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African Meeting Process for ‘Debate and Proposals on Governance in Africa: The Southern African Perspectives’

Colloquium Proceedings Polokwane, 17-19 June 2008 / Pretoria, 20 June 2008

By (Institute for Research and debate on Governance - IRG, October 2008)

The massive diffusion of the term governance in Africa arises essentially from the context of international co-operation for development. It is within this framework, and under the aegis of the Bretton Woods institutions, that governance has become an unavoidable issue in the politics of development. Above all, it is presented in the guise of ‘good governance’, as a vector of neo-liberal state reform: it represents, in this form, a restrictive (managerial) and prescriptive approach to governance. It has been written into the logic of the politics of normative and institutional transference, since it became a toolkit for the construction of the Western liberal model of the state in the countries concerned. It is employed to reform state institutions with regard to effectiveness (budgetary austerity, market oriented policies, reduction in state intervention, privatisation etc), and to formal democracy (transparency, justice, promotion of the rule of law, civil and socio-economic rights and decentralisation etc).

Far from taking into account the diversity of African societies, this toolkit tends to approach reform of the state as well as the regulation of society in a purely technical sense, thus facilitating the transfer or replication of a universal model which the actors in the beneficiary countries must appropriate, at least formally. Thus, imported, transposed and imposed, ‘good governance’ is perceived by the people as a product coming from the outside, from the West, as a new conditionality of the donors. “Governance? No thanks!” This cri de coeur had been expressed by one of the participants in a first meeting, a year and a half before that of Polokwane, organised African Meeting Process for Debate and Proposals on Governance in Africa at Bamako by IRG and the Alliance to Refound Governance in Africa, with the support of  French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation on the theme: ‘Between tradition and modernity, which governance for Africa?’.

The debates, at that time concentrating on the West African region, demonstrated that the term governance could not be reduced to its usage in the context of co-operation for development.

The whole purpose and what was at stake at the meetings at Bamako and Polokwane was this: to facilitate analysis and encourage the emergence of new and alternative proposals for governance in Africa.

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