In This Review

Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Development Strategies
Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Development Strategies
Edited by Akbar Noman, Kwesi Botchwey, Howard Stein, and Jos
Oxford University Press, 2012, 576 pp
Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems
Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems
By David Booth and Diana Cammack
Zed Books, 2013, 176 pp

These two books reflect the emerging conventional wisdom within the international community that aid donors have overemphasized the importance of improving governance in the poor countries of Africa and that democratization in the region has actually hampered economic growth. The widespread embrace of these views is a bit surprising, considering that the last two decades in Africa have witnessed both significant democratization and the fastest economic growth since the end of the colonial era. Still, both books contend that democracy is bad for growth in low-income states, and both insist that Africa’s recent economic successes have not produced the kind of transformation the region needs. Finally, both argue that the recent past in Asia offers lessons for Africa, especially about the need to focus less on democratic reforms and fighting corruption and more on top-down development policies, which, they contend, offer a better chance of leading to economic success.

But the books diverge when it comes to the details. Noman and his colleagues argue that African countries should emulate the kind of activist industrial and export policies that were so successful in a half dozen Asian countries several decades ago, and the book’s best chapters analyze recent African attempts to promote such policies. However, the book never goes beyond broad prescriptions, neglecting to explain the circumstances under which African governments might adopt this approach more successfully than they have in the past. Booth and Cammack’s book is more compelling, at least in part because it goes beyond describing what is merely desirable in order to address what is practically possible. This pragmatism leads the authors to avoid prescribing any single set of policies or approaches. Instead, they suggest that African development is more likely to occur when governments consistently implement coherent policies and help create an environment in which local actors can provide public goods to their own communities. Those conditions, they argue, can be met even in the absence of high-quality central administration. Instead of trying to create good governance where it does not yet exist, international donors should simply support governments, such as Rwanda’s, that are already on the right track. Unfortunately, they fail to explain how countries should set themselves on that path, suggesting only that the most likely means of success might be undemocratic.