The Dutch-African Knowledge Platform on Development Policies held a seminar on ‘Achieving Inclusive Development in Africa: Policies, Processes and Political Settlements’ on 13 and 14 May in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). It was organized with the UK’s Overseas Development Institute and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is based in Addis Ababa. It was called a ‘Policy Research Seminar’ and was held at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, with input from the African Union too. The Knowledge Platform on Development Policies (KPDP) is one of the five knowledge platforms initiated and funded by the International Cooperation section of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it has brought together twelve African representatives from relevant think tanks and twelve people from the Netherlands: diplomats, academics, the private sector and civil-society representatives. The African Studies Centre in Leiden is coordinating its Secretariat (since April 2014, with Marleen Dekker in charge) in collaboration with the International Institute of Social Studies (of Erasmus University in Rotterdam), The Broker and the African Economic Research Consortium. The KPDP has been in existence for two years now and this was its fourth meeting. Its business meeting took place on 15 May and preceding it was this special seminar on Inclusive Development to which another sixty people had been invited, many from policy circles in Africa.
Long-term support for rural development
The seminar gave the ODI’s David Booth and his ‘Developmental Regimes in Africa’ (DRA) team a chance to challenge African policymakers and academics on basic ideas about Africa’s development strategies, with lessons learnt from the South-East Asian experience. The DRA is a joint venture between the ODI and the African Studies Centre and a follow-up to the Tracking Development (TD) research programme. TD researchers David Henley, Ahmad Helmy Fuady, Yinka Akinyoade, Blandina Kilama and myself were all present to add our thoughts. We felt a bit as though we were in the firing line because not only representatives from the AU and UNECA but also African members of the Platform and other invited guests from Africa (and a few from the Netherlands too) had some trouble accepting the basic message from Tracking Development: in addition to macroeconomic stability and freedom for small-scale farmers and non-farm entrepreneurs to decide what they produce, who they buy from and who they sell to, there is one more basic ingredient for economic success: genuine, long-term support for small farmers and for rural development as a whole, based on substantial government support for agricultural productivity increases and rural infrastructure. This will have an impact and reduce poverty among the rural masses if it is done in an incremental way, i.e. ‘learning by doing’ and not by following some grand blueprint design.
The South-East Asian experience
There were lots of disconnects between what African thinkers presented on ‘economic transformation’ and ‘developmental regimes’, on ‘employment creation’ and ‘social protection’ (the four main topics of the two-day seminar) and the basic message distilled from the South-East Asian experiences. The controversy seems to be something that has kept African policymakers busy since Independence, namely how to leapfrog to being a modern industrial nation without putting a lot of emphasis on agriculture and rural development, or milking the rural masses to feed the modern urban elites and their industrial dreams.
Policies full of beautiful words
Four African thinkers had the chance to summarize their reflections after the two days of seminars: Sarah Ssewanyana from the Economic Policy Research Centre in Kampala (and a member of the KPDP), Yaw Ansu from the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra (who is also a member of the KPDP), Fantu Cheru (who works at the African Studies Centre in Leiden) and Blandina Kilama (currently working at REPOA in Dar es Salaam but who was part of the TD team and did a comparative study of Tanzania and Vietnam). Let me reflect on their reflections.
Sarah started by saying that she really felt a disconnect between the discussions on the four topics and between the various stakeholders present in the debates. She highlighted the importance of stakeholder mapping and bringing them together (indeed, that is one of the big things the KPDP has decided to do) and also the relevance of putting far more emphasis on studying policy implementation, as many African policymakers seem to enjoy writing policy statements full of beautiful words and talking about them, but do not seem to be bothered by the fact that very few of these policies are ever implemented and, if they are, it is in ways that are often far from any originally declared intentions. So, assuming that these policies are basically correct, she suggested that capacity issues, incentive structures, pilot up-scaling and evaluation capabilities are the issues that should be addressed first. And she wondered what the best ways were for policy analysts to deal with policymakers and how they could strengthen their abilities in understanding political economy and find a way to combine the language and approaches of hard-core economists and political scientists.
