In This Review

Disciplining Democracy: Development Discourse and Good Governance in Africa

Disciplining Democracy: Development Discourse and Good Governance in Africa
By Rita Abrahamsen
183 pp, Zed Books, 2001

This carefully argued study analyzes the "good governance" agenda of Western aid agencies in Africa, in particular the language they use to link requirements for democratization to those for economic liberalization. When neoliberal reforms prescribed by the World Bank in the 1980s failed to produce the upturns predicted, lenders blamed authoritarian African political systems, claiming that political liberalization would unlock Africa's development potential. Abrahamsen contends that this nostrum of the 1990s glosses over the incompatibility between democratization and prolonged economic austerity under developing-world conditions -- a premise central to American development theory two decades earlier. Setting the new "good governance" discourse in the context of the capitalist world's post-Cold War triumphalism, she points out that this agenda encompasses only procedural interpretations of democracy, delegitimizing alternative definitions that prioritize public welfare or government accountability to citizens instead of to foreign creditors. What the book lacks in airtight evidence it makes up for with a stimulating discussion: how those with power are able to manufacture knowledge, true or false, about what is good for everyone else.