As noted by Leftwich (2006) from the 1980s when a new tide of global democratic change resonated in most parts of the world, the emphasis of academic discourse on the linkage between democracy and development shifted to the object and purposes of democracy. Democracy assumes a universal political product. The new debate centres on whether democracy is the cause and major facilitator of economic development. Democracy has become the independent variable, and economic development, dependent. The political import is that democracy can now be accepted, tolerated and promoted for all societies.
It is no accident that countries that have reached the highest level of economic performance across generations are all stable democracies (Friedman, 1962). Today, liberal democracy justifiably enjoys near universal appeal and is regarded as the ideal system of government. Liberal democracy is a form of government by means of which citizens, through open and free institutional arrangements are empowered to choose and remove leaders in a competitive struggle for the people’s vote. According to Sen, A (2001) democracies enrich individual lives through the granting of political and civil rights, and do better job in improving the welfare of the poor, compared to alternative political systems. Sen’s notion is that democratic governance is relevant since democracies are seen to be responsive to the demands and pressures from citizenry and the right to rule is derived from support manifested in competitive elections.
Africa is one of the continents that have embraced democratic governance. In the last century when the rest of the world moved towards democracy and development Africa remained a predominantly military or semi-military controlled continent ruled mostly by non democratic and dictatorial governments. The effect of this undemocratic government in the continent is poverty. According to Ikipi, (1997) after attaining independence African leaders separated themselves from the people, engaged themselves in self aggrandizement and became insensitive to the yearnings of their people for basic economic and social amenities. This state of affairs led to untold devastation of economies in the continent, people had to live below poverty line with little or no food, no shelter to accommodate them and no medical or educational facilities to give them some future. To correct this ill, some civilians or military backed by civilians resort to rebellion which in most cases lead to civil war. This was the case of countries such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Liberia, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Of late Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have seen civil strive and putting democratic governance into doubt. Civil wars have killed a lot of people, depriving the continent of critical labour resource. These wars have led to the neglect of education perpetuating the deep cycle of poverty. There can never be any meaningful development unless poverty, inequality and unemployment have been eliminated the democratic governance can have a meaning.
As such, the nature of a political regime may not necessarily determine the rate of economic growth and development in a country. Authoritarian regimes in some countries have shown remarkable resilience for economic discipline and structural reforms, and thereby engineered tremendous economic growth in their countries. The bureaucratic authoritarian model in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s and the developmental authoritarian regimes in East Asia in the 1980s and early 1990s are instructive in this regard. What make a difference in economic development therefore as Leftwich (2006) argues, are not the regime types or mode of political governance, but the nature of the state. According to him, the type of state, whether developmental or not, is quite crucial to the object of economic development. For economic development to take place in a country, the state must be a developmental state. In order to marry the twin goals of democracy and development for Third World countries, what these countries need is a developmental democracy, a democratic state that is also developmental.
No doubt, the experiences of the proverbial development states of East Asia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan offer evidence that efficacious state capacity and good governance can be achieved in developmental authoritarian regimes but not in predatory authoritarian systems. Pei, (2006) is skeptical of the Chinese model of governance. Pei casts doubt on conventional explanations regarding viability of the Chinese model, that sustained economic expansion will lead to political liberalization and democratization or that neo-authoritarian developmental state is essential to economic take-off. Ironically, China’s decentralized predatory state under the strength of its economic fundamentals hides more than it reveals. Pei warns that, only when the growth rate begins to taper off, the real extent of predation, including serious human, material, environmental and welfare costs, will become evident. Moreover, democracies unlike authoritarian regimes, offer a better long term protection of property rights as well as individual and collective freedoms.
On the other hand, despite the claims of democracy advocates, the assumption that economic reforms under democracies would automatically lead to simultaneous income redistribution and rising living standards has proved to be overly sanguine. Przeworski et al, (2000) have challenged the claim that economic growth leads to democracy. Rather there is evidence that the immediate market reforms under democracy exacerbate inequality while the long run is to diminish it. This means that market reforms under democratic auspices are necessary conditions for promoting economic growth, but not sufficient ones to reduce inequalities at least in the short run.
