Governance, some one once opined is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Good governance is …fill in the blank folks.

In Africa, the term “good governance” was pushed by the World Bank when it was implementing its Structural Adjustment Programs. Therefore, the grounds for insisting on “good governance” were pragmatic and “good governance” itself was conceived in technocratic terms. The danger of this was that it gave primacy to efficiency at the expense of democracy.

It is apparent that in the African context and in the present historical juncture what is at issue is not “good governance”, technocratically- conceived, but social democracy. Social democracy does not preclude current definitions of “good governance” but instead emerges as a necessary condition for their realization. Otherwise, any references to civil society with regard to determinations of “good governance” become nothing else but an ideological ploy. There cannot be any “good governance” without a social and political mandate from the people or civil society. It is this broader definition, which should guide our enquiries into the problem of governance. The criteria used so far are derived from the classical definition of liberal democracy. While a great improvement on dictatorships, liberal democracy is not a universal panacea. It could be said that in Africa there are other social conditions to be met. Such as: read my post here.

Concerning civil society, there is a great temptation to adopt Euro centric definitions because they are prior. However this doesn’t tally with African reality. Outside the so-called modern sector in African societies there is what is called “traditional society” (tribal structure) that is often treated as a residual category. Yet, there is ample evidence to suggest that African traditional institutions have a great impact on modern institutions. This is particularly true of African bureaucracies. A phenomenon such as “nepotism” is a reflection of family or community ties that are traditionally defined. This has very serious implications for “good governance” as is externally (western) defined. Equally important are traditional notions of hierarchy and gender relations. The question, therefore, is: To what extent are external traditional forms of organization part of civil society and what are the implications for “good governance”, as is prescribed by international agencies such as the World Bank? This is simply a warning that we should guard against adopting received notions uncritically. We need to reflect seriously on African reality and to come up with appropriate or socially informed concepts.


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