Working with the Grain? Rethinking African Governance

Edited by: Richard Crook and David Booth

March 2011
Volume 42 Number 2

At the heart of current policy thinking about Africa there is a significant knowledge gap concerning governance and development. This IDS Bulletin concentrates on what can be done about that, drawing on the initial experience of a new research venture, the Africa Power and Politics Programme. The APPP is committed to discovering forms of governance that work better for development than those prescribed by the current ‘good governance' orthodoxy. It aims to do so chiefly by examining the range of post-colonial experience in sub-Saharan Africa focusing especially on under-appreciated patterns of difference in institutions and outcomes. A central challenge has been operationalising the working hypothesis that institutions function better when they ‘work with the grain' of the society which hosts them.

Governance reform in Africa has lost its way; the results of efforts to improve how African countries are ruled remain seriously insufficient (not only the episodes dominating media coverage, but also the everyday exercise of power). Below the apex of the national political systems and behind the headlines, in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa most of the time, governance is failing to work for development. Despite some economic growth, vital investments needed for this to be sustained and transformative don't take place. The better-off solve their livelihood problems privately, while for the majority life remains harsh, troubled and short.

The institutions that will work best for public goods provision and development in the African context are ones that have a local problem-solving character and build on relevant components of the available cultural repertoire.