Tag Archives: Developing Countries

The Futility of Fighting Corruption in an Inefficient Public Sector: The Nigerian Case

By Matthew Ayibakuro

zootopia-trailer-sloth

A sloth (right) aptly depicted a frustratingly slow public servant in the animated move Zootopia (Credit Disney)

I have just returned from spending my summer back home in Nigeria.  This is the third consecutive summer I have done so.  It is not difficult to tell that a lot has changed in Nigeria over the last one year: a new political leadership, a currency in free fall, an economy in shambles, unpaid public servants and an uneasy excitement about the government’s anti-corruption campaign.  In the midst of all this intrigue however, some things managed to remain unchanged.  The people are still resilient, resourceful and hopeful, churches and other places of worship continue to attract sufficient attendance and the public sector remains as inefficient as always.

From going through immigration and customs at the airport to trying to process a document of any kind in a public office to bidding for public contracts and indeed having any form of interaction with the public service in Nigeria, it is all so easy to tell that this is a country at peace with inefficiency.   This has been the case for so long that it now appears that successive governments just do not care about it anymore.  Most steps taken in this regard have often being half-hearted and never seen to a logical conclusion.

At a time when the economy of Nigeria is facing its most difficult times in decades and having to consider expedient structural changes that are long overdue, there is probably no better time to consider dealing with the size and inefficiency of the public service in the country.  Sadly, the country continues to be gripped with the hysteria of fighting corruption in a rather deluded and mistaken belief that winning the battle fight against corruption will solve the mammoth and variegated challenges of socio-economic and political development in the country.

Beyond the “Fight Against Corruption”

As I have conducted researched on anti-corruption measures in sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of years, I have become more convinced of the incongruity of the expression “to fight corruption”.  Dealing with corruption is not just a “fight” you win by landing a deadly blow and then move on to others issues.  It is a lot more complicated than that.  This is a fact that the international development community which thrust the anti-corruption agenda on countries in the global south in the late 1990s is painfully realizing now as it begins to ask fundamental questions of the supposed fight against corruption which should have been asked a long time ago.

It is therefore in the best interest of countries like Nigeria to understand what really would drive development in a country like Nigeria beyond just supposedly fighting corruption when a lot more strategic issues are amiss.   For instance, Nigeria ranks at No. 169 in the World and 36 in Africa in the latest Doing Business index of the World Bank that measures the ease of doing business in countries.  This indicator takes into consideration the ease with which businesses can undertake activities like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

These are all services provided by the public sector and it tells a lot that the country ranks so poorly on the index.  Whilst it is now fashionable to blame everything going wrong in the country on corruption and political parties appear to be in a fruitless battle of trying to establish which is more corrupt and should therefore carry more blame, there is very little a fight against corruption can do to remedy a situation like this.

Those fighting corruption can spend all their days in the ring and their nights in the gym; they can fly to their conceited coaches all over the globe seeking training and assistance and getting pats on their heads all year round in their bid to defeat corruption.  It will all amount to nothing in the long term if fundamental issues like an inefficient public service are not dealt with.

The Cost of an Inefficient Public Service

It is not my intention to trivialize the need to deal with corruption.  However, it is important to contextual this in the broader objective of achieving development.  Without an efficient public service that understands how to do things right and also do the right things, whatever resources saved from dealing with corruption will end up re-embezzled or wasted without achieving the desired development outcomes for citizens.  The cost of an inefficient public service, in terms of discouraging foreign investment, frustrating entrepreneurship and wasting valuable human and material resources will, on the long run, outweigh whatever benefits even the most fervent anti-corruption campaign may provide.

Nigerians are resourceful people.  Their entrepreneurial drive coupled with the wealth of the country in resources and its sizeable market which provides inherent incentives for foreign investment can propel this country out of recession and onto prosperity.  But first, its slumbering public sector has to be awoken.  It is time for the government reconsider its approach of fighting-corruption-is-the-answer-to-all-our-problems and get its priorities right.

