Conceptualising and assessing “development”, “democracy” and “governance” in Southern Africa


What is the reality recently showed by the evolution of development indicators show and what do these tell us of the agency and performances of government and state institutions in the Southern African region? This essay starts by establishing a theoretical framework regarding the concepts of governance, democracy and development and then moves on to lay out the latest quantitative data available on how these dimensions have been evolving in the region. This data will be occasionally contextualized with some qualitative data on particular country case-studies. Similarly, in the section on development, I will present a discussion on how the future of Southern African development remains tied up to the evolution of significant externalities as is the case, for example, with international trade. This discussion will end with an attempt at interrelating and synthesizing the indicators presented, assessing their utility for policy-makers in providing “flags” that alert them about serious governance crises as well as providing them with a more accurate picture of the state of development and democracy in the region.

The politics of democratic governance in the Southern African region
Governance and the State in Southern Africa – a conceptualization

It is hard to discuss the concept of governance without first discussing the concept of state. For the last few years the destiny and responsibility for good governance has been inextricably tied up with the affairs of the state and its performance. Despite the ongoing heated debates regarding the fluidity of state borders in Africa and the impact of reified sovereignty in the continent since colonial times (Boas 2003) it is now generally agreed by the international community that “stable sovereign states are a prerequisite to addressing poverty and insecurity” (Ghani et al. 2005). Much of the literature, present discussion included, is looking at assessing and addressing the so-called sovereignty gap – the gap between the legal privileges that states are assigned and the practical responsibilities they sometimes fail to assume. Ghani et al (2005) in their influential piece on state building mention ten particularly important functions that the modern sovereign state has to fulfil in order for development to flourish: a legitimate monopoly on the means of violence; administrative control; sound management of public finance; investment in human capital; creation of citizenship rights and duties; provision of infrastructure; market formation; management of the assets of the state; effective public borrowing; and maintenance of the rule of law. As seen from Figure 1 (Ghani et al 2005) the unit of the state is involved by a wider set of factors influencing levels of development and the premises underpinning it. A state-led successful stride towards development is therefore also dependent upon a favourable external environment, comprising a favourable trade, security and aid systems, among others. The ten functions of the state are in this sense dependent on a series of externalities which are important to take into account when conceptualising and analysing the current meaning of development and governance in the southern Africa region. This makes it important to also look at how development and governance are tied in with the wider international economic relations of the region as will be done in a latter section of this paper.
Given this framework, it can also be enlightning to mention the current ideas floating around the notion of the developmental state and its position vis-à-vis the Washington consensus. In a nutshell, the Washington consensus refers to the spread of the neo-liberal state supporting free trade and non-state intervention as the only game in town. This model has been traditionally pushed forward by Western-led international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The developmental state instead, alludes to an economic model whereby the government structures of the state assume control in guiding the economy or in the words of Adrian Leftwich (Taylor 2005) the states “whose politics have concentrated enough power, autonomy and capacity at the centre to shape, pursue and encourage the attainment of explicit developmental objectives”. The focus of the developmental state is traditionally making sure that the quality standards of its education system work for development by serving two purposes: pursuing export-led growth against the background of a strong tertiary sector; and achieving sustained growth by the taking off of internationally competitive research and development investment serving the driving sectors of the economy (Johnsen 1999). For the purposes of this essay, I will move away from the prevalence or not of the Washington consensus of developmental state models in Southern Africa. Arguments paying lip-service to the insurmountable pressures of the Washington consensus, although alluding to the existence of important externalities to the process of development in the region, paint an imprecise picture of a political situation whereby the entities of state and government in the Southern African region are ‘stripped out’ of a considerable degree of agency in deciding their particular paths of economic development. Nevertheless, the question of how the developmental state model of growth can be ‘transported’ from its natural ‘habitat’ in Southeast Asia to Africa remains extremely interesting. This question will be explored further down on the regional economic profile of the Southern African region. As Ian Taylor (2005) puts it, “the leap from neo-patrimonial regimes to a developmental state is one fraught with difficulty (…) but it is not impossible”. Therefore, an analytical yet more empirically grounded approach will be taken whereby I will look at different ways of understanding and assessing the progress of democracy, development and governance in the region. Firstly, I will put forward the numbers and assess the strengths and weaknesses of some governance indicators. Lastly I will then try and bring them together in painting a congruent picture of the Southern Africa region and show how useful the indicators can be if put to use in the correct analytical framework. It is important at this point to mention the concept of democracy. In this analysis, democracy will be understood as Omano Edigheji (2005) sees it - holistically. I will amalgamate the various indexes, aiming at putting together a picture of what the current status of democratic developmental governance is in the region, according to institutional attributes and objectives. A synthesis of such nature would be able to better apprehend to what extent states in southern Africa are “able to transform its economic base by promoting productive, income generating economic activities while ensuring that economic growth has the resultant effect of improving the living conditions of the majority of its population” (Edigheji 2005). Given this, autonomy, multipartyism and levels of economic equality will be part of the equation.

