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The challenge of pluralism, democracy, governance and development

by Professor Adebayo Adedeji

Africa in transition

To my surprise and disappoint' meet, public administration has not survived the decay and decadence that was the plight of sub-Saharan Africa throughout the 'lost decade' of the 1980s. Its effectiveness has : become, in most countries, severely impaired Over the years since independence in the 1960s, African countries generally have exhibited the characteristics of a 'soft' State as defined by Gunnar Myrdal in his 'Asian Drama'. These are the circumvention of laws and regulations by officials and the Inconsistent application of policies and laws; the secret collusion between civil servants and politicians or between civil servants and the military, where it is the military that are in power, against the public interest. and. the use of corruption to secure objectives other than those officially sanctioned.

During this period, public administration and management in most of Africa has moved further away from Max Weber's definition of 'rational' bureaucracy, which had existed during the colonial era when government was generally limited in size and functions. and has conformed more closely and explicitly to Fred w Rigg's 'ecological' approach which focuses on the limitations inherent in the social and political environment of public administration.

It must be admitted that in the 1960s and 1970s we completely ignored the ecology of the bureaucracy approach. we down-played it in favour of development and social engineering through the various institutes and schools of public administration that had been established after independence. We opted for a system and culture of development administration that could meet the challenges of rapidly expanding government operations and their growing involvement in the development process. lt was our perception that such a development-oriented public service would also conform to the Weberian definition of rational bureaucracy i.e. the application of the norms of professionalism, universalism, detachment and strict objectivity in policy analysis and decision-making with a hierarchical pattern of supervision and an information system which ensures continuity and certainty.

Hence, the main thrust of administrative reforms during the first two post-independence decades was on structure organisation and the internal administration values of the political system or opening that system to broader popular participation Although we had perceived development administration as being capable of providing the catalyst for change in the developing, transitional societies of Africa, unfortunately most reform measures were more focused on the conventional administrative development aimed primarily at improving the instrumentalities of administration

As it turned out, administrative reform became a main ingredient in circumventing critical issues and in frustrating large political and socio-economic reform. Proceduralism and technicalities took precedence over objectives and reform became an aesthetic and rhetorical exercise, quite harmeless to the status quo.

That is why, when the economic crisis assumed such a threatening proportion in the 1980s, the state bureaucracies were unable to meet the challenge it posed. The public services, weakened and ineffective as they had become, were burdened and dominated by the ever-growing concern and preoccupation with short term crisis management almost to the exclusion of the pursuit of long-term objectives. Worse still, senior officials were shunted aside and marginalised as the role of foreign experts and managers, particularly officials of multilateral development institutions, in national economic decision-making and management became predominant. With this virtual taking over by foreigners, the scope for independent policy-making disappeared. As if this was not enough, the downsizing of these services, which was required by SAP, threw them into complete and total disarray and paralysis, and the devaluation of their labour through the devaluation of their national currencies gave overt encouragement to moonlighting and barefaced, shameless corruption, even in high places.

Thus. today. bureaucracies in Africa have lost their dynamism, resilience and commitment. Instead, they have become stagnant, dependent and largely unproductive. Good, humane governance has become a thing of the past in many countries. Those who exercise power are busy inflicting injury on their people because ethics and morality have disappeared from governance and indeed from public life.

Lack of real political and financial accountability is a major bane of Africa It breeds irresponsibility among public officials and leads to resistance and cynicism among the citizenry Since the weak are in no position to enforce accountability on their rulers, they naturally bend all their ingenuity to the evasion of power and inevitably to the evasion of law, if not its direct and open breach. Throughout all ages, this has proved to be the most devastating answer that the poor could give to the irresponsibility of their rulers.

Africa remains in transition

Since independence, our political process has been in transition We experimented with the Westminster model of political system handed over to us at independence before replacing it with one-party political systems and presidential government. In many countries, the military have aborted the development of the political process through their intervention. The Nigerian experience is symptomatic-six successful coups d'etat and nine military administrations since independence. Out of the 33 years of independence, the military have been in power for over 24 years. It is even worse in Togo and Zaire where the military have been in power for an uninterrupted period of over 30 years.

Economically we have not fared better and in many respects there has been retrogression In spite of more than a decade of SAP, the African economic condition has remained critical. Per capita income has continued to fall, the export sector is depressed and the burden of debt remains excruciating Population growth is still very high and given the technological backwardness of the food and agricultural sector, Africa is becoming increasingly dependent on food aid and imports for the survival of its people.

At the root of Africa's economic malaise is the failure to pursue and achieve any fundamental transformation of the structure of the economy. The continent has yet to rid itself of its mono-culturalism and commodity export dependence. Efforts at economic diversification have been severely set back by SAP which, by requiriny that the underdeveloped economies of Africa maintain an open door policy devoid of any protectionism, has spelt the doom of the nascent industrialisation process embarked upon in the 1960s.

To avoid any misunderstanding, let me repeat what I have said again and again about the need for adjustment. It is imperative for every country to adjust to changing circumstances be they endogenous or exogenous. But such an adjustment must not be at the expense or to the detriment of long term transformation and development. Any adjustment programme that puts on hold or deviates from the long term transformational path will keep the economies in a permanent state of disequilibrium and debilitating paralysis. Unless and until the structure of the African economy is transformed and diversified, until factor inputs are primarily and overwhelmingly endogenous and the development paradigm is people centred and holistic, sustainable development will remain out of the reach of Africa.

Such a transformation process will be aborted unless it is supported by a corresponding political process which assures human rights, political stability, political empowerment, public accountability, etc. The mistake which has been made for so long is to divorce our economic crisis from the political crisis arid to deal with both separately and in isolation.