 

The Jacob Zuma Corruption Case: Anti-Corruption Lessons for African Countries (Part 2)

By Matthew Ayibakuro

constitution-clipart-constitution

It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly.  This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.

Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this.  That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999.  The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.

Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.

Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal

Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries.  The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.

In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners.  The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption.  Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.

After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.

The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption.  The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution.  In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.

More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions.  It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully.  And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed.  Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.

The South Africa Model

South Africa provides a good model in this regard.  Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.

Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution.  Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.

In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions.  Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.

Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.

 

 

From MDGs to SDGs: Does it Matter? Will it Matter for African Countries?

MDGS AND SDGS

In the last 15 years, so much has been said, done and undone about the notorious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the eight goals globally agreed upon in the year 2000, with the target year of achievement being 2015. In less than two months therefore, it will be time to say goodbye to the MDG rhetoric and say hello to a new global agenda for development: the Sustainable Development Goals.

What exactly is the difference between the MDGs and SDGs? How significant is this transition and will it matter to the development needs of a continent like Africa?

THE MDGs: So Close, Yet So Far

The MDGs agreed upon by all member states of the United Nations in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

The final 2015 report of the United Nations on the attainment of MDGs notes that ‘unprecedented efforts have resulted in profound achievements’ but points to the fact that ‘despite many successes, the poorest and most vulnerable people are being left behind’.

Expressed in simpler terms, progress made towards attainment of MDGs is best described as variegated, so say the least. There is an appreciable level of disparity in the levels of achievement of the different goals, but more important is the practical ramifications of reported successes.   For instance, the UN report notes that primary school net enrolment rate – a major indicator of MDG 2 on achieving universal primary education – in developing regions of the world reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Specific mention is made of Sub-Saharan Africa having the best record of improvement in this respect, having achieved a 20 percentage point increase in net enrolment rate from 2000 to 2015, compared to just 8 percentage points in the preceding decade.

Whilst progress of this nature is being celebrated and probably should be, what it does not tell is the fact that a sizeable number of countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa have primary school completion rate below 60 per cent. An African Development Bank report notes that, as of 2014 almost 22 per cent of the region’s primary age children are out of school, a third of primary school students drop out without acquiring minimum basic competencies in mathematics and reading, whilst the skills and quality content of the education systems in most countries remain questionable.

Without denying the credit due the global community in terms of the celebrated success of the MDGs, caution and reflection, rather than outright celebration is probably the best way to go. The fact is that, only a couple of targets under the MDGs, such as increase in official development assistance and access to piped drinking water was somewhat achieved. All other targets were either narrowly missed or missed by a considerable margin by 2015.

THE Era of the SDGs

But all that is old story now, 2015 is almost gone and it will soon be the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new set of universal goals is expected to be achieved by UN members in the next 15 years. Unlike the 8 MGS, this time around the list is made up of 17 broad goals, which I recommend you go through, if you have the time to do so.

Within the 17 goals are a further 169 targets to operationalise the broad goals. Advocates point out that unlike the MDGs, SDGs are a product of wide consultation involving a working group with membership from 70 countries, alongside global thematic conversations and door-to-door surveys. If all goes according to plan, the attainment of these goals will herald the end of global poverty by 2030.

But things like this hardly go to plan. The goals are already being criticized for being too broad and it is not difficult to see why.   The unwieldy nature of the wording of these goals makes them difficult to understand, especially for those for whom they are created. It would appear that the need to achieve some form of global consensus for the goals have overshadowed the practical implications of the goals themselves. It is intriguing to see how the measuring of all 169 targets will go.

Concerns Already?

If the conference held in Addis Ababa in July on the financing of the SDGs is anything to go by, it is difficult to see what difference the transition or transposition of MDGs with SDGs will make any difference. This is because, even though the goals have increased, there was no commiserate commitment to increase funding for the SDGs. The best result from the conference was a mere ‘recommitment’ to the rather stale UN target for developed countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their GNI on aid, which was set more than 40 years ago.

 

IF Not MDGs or SDGs, Then What?

