Obama calls for Good Governance

These are a few of my favourite things…

President Obama has called for Africa to take greater responsibility for “stamping out war, corruption and disease plaguing the continent” in a speech in Ghana. The NY Times covers it nicely.

“Development depends on good governance”…”That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

Addressing the young people of Africa, Obama said: “You have the power to hold your leaders accountable and to build institutions that serve the people.”

Paul Collier has also written a fantastically readable analysis of it (which I don’t exactly agree with completely but I’ll discuss that at another point in time), which is much less random than my collection of thoughts (found below).

Some things worth noting:

The World Bank candidly recognises in the 1998 Assessing Aid report, “if foreign aid has at times been a spectacular success . . . [it] has also been, at times, an unmitigated failure” (World Bank 1998, 1). Most authors recognise that since the Second World War aid has changed from technical assistance, in the early years, to community development support (1950s), aid to fill trade and investment gaps (1960s), aid for the provision of basic human needs (1970s), assistance to structural adjustment and debt relief (1980s), and humanitarian assistance and aid to foster ‘good governance’ (1990s and 2000+).[2]

The 1990s saw the beginning of sector programme support, policy dialogue, selectivity, and capacity-building, with unambiguous demands on recipients for democratisation and the recognition of political human rights and ‘good governance’. Kenen (1994), Killick (1998a), and Sandler (1997) show that while the total amount of aid funds fell markedly during the 1990s, stipulations for political reform increased strongly.
With regard to the motives and objectives of aid, Alesina and Dollar find evidence to support the claim that aid flows are dictated by political and strategic considerations (Alesina and Dollar, 2000). Overall, studies [I’m happy to provide numerous references for this] conclude that aid flows primarily reflect donor’s interests, rather than the needs of recipients.

The crisis of governance and the good governance agenda as specific concepts were born out of the 1989 World Bank report which explained that the 1980s economic reforms in Africa had failed to achieve the expected strong growth because of a crisis of governance (World Bank 1989).

There is no unambiguous or operational definition of good governance, with donors using a variety of different, and often vague, definitions. Furthermore there is significant disagreement between donors on which indicators should be used to measure and evaluate governance. Researchers at the World Bank Institute outline six central facets of good governance: 1) Voice and accountability (including civil liberties and political stability); 2) Government effectiveness (including public service delivery and quality of policymaking); 3) Lack of regulatory burden; 4) Rule of law (including protection of property rights); and 5) Independence of judiciary and control of corruption .

Santiso argues that the components of good governance (an efficient executive, a functioning legislature, an independent judiciary and the separation and balance of powers) all comprise elements of a democratic regime and therefore good governance is unsustainable without effective democratic institutions (Santiso 2001, 16).

Many commentators outline the fundamental problem as a lack of understanding of the local political economy factors, particularly since all governance interventions are highly political (Unsworth 2005, 8). On a more micro-level, the diminished impact of governance reform attempts can be explained by a lack of realistic objectives, time, resources, poor sequencing and the list goes on. It is apparent that donors are doing what donors do best, going in with their heads buried in the sand of their own perceptions.

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