In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Governance in Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • The Governance Agenda
  • Governance and State Government
  • Governance and Local Government
  • Governance of Finance and Taxation
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corruption
  • Governance and Development in Africa
  • Measuring Governance

Political Science Governance in Africa
Bruce Baker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0002


Definitions of governance in Africa in the early 1990s emphasized public sector management, efficiency, and organizational and technical questions. This narrowed governance to the conduct of state institutions, and it depoliticized governance. Later definitions added normative overtones and spoke increasingly of “good” governance. Over time, key indicators have come to focus on government effectiveness, political stability, voice and accountability, rule of law, control of corruption, and regulatory quality. Governance, however, is broader than “government” or the relationship between the state (and its leadership) and society. It relates to all power relationships, including nonstate, substate, and suprastate relations. Essentially, governance concerns the exercise of authority. It may be through structures (e.g., rule systems of governments) or social functions and processes (e.g., by nonstate entities). Persons may have authority because of who they are (their formal role is authoritative, such as government officers distributing grants according to rules); because of what they do (their informal action is authoritative, such as patrons distributing gifts as they choose); or a mixture of the two, where they use formal authority in informal ways (e.g., government officers distributing state resources to clients, supporters, or family members). In other words, governance entails overlapping spheres of authority, each with a set of norms, principles, and decision-making procedures that control how power is allocated. Those exercising governance may be politicians, civic institutions, media, religious and cultural organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as government agencies. With the widely held recognition by the late 1980s that many of Africa’s development problems were due to poor governance, the focus of national and donor programs turned to seeking to achieve good governance, which is understood to be the allocation and management of resources to respond to collective problems. It is characterized by participation, transparency, accountability, rule of law, effectiveness, and equity. Good governance is critical for Africa for two principal reasons: economic and social. Economically, it lies at the heart of economic development, helping to harness and develop weak economies. It promotes economic efficiency through equitable rules, by promoting fair and well functioning markets, and it curtails corruption and ensures the fair delivery of services. Socially, it prevents exclusion, promotes peace, and encourages welfare programs.

General Overviews

Three key early texts on the subject are Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth (World Bank 1989), Governance and Development (World Bank 1992), and Our Global Neighborhood (Commission on Global Governance 1995). Helpful basic introductions to governance worldwide are found in Andrews 2008, Leftwich 2000, and Rodrik 2008. Two indispensable reviews of the current state of governance globally are provided by Kaufmann, et al. 2007 and Hydén, et al. 2004. There are two key organizations concerned with African governance that produce regular country and thematic reports: the African Governance Forum (AGF) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). For a comprehensive annual survey of African politics and economics, consult the volume Africa South of the Sahara 2011 (Europa Publications 2010, cited under Textbooks). There are two organizations that provide valuable periodic reviews of African countries. There is the African Governance Forum (AGF), which is an activity within the framework of the United Nations Special Initiative on Africa (UNSIA). The AGF brings together African leaders, donors, and representatives of civil society and the private sector to discuss thematic subjects that are considered pivotal in the advancement of good governance in Africa. The seventh AGF was held in 2007 on the theme “Governance in Africa’s Development: Progress, Prospects and Challenge.” In addition, there is the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a process of self-monitoring agreed to by most African Union states. Begun in 2003 as part of New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), it promotes good practice in political, economic and corporate governance through country reports.

  • Andrews, Matt. “The Good Governance Agenda; Beyond Indicators without Theory.” Oxford Development Studies 36.4 (2008): 379–407.

    Critiques the idea of a one-best-way model based on Western state experience, given the evidence of multiple states of development.

  • Commission on Global Governance. Our Global Neighborhood: The Report of the Commission on Global Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    The Commission on Global Governance, an independent group of 28 world leaders, argues that global governance must be founded on the core values of respect for life, liberty, justice, equity, mutual respect, caring, and integrity.

  • Hydén, Göran, Julius Court, and Kenneth Mease. Making Sense of Governance: Empirical Evidence from 16 Developing Countries. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004.

    The authors emphasize how government, in terms of its overall responsibility for national development, is dependent on the governance qualities of the other institutional actors as well as on its own integrity.

  • Kaufmann, Daniel, Aart Kraay, and Massimo Mastruzzi. Governance Matters VII: Aggregate and Individual Governance Indicators 1996–2006. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4280. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2007.

    This report examines 212 countries along six dimensions: voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption.

  • Leftwich, Adrian. States of Development: On the Primacy of Politics in Development. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000.

    Advocates the developmental-state thesis, namely that since countries that achieved “late development” did so through a statist approach, states and how they are governed is a key area for economic and social development.

  • Rodrik, Dani. “Thinking about Governance.” In Governance, Growth, and Development Decision-Making. By Douglass North, Daron Acemoglu, Francis Fukuyama, and Dani Rodrik, 17–24. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2008.

    A short critique concerning the role of economists in policy programming for governance.

  • World Bank. Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth. Washington, DC: World Bank, 1989.

    The first use of the notion of good governance came in this report on Africa, which argued that “underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of governance.”

  • World Bank. Governance and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank, 1992.

    This is the first extensive exposition of governance. It discusses public sector management, accountability, the legal framework for development, and information and transparency. Its working definition of governance is “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”

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