Disconnections? Dilemmas around the ‘developmental state’ in Africa

Peace & Security,Sahel Watch07 Jul 2015Jan Abbink

The emphasis on ‘governance and connections’ is a relatively new focus, if not a fad, in social science. However countless studies of a more formal and informal nature are now producing material on the subject. A recent workshop titled, ‘Governance and Connections in Africa’s Contemporary Conflicts’ was held at the African Studies Centre Leiden on 19-20 March 2015. From the dynamics explored in this meeting, the main findings suggest that a new mode of international and national governance indeed connects; however, it often connects authoritarianism with massive trouble.

Conflicts in Africa show a broad range, from civil wars and local conflicts in a fragmented national state (such as Mali, Chad, CAR, Somalia, Northeast Nigeria, and Libya), to post-conflict situations where the central government has redefined the state in a top-down manner (such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Rwanda). Or it is persistent civic strife in an authoritarian and/or corrupt system (such as Cameroon, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, and DR Congo). Governance in its ideal form is a model of ruling and managing states or communities in an organized, more or less predictable fashion. It can also be based on coercion and violence, as in the stateless spaces of Central and West Africa or South Somalia where unclear or dubious models of politics are yielded (such as those based on political Islam). Connections between related regional political and criminal networks emerge, plus new antagonisms appear due to alienation and purposeful disconnection of communities. In the case of Ethiopia with its donor-supported approach toward agro-pastoralists, here is a good example of international governance standards disagreeing with the promotion of ‘developmentalism’, which can lead to disconnection or exclusion of Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian ‘developmental state’

Since 1991 after the socialist Derg regime was defeated, Ethiopia has been an ethno-federal state with a formal multi-party political system. The former insurgent movement turned ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) (at its core, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)) ruled alone and defined every aspect of policy. In the 547 member parliament there was (until the recent 24 May 2015 elections) only one opposition member. This pattern of near complete dominance of the ruling party is set to continue. The EPRDF has redefined its ideology three years ago as a ‘developmental democracy’ and declared itself a ‘developmental state’. Despite recurrent human rights and democracy problems, donors are only increasing their aid, due to GDP growth, economic dynamics and overall ‘stability’. A new 5-year plan is being implemented for the country’s national economy. It is called the ‘Growth and Transformation Plan’ (GTP), of which Part 2 is in preparation for 2015-2020. A large part of the plans include gearing up to create a national energy infrastructure, commercialization of agriculture via foreigner leases, and industrialization based on foreign investments. The new economic dynamics in the country is laudable, but these plans are affecting many groups adversely, among them the agro-pastoralist areas and populations in Ethiopia and are generating local unease and a flow of international criticism by the world press, interest groups, and researchers.

Key issues to the new developmental approach include massive agrarian plantations seated on traditional agro-pastoral lands that have been taken away from local herders-cultivators (all of which a different ethnicity than the state elite), and land alienation without due compensation. Victims claim that there is often forced resettlement and villagization of people in new settlements without facilities and people are forced to reduce livestock numbers per household. Livelihoods are also affected as people are being prevented in cultivating a sufficient supply of food, thereby enhancing local food insecurity. In addition, several peoples living near the national borders are vulnerable and have to fear disarmament and enemy raids, such as those on the borders of South Sudan or Kenya.

The smaller agro-pastoral people have little, if any, legal redress because all land is owned by the state and they cannot claim land rights. These communities are still labelled ‘backward people’ and have been officially declared in need of civilization. The core point is that local groups are not seen as development partners or stakeholders in ‘inclusive development’ – a process which should start from local contexts. The massive agrarian schemes for sugar cane and cotton production are to be run by outsiders, with imports of tens of thousands of foreign labourers. The locals seem unnecessary and ‘in the way’. State policy only has minimal concern with their ‘rights’. There already have been lethal clashes, and serious economic problems have occured for local ethnic groups as well.