There is little controversy that the world has changed reasonably since the MDGs were first agreed upon in the year 2000. It would however be patronising to consider this change as drastic or to attribute it wholly to MDG programme. In the same vein, it would be mistaken for the developing world in particular, to put their hopes of ending poverty or development generally on the SDGs.

There are many global issues that need to be addressed side-by-side the pursuance of SDG goals. It is no news that climate change affects the poor more than anyone else, so events in Paris in the next couple of weeks, in terms of candid commitments by western countries at the climate change conference will prove pivotal.

The injustice of the world trading system under the WTO to developing countries continues and the lacklustre commitment at the global level to fight tax evasion and transnational corruption are just a few of the issues which will continue to significantly impact development.

Without resolving these, no Porsche-sounding three letter words will really end global poverty and lead to sustainable development. Developing countries must avoid the temptation of being carried away by flamboyant global initiatives and understand where their priorities should lie.

IS CORRUPTION REALLY THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES?

By Matthew Ayibakuro 

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, with countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt. Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, showing countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt (coloured red). Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

It is almost impossible to go through any material on development in Africa without coming across the word corruption.  Hardly any speech on development of countries in Africa would come to an end without the mention of the “C” word.  It is the go-to word, the toast of academics, analysts, practitioners, politicians, anyone really.   In fact, irrespective of the country or sector you are interested in on the continent, when asked what the major challenge is, you cannot go wrong by starting your answer with the almighty “C” word.  Anything else comes after the big “C”.

However in a continent where most countries multi-ethnic and are still grappling with achieving sustainable economic growth in an unfair global trading system, maintaining political stability, confronting terrorism and other security challenges and dealing with social inequities, amongst others, is corruption the only impediment to development in countries in Africa?  In fact, is it even the major challenge?

The current state of the discourse on the subject or corruption in Africa is a demonstration of how the narrative of a subject can so easily be refashioned and redirected with reckless abandon.  Until the famous speech of the then president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 1996 when he referred to the cancer of corruption as a major barrier to development which had to be dealt with urgently, corruption was considered one of the many challenges to development.  As far back as 1988, the Africa Leadership Forum identified some of these challenges to include capacity building, food security, efficiency of trade investments, regional and sub-regional economic integration, food security, inequality and poverty.

Post-1996, following Wolfensohn’s speech at the annual general meeting of the World bank, the Bank and other financial institutions have led the way in making corruption the major focus of development efforts.  Budgets for good governance-related development assistance has burgeoned at an alarming rate.  Everyone else has followed and  there are no signs of this narrative and therefore focus dwindling anytime soon.

Elections in most countries in Africa are growingly becoming about corruption and little more else.  The most recent presidential elections in Nigeria provides a perfect example with the opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari essentially riding to power on the promise of eradicating corruption.  Very few appeared to have taken note that the election was held at a time when the economy of Nigeria was in dire straits following the slump in oil prices, the value of its currency was also in free-fall and its economic prospects for the rest of the year, at least, looked uncertain.  All these challenges were however overshadowed by the issue of corruption.  That Nigerians elected Buhari is yet another indication of the popular belief that the end of corruption would automatically translate to development.  The economic woes of the country remain and four months after the election, there are no indications in terms of policy to steer the country to economic safety.

It would be foolhardy to deny the importance of fighting corruption in countries in Africa.  However, doing so at the expense of most other pivotal issues challenging development on the continent might prove to be even more costly than corruption itself on the long run.   The challenges identified by the Africa Leadership Forum referred to above remain relevant and visible today on the continent as they were decades ago, and whereas fighting corruption is intrinsically linked to solving some of them, most others have little or nothing to do with the corruption.  Questions are being raised on whether some African countries have even successfully shaken off their colonial legacies and how this might be impacting on their development.  More global issues impeding development of countries on the continent like the unfair imbalance in the multilateral trading system under the WTO also continue to impede meaningful economic growth.

The majority of people who prioritize the fight against corruption appear caught up in the challenge of deciphering the myth and the reality about the prevalence of corruption on the continent.  Between the consistent headlines and sleek research findings of organisations like Transparency International, it is hard to criticise their conviction.

