This report synthesises findings from the Developmental Regimes in Africa project. Among the findings is that leadership transitions that maintain economic growth seem to require the presence of either a governing party with a tradition of consensual decision-making, or a state bureaucracy that can insulate policy from political leadership changes. Analysis suggests that developmental regimes are defined by: policy content, especially regarding agriculture; policy process, especially iterative and adaptive problem-solving; and a type of political settlement that frees policy-making from the usual constraints.
Over the past 20 years, many African countries have experienced sustained economic growth. Few, however, have embarked on the kind of structural change, driven by rising productivity in key sectors, that has been responsible for transforming mass living standards in parts of Asia. The Developmental Regimes in Africa (DRA) project has been investigating the causes and implications of this worrying scenario, building on the findings of previous research by the Tracking Development project (TD) and the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP).
- TD found that policy differences – especially different priorities with respect to agriculture and rural development – lie behind the strikingly different development outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia over the last half-century. TD and APPP converged in showing that differences in outcomes across countries are not related to different levels of compliance with standard criteria of good governance.
- DRA findings on regime origins add weight to the TD proposition that the policy priorities and choices of the political leadership are the key explanatory variable. They also refute the influential theory that these choices have their origin in ‘systemic vulnerability’, where pro-poor, pro-rural policies are seen as a direct response to political threats from the rural masses.
- The historical evidence shows that relatively extended phases of economic progress have often started under exceptional political leaders and ended with their death or declining capabilities. DRA findings, based on comparative analysis of Southeast Asian and African experiences, suggest that the key to leadership transitions that do not interrupt economic growth is the presence of one or other of two sorts of strong institution: a governing party with a tradition of consensual decision-making or, in the special case of Thailand, a state bureaucracy that can insulate policy from changes in political leadership.
- There is potential for ‘innovation clusters’ that stimulate productive liaisons between farmers, market and credit agencies and knowledge centres, without the necessity of heavy government involvement.
- There is no longer a need to rely on ‘developmental state’ concepts that draw narrowly on lessons from East Asia. DRA analysis suggests a concept with defining features at three levels: policy content, especially regarding agriculture; policy process, especially the ability to arrive at appropriate policies through iterative and adaptive problem-solving; and a type of political settlement that frees policy-making from the usual constraints.
- Literature on the ‘policy space’ for developing countries may exaggerate the effects of international agreements and conditionalities on the choices available to African leaders.
- A vital but still unexplored question is how the exercise of influence by international powers with a liberal-democratic ideological agenda can discourage or undermine viable settlements with the potential to sustain developmental regimes.