In setting out to interrogate what inclusive governance looks like and why it is a non-negotiable if Africa is to reach its development goals, this issue of Africa in Fact has harnessed the insights of a wide range of contributors, both old and new.
A reading of the articles overall suggests that efforts to improve inclusive governance across the continent, however imperfect, require greater degrees of cooperation and transparency between government institutions and policymakers, civil society, and the private sector to institutionalise sustainable service delivery on all fronts (health, education and security, among others), underpinned by a commitment to human rights – economic, social, political and cultural.
As adoptees of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, African governments have committed themselves to the pledge that “no one will be left behind”.
Leaving no one behind implies that African governments have pledged to create policy frameworks that unambiguously guarantee equal opportunities for social and economic upliftment to all citizens, but particularly the poorest – women, children, and the continent’s restless and increasingly disillusioned youth.
So it is disquieting to read Raphael Obonyo’s article, which interrogates the 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), released in February this year, that reveals that, following a decade of improvement since 2012, there has been a decline in governance standards in Africa, attributable, he writes, to “high-risk security situations and democratic backsliding in the continent”. He says the report also reveals that differences in religion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and economic status are used to exclude and marginalise people.
Good Governance Africa researcher Pranish Desai, meanwhile, looks at the importance of including local communities in policy planning. “Any vision of inclusive governance in Africa that excludes local communities is hollow,” he writes, noting that recent Afrobarometer research has revealed high levels of distrust in local government across the continent. This is a disturbing trend, Desai says, given the extent to which the mandate of local governments includes providing basic services such as water and maintaining basic infrastructure like roads.
Regular contributor Ronak Gopaldas’s article highlights the need to professionalise Africa’s civil services because, he writes, the current capabilities of government entities and agencies across the continent leave a lot to be desired, with a lack of technical skills and know-how often constraining their ability to function effectively. Solving this problem will require programmes and policies that attract technocrats into the public service, as well as a wholesale strategy to professionalise service delivery. Following on from that, Dr Andre Mboulè looks at the role of effective leadership in inclusive governance.
Other articles in this issue emphasise the importance of including historically marginalised groups such as women and youth in economic and political policymaking and implementation. In this regard, GGA researcher Chrissy Dube’s article examines why gender equality and inclusion are imperative in democracy building. “Inclusive and accountable democracies are only possible if marginalised people are included and take their place in the governance process,” she writes. Likewise, new contributor Lennon Monyae emphasises the importance of giving Africa’s youth a meaningful role in the democratic process, pointing out that AU member states already have a youth development framework – the African Youth Charter – with which to work.
Nyasha Mpani examines the role civil society organisations (CSOs) have to play in the democratic process. “In a continent facing deteriorating governance and increased poverty, civil society is a vital building block of development and continental cohesion,” he writes. “Civil society organisations and the African Union must collaborate and cooperate to achieve the ambitious goals of Agenda 2063.
Elsewhere in this issue, Associate Professor in international relations at Wits University, Rod Alence, looks at the empirical evidence from sub-Saharan Africa that demonstrates democracies are outperforming autocracies in delivering good governance. “African democracies are outperforming their autocratic counterparts on key indicators of governance quality – such as government effectiveness and corruption control,” he says. “Crucial advantages of democracy are grounded in the accountability mechanisms they provide, which offer periodic opportunities for inclusive groups of citizens to remove governments by constitutional means.” Even where democratic accountability mechanisms are far from perfect, he adds, they allow democracies to outperform their autocratic counterparts.
Using South Africa as an example, Terence Corrigan’s article, ‘The elephant in the room’, interrogates how so-called cadre deployment and patronage systems among ruling elites, pave the way for state failure. “For ordinary South Africans, ‘corruption’ has become a byword for the failings of governance,” he writes. “Over the years, this has been placed on public display through an unremitting progression of scandals. The Zondo Commission spent close to four years sifting through evidence about the phenomenon of ‘state capture’, a phrase conveying all-embracing malfeasance.” Properly functioning institutions are essential to effective states, Corrigan writes, especially constitutional democracies of the sort South Africa was designed to be. “Where institutions fail, where they cease to serve a rational purpose for the public good, and cease to do so transparently and with integrity, state failure looms.”
We hope that the articles referred to here – and indeed this issue of Africa in Fact as a whole – will stimulate thought and debate among our readers. At the time of writing, Uganda had just passed a bill criminalising homosexuality, a timely reminder that human rights and the freedoms to which we all aspire can never be taken for granted.
The former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it succinctly when he said: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.” Turning words into deeds, however, requires that governments across the continent accept that without accountability, transparency, zero tolerance of corruption, meaningful citizen participation and a commitment to the rule of law, the lofty goals of the SDGs and Agenda 63 will remain elusive.
Susan Russell is the editor of Good Governance Africa’s quarterly journal, Africa in Fact. She has worked in the media industry for more than 30 years as a journalist, editor, publisher, and as a general manager. Career highlights include several years working for Business Day and more than a decade as a reporter, editor and General Manager at the Sunday Times in Johannesburg.