But it is time for African countries to recognise the fact that achieving sustainable development and having a chance of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of development goes beyond just fighting corruption. Ignoring the many other equally vital issues would be at the peril of countries on the continent.  Those who succeed in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption, might just wake up to the fact that corruption was probably just a little more than a needle in a haystack in this prodigious field of development.

BETWEEN BUHARI’S WISH LIST AND KENYATTA’S RALLYING CALL: WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON AID?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Last month Germany hosted the meeting of the Group of Seven countries, often referred to as the G7 Summit.  These countries consider themselves the most powerful industrialised countries in the World.  It used to be group of eight of course, but Russia is suspended.  The merits of this group in world order and its legacy remains debatable; a debate that I do not wish to engage in at the moment.  But every now and then, certain countries are invited to dine with this group of the high and mighty.  This year Nigeria was was one of the fortunate chosen ones.

Of course Nigeria had to consider itself one of the charmed ones going to the G7 Summit, especially at this point in time.  After all, it is the newest darling of the democracy-crazy west.  The country had just concluded general elections where the ruling party had been toppled by an opposition party that had not only won the elections, but did so with a campaign strategy shaped by western consultants.  These G7 countries could not have wished for a better scenario.  Even before his inauguration, President Buhari was the guest of David Cameron to Downing Street, where the Nigerian leader promised, amongst other things, to do all he could to secure his country’s borders, thereby ensuring that Britain would not have to deal with the infestation of African migrants to Europe. This is very crucial to Cameron’s commitment to limit migration to Britain at all costs.

And by the way, that is apart from the fact that he remains very committed to aiding development in Nigeria and Africa in general.  Britain is one of only a handful of countries that fulfils the target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on aid every year.  So, in the same vein, shortly after the inauguration of President Buhari, the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond who was in Abuja for the ceremony, told the President that they were ‘waiting for his list’ of things he needs help with at the G7 summit.  Helping in this way is better, certainly more convenient.  Why deal with a problem on anyone’s terms when you can do it on your terms?  That would be irrational, stupid even.

Buhari’s Wish List and Kenyatta’s Rallying Call

Thus, the expression of the President of Nigeria going to the G7 summit with a “wish list” was born.  I found it amusingly theatric the first time I read about the wish list.  It reminded me of a scene from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I could almost visualise the G7 leaders seated around a table like Don Corleone and then President Buhari walks in expectant and respectful.  He would then speak in low tones about how he needed this for that and that for this.  He would explain how this person was the hindrance and that situation was the problem.   The G7 leaders would nod with empathy and say words like, “We will help you.  Just make sure you do not do this and that.  It is bad for the business of the family and our partners”.  Buhari agrees and everyone comes out with smiling faces for the cameras.  Back in Nigeria, Buhari extols the ‘tremendous sympathy’ of the G7 for the region.

I wonder what faces they would have had on when just a couple of days later, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta made a rallying call for African leaders to give up aid, as “the future of our continent cannot be left to the good graces of outside interests”.  This contrast of opinions and approach from leaders of two of the biggest countries on the continent tells a bigger story.  Between Buhari’s wish list for help and Kenyatta’s rallying call for an end to aid, one wonders what exactly is the strategy of African leaders for aid, and if there is even one at all?

What is the Strategy of African Countries on Aid?

There is a large amount of literature on development assistance.  There are those who call for an end to aid like Kenyatta.  Others criticise the practice of conditionality that accompanies aid, whilst yet others who support conditionality, go further to argue that the conditions are often the wrong ones or that they are not monitored or implemented properly.   The one homogenous feature of all these opinions is the fact that they all talk about the strategy of donor institutions and countries.  There is little or no talk about the strategy of recipient countries.  Surely it is time for this to change.