Lack of necessary data
Yaw thought that the most crucial problem was a lack of necessary data. According to him the emphasis had been on data about macro-economic aspects, like inflation and GDP data, in World-Bank assisted attempts during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by MDG-derived attempts to get data about education, health care and poverty during the 2000s. This emphasis resulted in a lack of attention for structural data about the African economies, about employment and labour statistics, about the composition of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, and particularly about government budgets and actual expenditure. He felt that governments and other institutions responsible for prioritization and monitoring broke down during the implementation of the so-called Washington Consensus and that it is now high time for Africa to regain ownership of data collection and budget prioritization. Earlier, he had shown that whatever data are available indicates that Africa’s economy, despite high growth figures, is not yet showing any signs of structural transformation and the current growth figures might be illusive in terms of sustainable growth.
Fantu Cheru started by saying that Africa was in a crucial phase; a ‘historical moment’, with the old ideologically inspired ‘boxes’ breaking down and that it is searching for new analytical narratives, new policies and new institutions in many places across the continent. According to him, a transformational change is needed but one that is based on the simultaneous involvement of the private sector, civil society and the state, and not just a ‘better’ or more effective state is needed. What is most important is transformational leadership and the institutions nurturing such new leadership. This should go beyond ‘sectors’. The 1980s saw the destruction of these institutions of leadership: African universities and research institutes were thwarted and marginalized, and the hoped-for private sector did not adequately step in. Knowledge production for policymaking was basically killed and became dependent on foreign agencies like the Bretton Woods institutions and Western donor agencies. He continued by saying that a social contract is needed for transformation and one that is politically viable, socially rooted and with a shared and integral vision of the future. This demands a learning culture and a lot of experimentation (Asian style), and not the umpteenth declaration of desires. Transformational change is a political project, not some technocratic declaration. And, like politics in general, it is full of contradictions. The most fundamental question is the way transformational politics addresses the issue of inequality and how, through political decision making and adequate policy implementation, growth translates into redistribution and real poverty alleviation, particularly of the rural masses. So basically, it is about the merging of economic growth politics and social policy discourses.
Blandina added that the sustainability of the transformation agenda depends on internal checks and balances and the level of tolerance created in and around the political arena in Africa. It will become important how African states implement the post-2015 agenda and how they streamline their initiatives in a pan-African project, which will also result in more regional integration. She pleaded for a much more creative use of data and evidence, connecting the micro and the macro level approaches and triangulating the different datasets to come up with shared narratives of inclusive development successes. She noted that, at the level of the African Union and in many African states, aspirations have been formulated that show Africa’s wish to act, to push African politicians into actions and to make them go beyond paying lip service alone to all the nice new visions formulated over the last few years. She agreed with Fantu that we need better knowledge development to capture the political process connected to implementing these visions. On the other hand, many African leaders accepted the Maputo Declaration of a few years ago in which they agreed to spend at least 10% of government budgets on agricultural transformation. And what is actually happening is still far removed from that (meagre) goal. There is no integrated policy to connect this agricultural policy with rural infrastructure development, to connect government spending with private-sector initiatives, to improve value chains of agricultural and mineral products and to develop adequate clusters of innovation connecting the state, the private sector and civil society, as was so clearly formulated by Fantu. And there is a lot of confusion about the ‘manufacturing’ and ‘service sector’ part of economic transformation: the sector approach seems to disconnect from Africa’s reality of multi-sector activities by individuals, families and enterprises. It does not see small farmers as genuine entrepreneurs. It does not link easily to their demands and desires. And hence it continues to look at the mass of poor rural people with a paternalistic, urban-modern gaze that does not take them seriously enough. It is interesting to study what states that declare themselves to be ‘developmental states’ (Rwanda, Ethiopia) are doing to integrate these rural farmers/multi-sector entrepreneurs in their efforts to transform economies in ways that genuinely create possibilities for the poorest 40% in society to improve their lives. And the same is also true for the people at the bottom of the pyramid in the urban informal sector.