The political economy of development in Africa: A joint statement from five research programmes

David Booth, Ole Therkildsen
Africa Power and Politics Programme; Developmental Leadership Programme; Elites, Production and Poverty: A Comparative Analysis; Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa; Tracking Development
Year of publication: 

Development outcomes in poor countries depend on the political incentives facing political leaders. This paper spells out some of the implications of this observation in the context of sub-Saharan Africa’s development challenges. It draws on the common themes that have emerged from five major international research collaborations. African countries badly need to embark on processes of economic transformation, not just growth, and they are not helped to do so by insistence on prior achievement of Good Governance, meaning adoption of the institutional ‘best practices’ that have emerged in much richer countries. In the African modal pattern, clientelism is competitive in ways that undermine possibilities for transformation. However, there are exceptions, both at the macro level and within particular productive and social sectors. These exceptions provide fuel for fresh thinking about how to use aid to better effect in generally difficult circumstances, especially by helping sector actors to overcome the collective-action problems that prevent them moving ahead. The research provides pointers to what the alternative, ‘good fit’, approach to development cooperation should look like. This approach would imply a fundamental shift in aid philosophy in the OECD countries, away from aid as principally a financial transfer and towards a clearer recognition of the role of institutions and the relevance of institutional change.