In recent terms, there is a general impression that there is another scramble for Africa; principally for its resources, but also for its potential and opportunities.  Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the history of which is best forgotten but never will be, this time it is not just the Europeans.    The East in the form of China in particularly is increasing its presence and prominence in Africa.  It  professes to have an agenda different from that of the West in terms of aid and general development cooperation.  It does not care about the much publicised and berated issue of conditionality.  It will deal with African countries without necessarily telling the various governments what to do, as the Europeans and Bretton Woods Institutions have since the 1980s.

The important thing is that the Europeans apparently know what they want from their dealings with African countries on aid or otherwise.  The Chinese also do.  The question then is, do African governments know what they want?  What is their strategy generally in dealing with donors. Do they have one in dealing with China?   Have they had one in dealing with Western donors over the years?  If so, has this strategy being reviewed in the light of the relatively recent involvement of China in the equation?  In what ways are the governments of countries in Africa planning to leverage the new scramble to deal with Africa for its benefit?

It would appear that in 2015, as it was decades ago, most African leaders are still content playing the role of passive aid recipients, without necessarily being proactive on the issue of development assistance.  They appear to be just lying there with open arms, beneath the decision table, collecting what crumbs that fall to them, totally unperturbed about the implications of the decisions taken at the table before aid is given; the strategies, the motives, the significance.

Making the Most of the Moment

The new scramble for Africa is an obvious testament to the opportunities that the potential of the continent provides.  But it is also an opportunity for governments of countries on the continent  to become active in deciding its fate in dealings with willing development partners.  With leaders like Buhari taking a list of demands for help to the G7, I can only wonder how many leaders in the continent understand the strategic nature of this moment in the history of the continent.

It may sound fashionable to show an understanding of the basis of western aid, no doubt endearing to be critical of it.  But I reckon it is now time for African countries to put all that aside and become proactive in dictating the terms upon which it would cooperate for development with the West.

Whilst doing this as individual countries might yield reasonable results, no doubt a continent-wide effort is required.   The African Union needs to take the lead in this regard.  It needs to put together its own set of conditions under which donors should be required to deal with the continent in a way that benefits the countries in the continent, not just conditions that the donors consider beneficial to the continent and/or themselves.  Such strategic policy document should serve as a framework within which individual countries may then negotiate the terms of development assistance agreements.

Are African Countries not Doomed to be ‘DEVELOPING COUNTRIES’ FOREVER?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

DEVELOPING VERSUS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

In the world, people are described in different ways depending on a range of factors not worth exploring here: White, Black, Asian and so on.  When completing forms in Britain for instance, the categories get a lot more interesting – Black or Black British, Arab,  Asian or Asian British, Chinese, Mixed, White and even an ‘unknown’ category for those who, well, do not understand their particular categorisation.

Countries are similarly described too, albeit in a more sophisticated manner.  Depending on the level of development as indicated on UNDP’s Human Development Report, a country could be termed a low-, medium-, high-, or very high human development country.  As expected, over eighty percent of African countries are in the low human development category. No surprises there.  It’s a trend. It’s normal.   On its part the World Bank classifies countries into four categories: low income, lower middle income, upper middle income and high income countries.  Unsurprisingly economies in African countries fall into the first two categories, dominating the first in particular.  Beyond these, fashionable descriptions of countries that are ‘not developed’ are not hard to come by; ’Underdeveloped’, ‘poor’ ‘third world’. . . .

However, the most prominent of all taxonomies is the blanket categorisation of countries into developed and developing countries.  In Africa, our countries are developing countries.  That is the way it is. It has always been that way, and it would probably continue that way for the foreseeable future.  The origin of this classification of countries as developed or developing is debated, but it is generally understood that the term was introduced in line with the development drive of the 1960s in describing the relationship between newly independent countries, especially in Africa and those countries ‘vigorously pushing’ for their development.

‘DEVELOPING’.  It is positive word.  It denotes forward movement – progress.  But what exactly are developing countries moving towards? Who determines the ultimate goal of this progress? What is the ultimate destination of their development journey?  Will they ever arrive at that destination, and will they even know when they have arrived?  In other words, will the current crop of perennial developing countries ever get to the point of being addressed as ‘developed’ countries, or being developed countries in fact?

