Business and the State in Africa: Economic Policy-Making in the Neo-liberal Era

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Business and the State in Africa: Economic Policy-Making in the Neo-liberal Era
By Antoinette Handley
Cambridge University Press, 2008
304 pp. $34.99
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A common explanation for the African continent's mediocre-to-disastrous economic performance for the last 30 years has been the weakness of the private sector and its political subordination to a state elite that is less interested in long-term sustainable growth than it is in staying in power and profiting from rent seeking. In fact, relations between the private sector and the state vary across the region, as Handley makes clear in this well-informed review of business-state relations in Ghana, Zambia, Mauritius, and South Africa. In the last two, Handley argues that a well-institutionalized business community has been able to assert its autonomy vis-à-vis the state; sometimes contentious but productive relations have resulted. In Ghana and Zambia, on the other hand, a much weaker business sector remains subject to clientelistic politicization, despite the significant amount of economic liberalization that occurred in the 1990s. Handley's somewhat tentative explanation for these cross-national differences focuses on the organization of the business community and whether or not the business community is dominated by the same ethnic group that controls political power. When this is not the case, she argues, business autonomy is more likely.