Adejumobi, A, (2000) has noted that there have been dramatic changes on the political scene in Africa, with elections, multypartyism, civil society and human rights as the new political clichés. Most authoritarian regimes have been forced to yield political space and grant civil and political rights to the people. By 1999, three quarter of the countries in Africa has organized national elections mostly on a multiparty basis. The international community has heralded this development as the birth of democracy in Africa. The current tendency is to confuse the form, with the content. Election is largely equated with democracy in Africa. Elections may be a part of, but does not parallel democracy. The over-emphasis on elections has led to an undue exertion of political capital and energies on electoral politics, in which yesterday’s tyrants and dictators are gradually devising ingenious means to circumvent the process and reclaim or hold on to political power ibid. I argue that, this wave of democratic governance in Africa has not solvent problems in development and has led to deceit and manipulation of democracy without the will to it.
In spite of the euphoria of electoral democracy, the economic condition in Africa looks very grim and appalling. Although there are inter-country variations in economic performance in Africa, with some countries as “strong performers” and others as “weak”, the general trend or average performance remains poor. Adejumobi, A, (2000) the growth rate of the GDP for Africa was 2.1% in 1985-1989, this slowed down to 2.0% in the period 1990-1997. The human development index for Africa is not also encouraging. For sub-Saharan Africa, real GDP per capita fell from $661 in 1980 to $518 in 1997, while life expectancy at birth is estimated at 48.9 years in 1997. The rate of adult literacy stands at 58.5% in 1997, with only a small percentage of the people having access to safe drinking water, sanitation and good health services. The poverty trap is quite daunting that a high percentage of people still live below $1 per day, (ibid). This is quite surprising for countries that embraced democracy in the hope of solving contemporary development issues.
According to Adejumobi, A, (2000) electoral democracy does not constitute a magic wand for economic progress and social transformation, it is the content of democracy and the way it is constituted that has some implications for the development project. The nature and constitution of democracy determine the extent to which the people participate concretely in decision making, beyond elections, and how their collective efforts influence their life chances. Democracy in its constitutive elements must give practical expression to an organized and predictable life for the people, engender equity and fairness both in power and resource distribution, and facilitate the empowerment of the people. It is through this, that democracy can provide a base or conducive milieu for socio-economic development.
To some others, creating a symmetrical linkage between democracy and development is to overburden democracy. Democracy is conceived to be a worthy political project in itself and should not be forcibly associated with economic development. The political context and rights which democracy provides are ends in themselves, which make for human happiness in society. The rights to free speech, association etc, are quite crucial to man and may not necessarily lead to material betterment. Detailed empirical studies also show a weak correlation between democracy and development. For example in a statistical study of about 130 countries on the linkage between democracy and development, Ersson and Lane (1996) concluded that there is need for caution in linking democracy with economic development. They assert that the correlation between democracy and economic growth is very weak, so also is the correlation between democracy and income redistribution. Indeed, Gasiorowski, (2000) argues that political democracy may have a negative impact on macro-economic performance especially in developing countries. He suggests that democracy engender high inflation rate and slower economic growth in underdeveloped countries as a result of unrestrained competition for resources and pressures for fiscal deficits. Is democratic really relevant in solving contemporary development issues? The question remains elusive like a phantom.
