- Governments in Africa are increasingly charting their own way forward. Those in Europe realize that their own policy prescriptions aren’t necessarily the most workable in Africa. In short, donors and recipients agree that a new chapter in their relations is needed.
There is a quiet realignment going on in the relations between development partners in Europe and Africa. It started with the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness but it has now taken on a momentum of its own.
Governments in Africa are increasingly charting their own way forward. Those in Europe realize that their own policy prescriptions aren’t necessarily the most workable in Africa. In short, donors and recipients agree that a new chapter in their relations is needed.
This transition has its challenges, not the least in Tanzania, for many years a darling of the donor community and thus a case of especially high level of aid dependence.
It has its own trials on the donor side too. European governments have been accustomed to having their agenda dominate the policy thinking in Africa. For countries like Sweden whose aid is tied to respect for human rights and democracy, applying such values becomes more contentious in relations with African countries where governments increasingly stress the rights and choices that come with national sovereignty.
At the core of this realignment is how national development is best pursued in Africa. Ever since the 1980s leading policy prescriptions have been based on the premise that what works in developed countries will also produce positive results elsewhere. Using the vehicles provided by the United Nations and international finance institutions donor values have been turned into global goals and indices of progress.
Global agenda dominance
It began with Structural Adjustment and has continued with Good Governance. Leading global economic and political projects such as the Millennium Development Goals and its sequitur, the Sustainable Development Goals, are indexed to reflect this hegemony. No surprise, therefore, that countries like Sweden ends up at the top of the development totem pole and African countries crowd at its bottom.
The context of this realignment is broader than just the development partner relations. Globalisation and the tilt in economic power toward Asia have diminished the overall role of foreign aid while providing new options for countries in Africa. Trade and investment are – for better or worse, one might argue – increasingly taking prime position in the minds of local policy-makers and stakeholders.
The development state
Some African leaders like the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have tried to institutionalize a development state model, inspired by achievements made by countries like South Korea and more recently China and Singapore.
This hybrid between capitalism and socialism accepts the positive role played by the free market but reserves the ultimate authority for the state. Above all, it demands a disciplinary state apparatus that obediently follows politically chosen directions.
Laying the foundation
Tanzania under President Magufuli’s leadership has increasingly moved towards the development state model. One might argue that his decision to clean up corruption, dismiss public servants and probe the integrity of public servants through a check of documents used to acquire their position are all measures meant to lay the appropriate foundation for such a development state in Tanzania.
Because political fiat is an integral part of the development state model it can become a worry for private sector and civil society stakeholders. Will their rights be violated? These are real risks but they are not inevitable especially if the state can offer a development vision that business and civil society can buy into. Rwanda’s success in largely the result of such a buy-in.
Learning also from mistakes
Whatever happens as the Magufuli Government pursues the development state track, the ongoing realignment has opened space for domestic African initiatives to build a state and a system of governance that is not a knee-jerk response to donor preferences. As African governments in this respect are increasingly on their own they will have to build accountability systems with local roots.
This will set in motion a societal learning process that is driven with local rather than imported energy. Such learning is not linear and is likely to include steps both forward and backward. This is exactly the way donor countries themselves developed. They became what they are because they learned from their own historical experience.
This freedom to make mistakes – and learn from them – is perhaps the most notable aspect of the ongoing realignment because it calls on stakeholders to device indices of progress that look inward rather than outward.
African countries don’t need global measures that make the “road to Denmark” (or Sweden) look impossibly long. Instead, governance specialists and statisticians should sit down and modify indicators that first and foremost measure domestic development achievements. Such a revision stands to make governance issues more relevant and engaging. It would be an important part of steering the development state toward outcomes that reward multiple stakeholders in society.
Goran Hydenis a Swedish citizen and former professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, for now staying in the city.