The current dynamics of governance and democracy in Southern Africa

Although I aim at exploring the Southern African region as a whole and there are challenges that are clearly common to all of those who inhabit it, it is important to keep in mind that this specific geographical and political unit gathers many diverse and significantly distinct countries and peoples. This is the case in regards to the efficiency and models of their governance, their role in regional politics and, most importantly, in regards to their stage of development and political stability. The average ability of states in the Southern African region to address risk and fulfil their good governance objectives appears to be moderate. This is according to the Failed States Index [1] in Figure 2 conducted by The Fund for Peace (2007). Zimbabwe does stand out negatively in the region but most of the other countries appear to be fulfilling their mandate in terms of political, economic and social indicators. These indicators assess the performance of internal bureaucratic processes, especially in terms of how prepared state authorities are in tackling and mitigating internal risks such as uneven economic development and negative growth, criminalization or de-legitimization of the state, deterioration of public services, violation of human rights, and efficiently addressing complex humanitarian emergencies. To look at a couple of cases more specifically, Malawi’s political instability appears to reflect the current crisis underpinning the country’s poor governance and shadowy public spending. In contrast, Mozambique appears to be strengthening its state bureaucracy. While the rankings tell the story of a region that is moving towards a satisfactory score when it comes to state bureaucratic processes, the internal challenges to democracy are still troublesome. This becomes very clear for example in Lesotho, a country which has a score reflecting a very efficient bureaucracy, but that is simultaneously experiencing a problematic political crisis underpinning the outcomes of the 2007 electoral process.

A quick glimpse at the Economist Intelligence Unit 2006 democracy index in Figure 3, the state of democracy in the region seems to vary between flawed democracies, authoritarian regimes and hybrid regimes. The index rates democracy in terms of electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties with the scores that are closer to ten being the most democratic. The lower the score the less democratic the regime while a higher score indicates better democratic conditions. Again, with the exception of Zimbabwe where the political and economic crises are worsening, it looks like institutional democratic processes are moderate within the region. Countries like Swaziland have not signalled any change towards addressing their democratic deficits. This however does not exclude major challenges to governance in the region when it comes to centralisation of power; weak opposition and lack of media freedom. This is so regardless of the optimism noted in the previous profile of regional leaders institutionalising checks and balances towards strengthening democracy amongst member-states. This situation is particularly aggravated by the persisting levels of corruption, which appear endemic.
In regards to corruption, it looks from the Corruption Perceptions Index (Transparency International 2007) in Figure 4[2] that the adoption of an anticorruption protocol in August 2001 by the heads of state and governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has failed expectations. Bringing to justice corrupt officials at border posts, within the wide spectre of the government and within the ministries of the executive, remains a persistent problem for the region.

