States, Politics and Development in Africa

A key challenge for the consortium’s work is to help develop policy responses attuned to local contexts. Politics are central to understanding context. As a consortium review paper discusses, a variety of different approaches to understanding African political systems have emerged over time.

None of these alone are enough to explain current dynamics and their impact on agricultural policy formulation. As Adebayo Olukushi argues simple, technical measures of good governance are inadequate; instead a new political economy understanding of agricultural growth is required. As Kojo Amanor argues for West Africa, this needs to understand the interest group politics associated with new commercial elites who have profited from processes of liberalisation and adjustment, and their close, often clientelistic, relationship with political elites. Such neo-patrimonial politics is one often ignored factor explaining current crises in agriculture, food security and development more generally, as Cromwell and Chintedza argue in the case of Malawi. In considering new policy frameworks, the consortium partners are asking how new forms of developmentalism can be fostered in Africa, and how this might result in an Africa-style ‘developmental state’.

This issue is highlighted by former advocacy and policy head at Actionaid and Christian Aid, Matthew Lockwood, in a recent issue of Prospect magazine. He argues that “the conditions for developmental states cannot be created through technical governance interventions”. Instead, politics matters, and this is often dominated by forms of patronage fostered by elite networks. Lockwood goes on to speculate on what he regards as “the (largely corrupt) privatisation process” – a process of course encouraged and sometimes financed by development aid and loans – will result in. He comments: “even if a new commercial elite does emerge, it is unclear whether it will be committed to investment and accumulation or whether it will milk the acquired businesses for resources to spend on political careers”. Containing patronage and ensuring a developmental vision of a reformed state he argues may have the best chance of emerging in “de facto one-party states”, as perhaps, he suggests, is the case in Botswana, Uganda and Tanzania. In conclusion he argues that “the primacy of politics over policy” is essential to recognise, and “one of the most useful things the international community could do for Africa is to stop trying to micro-manage policymaking and simply support anti-patronage politicians who have a clear development agenda”.