A Rejoinder to Lansana Keita’s Reply

Lansana Keita provides some interesting perspectives in critically reviewing our ‘Is Good Governance a Pre-requisite for Africa’s Development?’ Nevertheless, Keita’s position and conclusion are not really different from ours. Although Keita believes that we fail to see it, we agree that ‘The implicit subtext here is that “good  governance” is essentially a code phrase for a particular kind of government instead, that is, neoliberal government’.

It seems that our arguments are not clear, or that Keita has misunderstood us. We certainly do not discount the importance of ‘good governance’ or ‘effective’ government, as Keita seems to imply. Our main contention, as the title of our article implies, is that what is widely deemed to be ‘good governance’ is not a pre-requisite for development. Rather, we contend that ‘good governance is neither necessary nor sufficient for development.

Keita complains that we did not provide a list of countries which have developed despite ‘bad’ governance, or lack of ‘good’ governance. Keita thinks that Taiwan end South Korea fit, but we would add many others including the People’s Republic of China, most countries in Southeast Asia, Bangladesh
and others. Ethiopia and a few other African countries are also growing rapidly despite their poor governance indicators. 

These cases suggest that large-scale institutional transformation – of the type envisaged by the good governance agenda – is not a prerequisite for getting growth going. Poor countries suffer from a multitude of constraints, and effective growth acceleration interventions should address the most binding of bottlenecks sequentially, not all at once. 

Poor governance in general may be the binding constraint in some countries, but certainly not in the countries growing rapidly despite poor governance. Thus, broad good governance reform is neither necessary nor sufficient for growth. It is not necessary, as the examples of Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Ethiopia suggest and certainly not sufficient, as it ti difficult to sustain governance improvements without growth.

Keita cites the high correlation between low human development and inequality (Gini) to claim that ‘The truth is that the peoples of all countries have a fairly accurate idea of whether their governments operate on the principles of “good governance” or not.’ The correlation suggests a relationship which is circular or dialectical, rather than unilinear, but it is not clear how it demonstrates that people know if a country is well governed. We agree that many people are often aware of certain kinds of corruption, but it does not follow that people are aware of all types of corrupt practices, even in seemingly well governed societies. But more importantly, OECD, World Bank, Transparency International and other such rankings of corruption, are rarely based on popular perceptions; rather, they are generally based on foreign investors’ perceptions. 

Furthermore, Keita implies that the lack of good governance results in low human development and high inequality. In fact, all developing countries score badly on good governance measures and all developed countries do well. The measures do not correlate with inequality or poverty, let alone growth rates. Hence, low human development or high inequality cannot be attributed to the lack of good governance. As a matter of fact, low human development, high inequality and poor governance all typically reflect the same underlying malaise, i.e. the lack of development.

Also, we are neither condoning corruption nor are we against improving governance. All we are saying is that these goals are better achieved and sustained through development. What matters most is the ability of governments to address critical binding constraints to growth.

There is no a priori "one-size-fits-all" solution. Hence, developing governance capabilities for the specific conditions and challenges of particular African countries  can be very different from the focus on democratization, decentralization or anti-corruption that the typical good governance approach espouses. 

Also, pursuing the good governance agenda does not come cheap, and many poor countries simply do not have the ressources, both financial and human, to be able to implement such agendas. And since neither growth nor development necessarily follow from improved governance, the lack of good governance in itself is rarely the binding constraint to sustainable development.

 

Auteurs 

Jomo Kwame Sundaram / Anis Chowdhury

Pagination 

12

Africa Review of Books/ Revue Africaine des Livres 

Volume 11, N° 02 - Septembre 2015 

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