Governance and the status of diversity and participation

Looking at the evolution of voter turnout in the Southern African region between 1980 and 2006, apart from some exceptions such as in Mauritius, there has been a general tendency for decreasing turnouts in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Despite greater difficulties in data collection when it comes to local elections, equally negative tendencies are believed to be assuming prominence (Kersting 2007). Apathy and disbelief being another threat to the region.
Meanwhile, Southern Africa presents very active women’s movements in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania, this recent trend in the region must be welcomed and fostered. Conversely, women-empowerment measures, whatever the nature of the policy process that created them is (grass-roots movements or from centralized decision-making), have to be complemented by what Aili Tripp (2005:60) characterizes as policies targeting the “status” of women in the broad sense. This is a call for an empowerment that comprises not only legalistic and formal elements but most importantly the informal and the embedded social realization of the group.
It will therefore also be important for the future of the region to uphold diversity and make sure citizens will remain seized and engaged in the political affairs that concern them.
The economics of development from a Southern African perspective
According to an April 2007 IMF report developing countries in general are expected to keep growing strongly thanks to benign global financial conditions and high commodity prices. Those that are part of the Southern Africa region are also on the cusp of a significant economic upturn. Relative to other African regions, Southern Africa has been growing just above the continental average as can be seen in Figure 5 (UNECA 2007). This is positive news but those studying the Southern African region should nonetheless keep in mind the old truthful cliché that, although a “precondition for it”, growth does not immediately translate into development. Another frequently mentioned problem with the current outlook is that a considerable part of growth is primary commodities-based, which can be problematic in the longer term (Farfan 2005).

In the Angolan growth portrayed on Figure 7 for instance, oil accounts for 90 per cent of exports. This illustrates that states in the region have yet to sufficiently diversify their economies despite experiencing some positive growth rates as can be seen from a 2006 World Bank report (Figure 7). The inherent risk is that member states remain vulnerable to the global commodity price mechanism and if not addressed adequately regional economies will become negatively affected if international prices plummet. A way in which to overcome growth-based economic analyses is by looking at the figures of the Gini coefficient for the region.
First designed in 1912, the Gini (UNDP 2006) coefficient in Figure 6 measures income inequality. Values vary between 0 and 1 with 1 portraying a situation of perfect inequality and 0 the least. Although updated values are not available for all the countries in the region it is interesting to see how equality and political stability are not directly correlated. Botswana for example has been one of the most stable democracies in the region while still representing one of the highest levels of inequality. However, when put together with a poor economic performance, it seems to increase the probabilities of triggering a crisis. This has been the case with Zimbabwe. In Southern Africa, interregional trade stands at 25 per cent and is expected to reach 35 per cent by 2008 (UNECA 2007) when the Free Trade Agreement arrangement should come into effect. In 2005 the region recorded an overall 5 per cent growth in real GDP. In the case of a country such as Angola, this is substantially backed by increased oil revenues and the geo-economic importance of the country to energy hungry countries like China, India, and the US.
Economic freedom, meaning the ability to create an enabling business environment for private sector development and diversification of economies is also moderate in the region. Most importantly however, development remains uneven. In spite of the impressive economic growth rates, most member states are still experiencing levels of abject poverty. This is primarily caused by weak and moribund infrastructure. However, to weak infrastructure, one must add the current growing impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is having a massive impact both economically and demographically. Southern Africa continues to be the locus of the HIV pandemic, and home to approximately 32 per cent of the global number of people living with AIDS (UNAIDS 2006). In addition, environmental degradation is starting to directly impact on the levels of water and food accessibility in the region.

Trade in services and technological learning – an untapped dimension of development for Southern Africa

