Development in Africa – The Complexity of Power, Institutions and Policy outcomes

I was privileged to facilitate a seminar on “Challenges of Policy Formulation and Implementation in Africa” with a group of brilliant young public sector and civil society professionals in a program by the LéO Africa Institute known as the Huduma fellowship.

My presentation was titled “Development in Africa – The Complexity of Power, Institutions and Policy outcomes”.

We talked about Africa’s development story (as told through different lenses) — Economic Growth, poverty – challenges of inequality, climate change, Debt, unemployment— A recognition that lots of progress has been made in these areas – but, despite a concerted effort by different actors (donors, governments, private sector, foundations, etc) – why is it that many projects fail to achieve desired outcomes.

We explored the nature and trajectory of development — what matters? Social classes and the pivotal role of social alliances, Institutions as rules that are upheld by society to make a difference to individual actors (Douglas North”, formal vs informal institutions- when do institutions become legitimate? The state’s role as a principal mechanism of bringing about change and development – Critical junctures (acemoglu et al) the impact of significant moments in shaping long term change.

We then looked at how these factors — Social classes, Institutions and Politics, Critical junctures have affected the process of social transformation in Africa – and by implication- development.
What is it about how institutions (formal and informal) function that is different? How do social norms and values shape the way institutions work? How is power legitimized, and how does that affect the way the state functions (and implements development policy)?

Why should colonialism be considered a critical juncture moment for Africa’s development prospects? What was the nature of the state left behind by such a critical moment — how does it reflect the state today, and its capability to drive social transformation? Colonialism and the two publics? (Akeh 1975).

The existence of a state with no structural roots in society – which, as a balloon, is being punctured by excessive demands and unable to function without an indiscriminate and wasteful consumption of scarce resources.

(Hyden 1983)

But if the state is responding to the nature and demands of how its society is structured- why is this a “wasteful” use of resources?
From theory to practice— we then explored some frameworks that can be used to potentially address this “implementation” challenge in development.

Building state capability – Matt Andrews Lant Pritchett offers an innovative approach for understanding state capability and development. Salient ideas include – isomorphic mimicry- developing countries tend to mimic the institutional forms of developed countries to appear capable and functional. Premature loading – the dangers of expecting too much too soon, Focus on local problem identification and adaptation vs solutions.

This article was first published by Hashim Wasswa Mulangwa on LinkedIn