From transition to transformation: pluralism and democracy

Today, the word 'pluralism' is back in popular debate, albeit qualified by another word 'political'. But qualified or not, pluralism has. for centuries, been a way of life in Africa. Africa is a pluralistic society par excellence.

The multi-ethnic nature of sub-Saharan Africa is so complex and bewildering that because foreigners, particularly Europeans, had tremendous difficulties in comprehending it, they denigrated it. But many of the so-called tribes have populations larger than some of the European nations. For example, the Yoruba are about 20 million strong while the Hausa-Fulani number 25 million or more Because of the colonial scramble for Africa and its partition by the colonial powers in a most reckless and inhuman manner, which paid no regard whatsoever to history, culture and ethnic homogenity, virtually all the nation states of sub Saharan Africa are multi-ethnic and multi-national.

During the colonial era. ethnic divisions were exploited by the colonial authorities to delay independence. Consequently, political pluralism has reflected and exacerbated ethnicism as ethnic-based, rather than genuine national, parties have tended to emerge. It was to arrest this development that a one-party system developed in a number of countries after independence But all that was achieved was suppression of ethnicism rather than its eradication and the evolution of nationalism in its place.

In such circumstances, it is understandable that those who have been excluded from the decision making process should opt for a more open system. Hence their commitment to pluralistic democracy. For them, pluralism essentially entails the transformation of the one-party regime into a multi-party political system. Indeed, external pressures have been mounted in favour of multi-party systems in Africa. This is now seen in the countries of the North as a basic condition that must be satisfied by a pro-democracy movement in Africa. So strong is the pressure from Western Europe and North America that political pluralism is widely becoming a new conditionality for Western aid. But the fundamental question of how liberal democratic pluralism can be achieved without exacerbating the tensions inherent in ethnic-cultural pluralism remains unanswered.

To build a truly democratic society and culture takes a long period of determination and purposefulness on the part of the people and their leaders. As I commented in May 1992 on the so-called Nigerian transition to democracy:

'Democracy cannot be decreed. Unlike instant coffee, there is no instant democracy. You cannot move from totalitarianism to democratic practice from one day to another. Democracy is more than just the ballot boxes. the political parties and all the institutional trappings. It is a way of life, a culture and a lifestyle at all levels of society and in all spheres of human endeavour. '

The tragedy of Africa was the failure of post-independence African leaders, as the inheritors of the colonial state, to put in place a policy and programme of restitution. African leaders failed to make any attempt at rediscovering, acknowledging and acting upon their continent's wealth of collective wisdom whether in the form of social, economic and political organisation or in the form of knowledge or of ways of thinking. I his failure largely accounts for the endemic crises that have confronted sub-Saharan Africa since independence.


It is not surprising-given the dismal state of its public service and of public administration and management- that what generally prevails in Africa today as systems of governance cannot be described as good. The will to govern fairly and humanely seems to have disappeared in many countries. The restoration of good governance is therefore most urgently and badly needed as it is the foundation on which the politics of restitution must be built

However, the capacity to govern has been severely hamstrung by SAP, one of whose fundamental tenets is that government should be rolled back so as to give way to the so called market forces. Unfortunately, in the name of adjustment, governments in Africa pursued retrenchment policies through which they lost not only a large number of junior personnel but also a substantial number of high-level experienced people

My own views about the folly of the policy of rolling back government in the name of marketisation in a typical African economy are too well known to need reiteration Given the stage of development of the average African countries. what should be the role of government and what kind of reforms would this necessitate? Some foreign proponents have suggested that solutions to the unprecedented economic crisis and to the fast changing public expectations within each country are to be found in the creation of an efficient but tightly-focused machinery of government. This argument holds that government should stick strictly to the business of macroeconomic management and the ensuring of public service delivery. It should have nothing directly to do with those large areas of socio-economic transformation except for laying down and clarifying the rules of the game.

Yet these same proponents are not tired of reminding us of the success stories of East and South-East Asian countries in the achievement of rapid economic growth. They equally consistently fail to link the economic revolution in these countries with two basic phenomena: first that governments in these countries have seen intervention in the markets in any areas of social or economic life as perfectly acceptable requiring no more than one single basic test does it work? and second that political pluralism and democracy are virtually unknown in these countries which have, far more than African countries, put in place a politics of restitution. Unlike our leaders, the Asian leaders realised early, even when the struggle for independence was still raging, that a society which neglects the instructive value of its past for its present and future cannot be self-confident and self-reliant and will inevitably lack internally-generated dynamism and stability. Consequently, the Asians have resisted adopting the European model of pluralist democracy.

Democracy and development

All these boil down to the basic point that the surest way to make people accept restitution, development and transformation challenges is if the people perceive these challenges as their own and accept the goals as a summary of their priority aspirations. Conversely, if the people perceive such goals and challenges as unjust and elitist, if they feel alienated and marginalised, and if their major aspirations for a decent life are not central to public policy, they will neither identify with nor implement bureaucratic programmes drawn up for them. This is why the development process is not. and cannot succeed as a mere technical and administrative process. It must also be a political process involving open debate and decision-making over resource allocation, policy design and execution. This democratic setting is the best framework for realising the optimum utilisation of capital and other productive inputs that must be controlled and applied by the people.

This demands a new partnership; a new consensus between the government and the people. The people in their social groups, mass organisations and as individuals must be seen and accepted by African governments correctly as social partners in development. In these ways, the popular forces of society can be relied upon to mobilise the necessary resources for the effective launching of the transformation process for the Second Liberalisation of Africa.