Stability, growth and good governance

The elites of the state aim for stability, growth, and continued rule. All ‘developing countries’ of today answer to this model, and are usually fondly supported by the World Bank and donor country governments. In the wake of the rapidly extending pace and spread of economic globalization – now marked by the successful entry of emerging powers and industries of China, India and Brazil into poorer developing countries in Africa – there is a new popularity of the authoritarian state-led development model, accompanied by neo-patrimonialism.

The latter mode of governance or rule is increasingly seen as inevitable and even an acceptable ingredient. Indeed, several recent studies (study by DLP and a study by DFID) seem to have no qualms in indirectly complying with such authoritarianism, nepotism or corruption as byproducts of developmentalism (‘going with the grain’) or ‘developmental patrimonialism’. The World Bank is a faithful ally in this venture. This seems to be partly an answer to the challlenge of the ‘Chinese model’, and the approach implies that as long as results are delivered (such as GDP growth, constructing big dams, building markets and value chains, ‘capacity building’), autocratic developmentalism is all fine and well. The assumption seems to be that poor people do not need democracy, environmental justice, human rights or respect in the juridical sense: that’s all just secondary to ‘poverty eradication’.

Apart from the morally questionable aspects in this line of thinking, there is considerable doubt about the approach’s long-term effects. Also scientifically, it is dubious. There is no significant evidence that hardline authoritarian rule in development will be durable or that it will provide social cohesion. Of course neither is there significant evidence that democratic models guarantee growth and stability, especially not in multi-ethnic countries. Skewed economic policies, exclusivism and unfairness in the distribution of ‘resources’, non-transparent, non-representational politics, and phantom justice systems will, at some point, inevitably create emergent protests, social movements, resistance or silent sabotage among the population not getting a good deal. Economically, several schemes have run into serious difficulty as well.

Inclusive development: the new ‘feel good’ concept

It is understandable amongst policy and development study circles that the deception has been growing about whether the dominant ‘development’ strategies of the last 30 years will deliver the goods to the poor and disadvantaged. This leaves the researchers and politicians sometimes at a loss in their continued search for new short-cuts. Yet it is intellectual and moral weakness to only focus on economic-technocratic aspects and deny the comprehensive socio-political nature of development. It can be seen as a process of enlightened overall societal and cultural progress and the enhancing of social cohesion in a country.

The concept of ‘inclusion’ or ‘inclusive development’ is now very popular in developmental governance discourse and is expected to establish new connections and linkages in a developing state which draws upon all ‘stakeholders’. It is the new ‘feel good’ concept. However its political and contextual aspects are usually neither well-analysed nor implemented nor monitored in government and donor policy. Indeed, development in the broader human sense needs ‘inclusiveness’. But governments, the World Bank, IMF, NGOs and the entire developmental circus does not work like this. They just hope it will eventually result in inclusiveness. They of course accept the thought, but when the executive powers from governments to financiers, to investors to donors are not really working towards inclusive development, they will continue to wait.

Towards a recalibration of developmentalism

What is the way out then? The governance of development in Ethiopia often seems to disconnect and rearrange the ‘playing field’, often in excluding the locals. We see that when such schemes are supported by donor countries and the World Bank, there is something wrong and a fundamental policy overhaul is needed. The non-negotiated process of economic development excludes voices of local ethnic populations and reduces, if not removes, rehabilitation efforts. This clash between the local agro-pastoralists and the state, whereby the latter acts on perceptions of a terra nullius or ‘empty space’, is neither ‘inclusive’ nor even productive. Blue-print notions of development are hardly tailored to local realities and lack human scale and context sensitivity. Ethiopia’s self-declared federal policy of officially approving ethnic rights to people in itself is positive, yet is also subverted by this very development venture, which does not pursue broad human development, but mainly the cult of GDP growth on the national level. Controversy will continue over its short and long-term regarding ecological, social and economic effects.

In Ethiopia and in many other African countries, we need a recalibration of developmentalism, a rethinking of the theme ‘governance and connections’, and a ‘radical federalism’ to accommodate the divergent claims from ethno-regional groups and urban constituencies in a model of socio-political and environmental justice. State prescriptivism and developmental surveillance regimes will stifle overall development and stability in the long run. The problem is the present-day global geo-politics that seriously go against the alternative.