Although now largely discredited, modernization theory posited the emergence of democracy as a consequence of the transformation of the class structure, with the growth of the bourgeoisie, as well as economic development and increasing urbanization. Theorists such as Lipset (1959) believed that democracy was more likely to emerge in countries with higher levels of socio-economic development. Once a country reaches a certain level of economic development, it was argued, people would be more inclined to believe in democratic values and support a democratic system. More recent research has highlighted the greater incidence of stable democracy among higher income countries. UNDP (2002:56) notes that 42 of the 48 high human development countries are democracies. UNDP (ibid) further reports that, With just two exceptions, all of the world’s richest countries – those with per capita incomes above $20,000 (in 2000 purchasing power parity) – have the world’s most democratic regimes. However, correlations between democracy and economic growth or human development do not prove causality. Work by Przeworkski et al. that examine 135 countries between 1950 and 1990, shows that there are no trade-offs between democratization and development. The authors comment “we did not find any shred of evidence that democracy need be sacrificed on the altar of development. The few countries that developed spectacularly during the past 50 years were as likely to achieve the feat under democracy as under dictatorship. On average, total incomes grew at almost identical rates under the two regimes… (2000:271). The observed rates of growth were 4.42 under dictatorships and 3.95 under democracies, but when countries were matched for exogenous conditions, the growth rates under the two regimes were almost the same” (2000:273). Further, the ‘third wave’ of democratization, that saw middle and low-income countries across the world move towards democratic political regimes in the late twentieth century, has shown that there are no structural preconditions for the emergence of democracy. The consensus now is that economic development per se is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the emergence of democracy, although it may help to sustain democracy. As UNDP (2002) reports, democracies are more likely to survive in higher income countries.
The twin elements of democracy and development should serve as the key to a prosperous future for Africa. A democracy not conceived only in terms of elections and abstract political rights, but one in which constitutionalism and the rule of law are institutionalized, political, social and economic rights well protected, and in which the people have real decision making powers beyond the realm of voting. The relationship between democracy and economic development is complex and varied. And there may be tensions and contradictions between the two projects. Yet, when the former is well constituted and institutionalized, it may serve as the base or political infrastructure on which the foundation of the latter may be constructed. The missing links by which democracy may rapidly facilitate economic development include the character of the state, the nature of economic policies pursued, and external pressures on the economy either in terms of the debt problem or the marginalizing pressures of globalization on trade and investment by the less developing countries.
The literature on the connection between democracy and poverty reduction is inconclusive. Democracy does not necessarily contribute to economic growth, and democratic governments do not necessarily put pro-poor policies in place. However, donors remain committed to the promotion of political freedom, and democracy is seen by many as a development goal in itself, as well a means to an end in the achievement of other benefits for citizens. The literature would suggest that democratic states are neither the best nor the worst performers when it comes to economic performance and poverty reduction, and there is evidence to show that democratic systems prevent the worst humanitarian crises from occurring. Over long timeframes, it would seem that consolidated democratic regimes enjoy higher quality governance, are able to promote greater levels of economic growth and institute pro-poor social policies.
What is clear from this discussion is the delicate complexity of the relevance of democratic governance and development problems. It is very clear that no form of government comes without challenges, but that democracy, as of yet, has the best prospects in strive for development; more so for a continent like Africa raved by hunger, diseases and ignorance. Democracy can only be meaningful if anchored on a leadership with the requisite character and competence to deal with the continent’s teething problems. This in turn can easily be achieved where people participate fully in leadership renewal. As a form of government that embraces diversity and plurality in the society, guaranteeing equality of the citizens and their involvement in how they are governed, it remains the best system which accommodates development. Democracy has its own problems, but society must relent at improving on them.
The solution to Africa’s problem therefore cannot lie in rejection of democracy. Rather, its features should provide the basis for fashioning out an economic model of development that takes cognizance of the peoples’ culture, geography, beliefs and temperament. Each country on its own should do this.
Adejumobi, S. (1999) Development and Socio-Economic Progress “Reconstructing the Future: Africa and the Challenge of Democracy and Good Governance in the 21st Century”, Development and Socio-Economic Progress. No. 75. January/June. P.34.
Adekanye, B. (1978) Current Review on Peace and Violence. Vol.8, No 1 pp. 29-40
Chong, A. (2004) “Inequality, Democracy, and Persistence” Economics and Politics 16, no 2 pp. 189-212
Gasiorowski, M.J. (2000), “Democracy and Macro-economic Performance in Underdeveloped Countries: An empirical Analysis” Comparative Political Studies, Studies, Vol. 33, No 3, pp.319-349
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