If Africa is going to develop, politically and economically, it will have to do so democratically. The past three decades have discredited the notion that East-Asian style developmental dictatorships are possible in Africa.
Even in East Asia, economic growth was fostered not by pure authoritarianism but by the rise of more accountable, rule-based institutions that controlled corruption and limited the arbitrary power of government.
In East Asia, disciplined leaders found it necessary to develop these institutions partly to secure their own domestic and international legitimation. In Africa, the greater depth and complexity of ethnic divisions, the more fragile nature of the postcolonial state, differences in political culture and other factors precluded the emergence of that type of authoritarian rule dedicated to transparent governance with an emphasis on rules, protection for property rights, and limited government. As a result, corruption, favoritism, and “neo-patrimonial,” ruleless patterns of behavior became so deeply entrenched that it is now virtually impossible to imagine how political closure can produce anything other than exclusion, violence, corruption, and waste. In economics and in politics, Africa needs openness and competition, accountability and predictability.
There is overwhelming evidence of a positive correlation between economic development and democracy. Recent African experience would seem to confirm the finding of Adam Przeworski and his colleagues that the level of economic development does not appear to be associated with the likelihood of atransition to democracy, but rather is strongly correlated with the likelihood of democracy enduring once initiated.
Democracy is significantly less likely to break down in prosperous countries, and the number of years a democracy can be expected to survive increases steadily with greater levels of per capita income.
Economic development is not the only factor that affects democracy, and the level of “human development,” as measured by factors such as literacy and life expectancy, appears to be more closely correlated with democracy.
Second, economic development appears to improve the likelihood of democratic survival through its impact on several crucial intervening variables – the strength and vigor of civil society, the relationship between state and society, the class structure, the political culture, and the linkage to the international system. These variables can be pushed in a democratic direction, or “accelerated,” by factors other than economic development, and if that happens the prospect for democracy will be considerably greater than would be predicted by the country’s poverty.
And third, Przeworski et al. show that democracies in poor countries have significantly better prospects if they can maintain economic growth with low to moderate inflation. If African countries can regenerate at least modest economic growth while also restraining inflation; and if they can make progress on some of the other factors I consider below – particularly getting the institutional frameworks right – their poverty will become much less of an obstacle to democracy.
In economic terms, then, the real danger for Africa is the combination of poverty and prolonged economic crisis and decline.
This raises the imperative of regenerating economic growth in Africa. Yet economic growth requires not only economic policies and institutions that encourage savings, investment, and trade; it also needs a political “enabling environment.” The political environment has to breed confidence in the future to attract foreign investment and retain the capital of domestic elites: it has to ensure peace, stability, low transaction costs, and a rule of law. It also requires workable physical infrastructure, including roads that connect agricultural producers to national markets and international ports.
Finally, it demands effective investment in basic public education and health – key foundations of the East Asian miracle.
International and domestic policymakers must grasp this fundamental reciprocal linkage between stable, responsible, accountable, democratic politics and economic growth. Democracy, in this sense, can provide the best enabling environment for growth in Africa. In fact, #statistical analyses show thatAthere is no trade-off between development and democracy, and that “democracy need not generate slower growth.” At every level of development, fewer children die in democracies than in dictatorships, and in the poorest countries, the level of democracy is also positively correlated with improvements in per capita income and life expectancy as well. But if democracy is to facilitate economic development in Africa, it must function democratically. One of the highest imperatives in this regard, as I argue below, is to control corruption.