There is a familiar story about Africa. It tells of disease and misery, of war and famine, of wasted lives and squandered opportunities.
But there is a new story about Africa that is less familiar. It tells of an Africa in which poverty fell from 52% in 1990 to 40% in 2008. An Africa in which economic growth averaged 4.9% from 2000-2008, and in which the rate of return on foreign investment is higher than in any other developing region. An Africa where services, infrastructure, agriculture and natural resources will add a trillion dollars to its combined GDP over the next decade.
The single biggest difference between these stories, however, is the role of African countries themselves. In the old story, they were passive recipients of foreign charity. The new story is founded on the principle of partnership, and the recognition that whatever developed countries’ moral or strategic reasons for supporting Africa’s development, the responsibility for determining Africa’s future rests with Africans.
This emphasis on partnership was clearly articulated in the report of the Commission for Africa, established by Tony Blair whilst he was Prime Minister in 2005. AGI’s work is underpinned by the principle clearly stated in the report, that effective governance and political leadership are essential for delivering the public services and nurturing the thriving private sector that will create sustainable development and end aid dependency in Africa.
“There you stand, trying to re-build a nation in an environment of raised expectations and short patience, because everyone wants to see change take place right away. After all, they voted for you because they had confidence in your ability deliver – immediately. Only you cannot. Not because of the lack of financial resources but simply because the capacity to implement whatever change you have in mind does not exist.” | President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Good governance changes lives
For us at AGI good governance is about “the successful delivery of those public goods and services which citizens have a right to expect” (Mo Ibrahim, Towards a Well Governed Africa, June 2010).
Governance is about the contract between citizens and their government. When governments are unresponsive to their people’s needs and aspirations, when they are unable to effectively design and implement programmes, and when they lack capacity to use outside assistance wisely and be partners in development, it is the poor that suffer most. Weak states are less able to uphold the rule of law, leading to insecurity and disorder. They are less able to provide schooling or healthcare. And they are less able to foster the conditions in which the private sector can thrive, providing jobs and livelihoods.
Supporting African Leadership
Today’s African leaders face unprecedented challenges. They are expected to do far more, with far less, far more quickly, than the leaders of western countries at comparable stages in their development. Sierra Leone, for example, has just 3.3 doctors per 100,000 people. The UK has 66 times as many.
Many African leaders, including a new generation of reformist leaders that has emerged in many African countries, find themselves facing an implementation gap. They have a vision for their country, and know what needs to be done to transform the lives of their citizens. Yet the capacity to implement – to translate vision into results on the ground – is weak. Particularly in fragile states, even the most inspirational leaders can find that expectations outstrip the capability of government to meet them.
The governance debate has focused more on minimising leaders’ ability to do harm than maximising their ability to do good. There are good reasons for this: corruption and despotism have blighted Africa. But the question is not whether promoting transparency, tackling corruption and empowering citizens to hold their leaders to account are important – they clearly are – but whether more support should be given to leaders to help them do the right thing, not just catch them when they do wrong. This is where AGI comes in.