Whilst it appears that should be ultimate goal, I am not sure if it would ever be achieved.  Development theory has long moved past the economic development paradigm set in the 1960s where the development of countries could be measured by a simple calculation of GDP and other statistical indicators.  Today, a country’s development is now measured by goals like political order and stability, equity and democracy with all its numerous attendant attributes, like free and fair elections and human rights and all the other globally-accepted high-horse sounding virtues that African countries are not known for.  Perhaps African countries are not known for them because we do not know them, because our societies were not built on those foundations, because our culture and values are very different from these goals.

But no, I cannot think that way.  That is the way only traditional ‘uncivilised’ people think.  It is the reason we had to develop – modernise in the first place.  So for over sixty years, African countries have been striving to develop, to modernise their countries based on the models of the ‘developed countries’. The strife appears perpetual.  It is hard to see the finish line.  It is as if the goals are being updated after every decade, depending on what big institutions like the IMF would call the ‘World Economic Outlook’.

At other times, we owe the change of goals to the genius thoughts of some smart nobel-prize winning individual, like in the 1990s when Amartya Sen declared that development was no longer about the economy or infrastructure, but about ‘Freedom’ – increasing the capabilities of individuals to be able to freely live the lives they can.  This caught on fast and firmly too. The World Bank, IMF, UN and all the other big ships sailing on the ocean of development quickly readjusting their sails and headed towards Freedomland.  And why not? Everything else that has, at one point or the other, being pursued as development could be easily subsumed under prerequisites for freedom – education, infrastructure, economy, democracy, political stability, etc.  All these and more were needed for individuals to enjoy and express their freedom.  Everyone had to readjust.

For the developed countries, it was easy.  These are the things they are known for, the things on which their societies have experimented for hundreds of years and become so good at. In fact, I doubt there was a real need for adjustment at all.  But not so for African countries.  Even before many had driven lap one like in Formula 1 races, they came to realise many more laps have just been added to the race.  More fuel than anticipated would be needed, more parts, more pit stops.  No need to worry, the developed countries and the big development institutions would provide support – aid, technical expertise and everything else in-between.

In fact, they will even throw in some extras like annual reports to tell each country how good or really bad they are doing. Those annual reports – on corruption, on human rights, on human development, on the economic outlook – there are reports for almost anything these days, I lose count.  But they are quite easy to use though, for Africans in particular. I will let you in on the secret formula in using them – just start from the bottom up.  It won’t be long before your country pops up!  Except of course, you are Botswana on the corruption index – they are the ‘miracle of Africa’ in that regard.  Miracles!  How we need them. If we are to win this development race, we would need lots of them.  Perhaps more than anything else.

The most prominent beacon for developing countries right now is the Millennium Development Goals, according to which developing countries by 2015  should eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal basic education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, amongst others.  It is worthy of note that the specific targets under each of these goals are often the barest minimum possible.  Hence, even when a developing country achieves  universal primary education, there is yet secondary education and tertiary education to be attained before that country would stand a chance of being considered a member of the comity of developed countries.

More so, with the rate at which technology is advancing, it would seem obvious that by the time developing countries get to the current stage of developed countries, the latter would be way ahead of the pile.  Perhaps the determinant of development might then be the number of robots co-existing with humans in a particular country or the countries that own colonies in outer space.  Exaggerated theory, perhaps.  But the point is that in the current state of things, it would appear that certain countries – mostly African countries – are doomed to be developing countries – second class countries if you will, in terms of development – forever.

Some have suggested that the measure of development should rather be the rate of happiness amongst citizens of a particular country without particular reference to income, infrastructure or other such measures.  The merits of theories like this notwithstanding, countries in Africa might just fare better under such standards.  In any case, there is a serious need for a change in paradigm.  Otherwise, developing countries will find themselves perpetually running a race where the strategy for victory is determined by their opponents, and the tape at the finish line also held by their competitors who may continue shifting it at will.  There is no winning such races, not even for our long distance maestros from East Africa.

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