: Contrary to Mr Haddad's views, I do not think governance went away. It was just done badly, at least in Africa where it was equated with elections and personalised scrutiny of individual leaders.

Little was done to build democratic institutions such as political party structures so we have returned to ethnic politics and shambolic elections.

Many of these have been no more than medieval mob football where the referees and riot police show up after the game and ask everyone to work together.

In some cases like Ivory Coast those with opposing armies went to the polls with expected results.

In world that is serious about governance, the ultimate outcome for places like Ivory Coast is eventually dismantle the military.

Ivory Coast could re-invent the saved resources in education, health and infrastructure which would in turn reinforce democracy.

It was done in Costa Rica with remarkable results and Africa could learn from their example.

I have no illusions that this would be easy but anyone who is serious about democracy ought to be prepared for tough choices and actions with unpredictable consequences.

Half-hearted approaches are likely to see the spread of blatant political marauders.

Democracy and technocracy are often contrasted. It was never a contrast with technocratic rule. In fact, I would like to see more expertise being brought into governance.

For example, creating think tanks to help political parties craft platforms on which to complete would do more for African democracy than all the governance consultants put together.

The latter have sprinkled a few good ideas here and there but they have not had the expected effect because of the lack of institutions to translate them into political programmes.

Governance was hardly served well by ideas. In the absence of such competence-building, the common practice of ranking leaders becomes no more than hollow self-righteousness.

BRICS: There will be growth in emerging economies. In fact, there are already quite a few de facto BRICS. But I would also watch regional integration bodies especially in Africa. They will not come in as BRICs but as "economic networks".

They are laying the foundations for alternative forms of economic governance and are quite different from the EU model despite the seeming appearances.

Africa: We are going to see stronger growth in Africa in the coming year. A large part of this will come from the benefits of communications technologies in a wide range of fields.

South Sudan is a place to watch because it will want to be part of the EAC and cannot do that while it is at war.

And when it does, I suspect that northern Sudan might want to join as well. Even far-flung countries such as Central African Republic will be looking to be part of East Africa. And with Ethiopia continuing to grow its internal economy I suspect the region could be a surprise.

This could spill over into Somalia as well which might start to feel war fatigue especially as the northern regions continue to prosper and improve.

Nigeria will continue to grow. I can confirm the existence of strong will in a new generation of leaders to take their place as a regional economic force. This is a formative year for the country.

Innovation, creativity and pragmatism: We are entering age of innovation in earnest and the influence of ideology is waning (thankfully).

Innovation will continue to drive all economies around the world. It is the crucible around which the BRICs are resting and will play an even greater role in poorer countries.

The major areas to watch include the spread of broadband technology. This could do for Africa what railroads did for western economies but with greater economic synergies.

This is where I would predict that if foreign assistance (the little that is still left) continues on its current ideological path, it will become largely irrelevant to the aspirations of even the poorest of nations.

Also related to this will be a moment when African countries will start to pay more attention to the differences between "research and development" and "innovation".

There will be more interest in funding activities that use existing knowledge to create wealth and less in funding basic research with the hope that it will one day lead to economic benefits.

These trends pose new challenges for academic institutions.

For example, educational programmes that assume that the poor need traditional relief may become new sources of unemployed graduates.

They will need to be replaced with new approaches that stress local competence and problem-solving.

The age of pragmatism will have less use for self-appointed spokespeople for Africa but much influence will come from men and women working quietly to transfer skills and share knowledge.

Engineering sciences and law will become more important in international cooperation and will challenge the dominance economics and politics.

I have hinted at this in my new book, "The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa" but will explain in more detail in a future book under preparation.

Juma is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. This article by was written in response to a posting by Lawrence Haddad. See:

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“Africa Must Make Tough Choices to Build Democracy.” Business Daily, January 7, 2011.

The Author

Calestous Juma