Services and knowledge-intensive industries hold the greatest added-value in the value-chains of the current international economic order. These industries are complex, capital intensive and demanding for host states but they are also invaluable economic multipliers of the countries’ competitiveness and in the development of their socio-economic indicators. The services sector forms the backbone of a knowledge-based economy, which means that looking at the earnings from the production and commercialization of knowledge is a good indicator of the state of development in the Southern African region. A look at the 2007 UNCTAD Least Developed Countries report shows that the outcome of the trade relations at the Doha Round concerning this industry is absolutely vital for developing countries. The cover of that important report displays the map in Figure 8 with territory size showing the proportion of worldwide earnings (in purchasing power parity) from royalties and license fees that are earned there. Let us now try and break down the developmental state debates behind the reality represented in the map.
Services have been part of multilateral trade negotiations since 2000. By 2004, 30 to 40 per cent of workers in the developing world were employed in the sector. This rises up to 70 per cent in the case of developed countries (UNCTAD 2007). The trend is for services to progressively take over from agriculture as the most significant sector of the economy, this is also the case for developing countries. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, also discussed in Doha, should be mentioned. The deal covers a whole range of intellectual property rights but for a large part of Southern Africa, the HIV/AID epidemic has meant that all eyes are on the impact of TRIPS on the pharmaceutical industry and on other healthcare innovations. So that development is not forestalled by intellectual property rights, developed countries have allowed for countries to declare a national emergency and institute what is known as compulsory licensing - the right to make a drug without paying royalties to the patent holder. However, many countries in Southern Africa such as Lesotho and Mozambique simply do not have the resources, infrastructure or legal framework necessary to deal effectively with the implementation of the TRIPS agreement and, as such, find it hard to make those rules work in their favour. As seen in the map in Figure 8, knowledge and technological know-how remain a great challenge for the region. At the end of the day, in the cases where countries in Southern Africa hold low levels of technological learning[3], more than directly damaging their economies, instant liberalization in high-end labour service markets and in intellectual property rights is rather ineffective. It can easily lead to an increase in the marginalization (UNCTAD 2007 p.57) of the developing countries in the region, particularly those that are part of the Least Developed Countries group such as Mozambique and Malawi. A lack of technological and knowledge learning will invariably perpetuate a vicious cycle of underdevelopment as represented on Figure 9 below.

Figure 9

Development-focused trade liberalization is therefore dependent on: concrete expansion of service export opportunities; and improved efficiency and productivity of services sector in LDCs and ODCs through technological learning and not mere knowledge and technology transfer. The implications at stake when trade in services with Southern Africa is being discussed must also be understood within the migration-development nexus debate. Even though there are negative consequences of labour migration, such as brain-drain, the positive impact could be substantial for developing countries. Recent reports show that “liberalizing the movement of workers could amount to US$156 billion if developed countries increased their quota of workers from the developing world by 3 per cent” (Kategekwa 2006:3). The graph in figure 10 (IMF 2007:163) taken out of IMF’s World Economic outlook, shows just how migration and exchanges in labour between developed and developing world (which include the Southern Africa region) still vastly lag behind traditional exchanges in goods and services. This is very much due to the severe restrictions still in place for those wishing to migrate from the developing to the developed world.

Figure 10

Economic development and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in Southern Africa
So far, eight SADC States[4] have adopted Poverty Reduction Strategies, an approach that was introduced by the World Bank and IMF in 1999. Of the eight, five have gone on to adopt second generation poverty reduction strategies, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Madagascar. The most important novelties regarding the transition from the first to the second generation strategies (Roberts: 2007) when looking at how the Southern African region understands development include:
reclaim national ownership and address the perception from the first generation PRSPs that they are donor driven.
new focus on participation, especially since the first generation PRSP were formulation processes of many of the early PRSP adopters involved very limited engagement of non-state actors. Civil society networks have played an instrumental role in ensuring not only that the voices of the poor are heard at the policy table, but also that their influence is seen in policy content. Participation is increasingly moving from consultation with a narrow set of dominant NGOs to include broad-based involvement of the poor.
persistence of time pressures for completing the process, limited involvement of elected bodies (parliaments) and the private sector, as well as constraints on informing macroeconomic frameworks. The participation of civil society actors is also affected by funding and skills limitations.
increasing concern with the productive sectors (infrastructure, agriculture, and rural development)

In more fragile states, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, inclusion and human welfare, competition between the poverty reduction and other priority agendas (for example security), and weak institutions are particularly important. So far the PRSP consultation processes (especially in the DRC) have been broad-based and inclusive, with participatory poverty assessments being conducted and used to inform policy priorities. When it comes to the region’s middle income countries (Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland), although not immediately qualifying for the PRSP approach they in fact face some common challenges with the countries who are setting up this framework. The particular challenges they face however comprise, among others:
existence of multiple and competing development frameworks;
stakeholders feel that being classified as a middle income country presents challenges to civil society participation while donor flight has constrained the ability of civil society organisations to hire or retain skilled personnel
This shows how important it is for the development of the region that middle-income countries are also not ignored in development strategies of a regional scope.

