The third wave of democracy arrived in Africa in the early 1990s, well after the pursuit of pro-market reforms advocated by western aid agencies and international organizations. When that wave subsided, a good governance agenda of the rule of law, accountability, transparency, and human rights persisted. A third of the states of sub-Saharan Africa are today substantially democratic while the rest consists of quasi-democratic, electoral authoritarian, autocratic, and failed states. Yet the driving force of change is less democratization than economic growth; and most countries share in the economic upswing that has moved the region higher on global growth charts. Virtually all African governments make the requisite genuflections to the good governance agenda however diluted in actual practice. Aid flows remain buoyant, direct foreign investments led by China are climbing, and remittances from diasporas add to positive financial flows.
Drawing on the experiences of Asian economies, some are challenging prevailing paradigms that regard governance and institutional failures as the greatest impediments to sustainable and transformative growth in Africa.
Having drifted from Africa during the quarter-century of economic stagnation and contraction that began in the 1970s, leading economists are returning to the study of the continent. Drawing on the experiences of Asian economies, some are challenging prevailing paradigms that regard governance and institutional failures as the greatest impediments to sustainable and transformative growth in Africa. They are a force to be reckoned with as they bring to policy debates confidence in their methodologies and access to networks that connect academia with international agencies and finance and development ministries in rich and emergent countries. Social scientists in other disciplines, and policy analysts more generally, should take account of these analyses and arguments and their implications for political and socio-economic progress in Africa. This paper, which will appear in a forthcoming edited volume, responds to this important challenge.