Democratic developmental governance – A synthesis

Why is it worth it spending energy and time collecting such data? If one assumes a practitioner policy-maker point of view, these indexes put into evidence the symptoms of “borderline cases”. Recognising these borderline cases at an early enough stage can, by spotting particular analytical ‘flags’ or ‘triggers’ signalling a problem, put policy-makers in a better position to intervene and adjust their actions in a more development-effective way. By policy-makers I understand a wide range of actors going from local governments and grassroots political movements to international donors and even private multinational corporations. To achieve this however, some sort of synthesis is called for. In order to contextualize and balance out the conceptual output of the tables and variables presented, which are sometimes overly quantitative, a more holistic approach should be put in place. Including a qualitative synthesis of the indexes will therefore provide greater insight and analytical potential. I propose, as a starting point, defining a collection of ”symptoms” collected from the indexes that shed light on the seriousness of a suspected governance crisis. Let us now go back to the indexes and look at what some of the most challenging governance case-studies have in common or not, by doing that some preliminary conclusions can perhaps be extrapolated.

First of all, the presence of a PRSP is in itself a telling factor as it shows that the country’s government structures are at least rhetorically committed to setting up development-friendly policies.

Interestingly, from the case study, state failure seems to be more correlated with economic growth than any of the other variables analysed. Zimbabwe as the most serious case has clearly had a very economically turbulent decade while Angola’s slight improvement in the state failure index seems to accompany its recent very high growth rates. Also, the specificity of the economic structures of the country seems to be very influential in determining the country’s proneness to democracy. As we saw, Angola remains a very autocratic state according to the EIU democracy index. The state’s tight control over the main industries driving the economy – oil and diamonds- seems to be providing those holding power some leeway and leverage in their ability to keep power centralized and in few hands.

Most notably, corruption appears to be a cross-cutting variable. It affects countries with both bad and average performances in governance and economic development. The best performers in governance and democracy however clearly hold much lower levels of corruption – this is the case of Botswana and Mauritius for example. Corruption levels work therefore as a good ‘flag’ to first assess which countries are in the most iminent risk of governance breakdown. This is so perhaps because the complexities of its causes are of a particularly intertwined political and economic nature. Its assessment, even at the simple level of perception, can quite accurately represent a synthesis of governance just by itself. Indeed, all those countries that score well in the corruption index consistently perform positively in the state failure index.


The picture drawn of the evolution in terms of democratic developmental governance in the Southern African region has been of an overall positive trend but not one without challenges. These challenges come in several shapes and forms. There are regional challenges to economic development affecting the region as a whole but there are also localized governance challenges such as the particular case of Zimbabwe. Good governance, today generally regarded in the academic world as being primarily dependent on the good functioning of the state is no exception. This belief is also present in the recent PRSP papers. A good performance in development and democracy indicators is nonetheless dependent on external factors. This is particularly evident when it comes to how much room for improvement there still is for the region when it comes to making the most out of its trade in services and in improving its knowledge learning. This is an essential premise for states in the region to build the capacities for organizing economic policies that are developmental in nature. Although indexes of good governance, democracy and development are much more analytically powerful when put to use in a concerted manner some individual variables have been proven to be efficient in acting as ‘flags’ of particularly problematic situations. This has been the case with high levels of corruption combined with an extended period of economic decline and income disparity. Finally, there is still however a lacunae in the literature with regards to interlinks between the variables affecting good governance and development as well as in regards to the flows of causality between them.


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[1] The scores are calculated on the following basis: the lower the score the more fragile the state; the higher the score the less fragile the state.

[2] CPI Score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts, and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt).

[3] Note the difference between knowledge/technology transfer and knowledge/technology learning - the latter implies a sustained building of knowledge and innovation capacity at home. Not just a one-shot temporary transfer of knowledge or technology geared towards short-term goals.
[4] Angola, DR Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.

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