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Tax, Politics, and the Social Contract in Africa  

Wilson Prichard

Though traditionally thought of as the preserve of technical experts—lawyers, economists and accountants—the study of taxation has recently attracted growing attention, with mounting recognition that taxation is fundamentally political, and lies near the core of the relationship between states and citizens. The first, and most common, question about the politics of taxation is: what are the political barriers to more effective and equitable taxation, and how can these political barriers may be overcome? However, it is important that any discussion of the politics of taxation also consider a second question: How can the expansion of tax collection be linked to the construction of stronger fiscal contracts, thus ensuring responsiveness and accountability in the use of tax revenues? The expansion of taxation represents a transfer of wealth from private citizens to the state, but becomes publicly desirable only if it is then consistently translated in improvements in publicly provided goods and services, and broader improvements in the quality of governance. This makes it incumbent on those interested in taxation to consider not only how best to raise additional revenue, but how best to raise additional revenue in ways that increase the likelihood that new revenue will be translated into broader public benefits. It is now widely accepted that in many cases political resistance represents the most important barrier to more effective taxation in Africa—particularly with respect to the taxation of elite groups. This, in turn, reflects two broad political challenges: the expansion of taxation frequently confronts resistance from influential political and economic elites, while it has historically been very difficult to build popular coalitions in favor of taxation in contexts of limited transparency and significant distrust of taxation and the state. That said, recent research has shed growing light on the contexts in which reform is more likely, and the reform strategies that may contribute to overcoming political resistance. This has been accompanied by the growth of parallel research that has highlighted the contexts in which the expansion of taxation is most likely to spur public mobilization and demand-making—and thus the strategies that reformers might adopt in seeking to strengthen the links between revenue-raising and improvements in public services and accountability. Ultimately, it increasingly appears that the kinds of political strategies that can support more effective and equitable taxation are also likely to contribute to encouraging encourage expanded popular engagement and stronger links between taxation and public benefits. These include efforts to stress horizontal equity in tax collection, to expand transparency and popular engagement in tax debates and to more clearly link expanded revenue to specific public uses, in order to build popular support for reform. Such strategies have the potential to contribute to virtuous circles of reform in which new taxation is translated into valued public benefits; thus building popular support for the further expansion of more equitable taxation.

Article

The Possibility of Developmental States in Africa  

Ellen Hillbom

Since roughly the turn of the millennium, there has been a growing literature discussing the potential characteristics of African Developmental States—if they exists and in that case how they should be defined and exemplified. The basis for this literature has been the experience of the trajectory for sustained economic growth in Pacific Asia. But it has expanded into a broader discussion about the role of authoritarian regimes versus democratic states, outcomes versus intentions, and overall ambitions versus concrete strategies. The most common suggestions for African counterparts have been the two growth miracles—Botswana and Mauritius, although other countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Ethiopia have also been on the agenda. The original Developmental State concept entails a specific type of social engineering that has so far been rare in Africa: a legitimate state leading a planned capitalist economy with a competent and autonomous bureaucracy spearheading industrialization efforts in profound collaboration with the private sector. With such a narrow definition, it is only the development pathway of Mauritius that can be said to fit the criteria while Botswana falls short due to its weak industrialization efforts, longstanding interconnectedness between the bureaucracy, political power, and cattle elite, and lack of dynamic cooperation between the state and private-sector entrepreneurial groups. Whether or not we will see more examples of African countries following the specific Developmental State trajectory or if they will create alternative development paths to economic diversification, transformation, and prosperity remains to be seen.

Article

The Democratic Dividend: Public Spending and Education Under Multipartyism  

Robin Harding

A substantial body of scholarship has considered the impact of regime types on public spending and basic service provision, much of which has implications for education. While some of the theoretical and empirical conclusions from this work are globally applicable, there are also important ways in which the relationship between democracy and education may be influenced by the African context. The most useful theoretical arguments for why democracy may influence public spending, and spending on education in particular, focus on the political incentives generated by multiparty electoral competition. Related but distinct arguments focus on how this may impact in turn on education outcomes, and on why these dynamics may vary because of factors that are particularly pertinent in many African countries. These include variations in the degree of electoral competitiveness and political competition as well as in levels of economic development and ethnic fractionalization. A large body of empirical evidence investigates these various arguments, evaluating the impact of democracy on both education spending and education outcomes. Although evidence for the positive impact of democracy on education is compelling, evidence for this relationship in Africa remains limited and is hampered by limitations to data. In particular, although evidence suggests democracy may have a positive impact on access to education in Africa, there is less evidence for its impact on the quality of education. Future work should continue to address these issues while seeking to investigate sources of heterogeneity in the impact of democracy on education in Africa.

Article

Oil and the International Politics of the African State  

Cyril Obi

Recent discoveries of oil in some African countries have rekindled a debate about its place in development and international politics. The debate has pitched those viewing oil as a catalyst for development and a more assertive Africa in global politics against others who point to the negative impact of oil on older established African oil-producing states. Oil as a highly priced geopolitical and strategic commodity will for the foreseeable future shape relations between African petro-states and other global actors, particularly international oil companies and energy-dependent established and emerging global powers. The structural position of specific African petro-states in the global political economy and history, and the nature of their leadership, are defining factors in the diverse aspects of local and international politics, including the prospects for development and a more assertive Africa in international politics.

Article

Traditional Leaders and Development in Africa  

Lauren Honig

Traditional leaders have a significant role in the social, political, and economic lives of citizens in countries throughout Africa. They are defined as local elites who derive legitimacy from custom, tradition, and spirituality. While their claims to authority are local, traditional leaders, or “chiefs,” are also integrated into the modern state in a variety of ways. The position of traditional leaders between state and local communities allows them to function as development intermediaries. They do so by influencing the distribution of national public goods and the representation of citizen demands to the state. Further, traditional leaders can impact development by coordinating local collective action, adjudicating conflicts, and overseeing land rights. In the role of development intermediaries, traditional leaders shape who benefits from different types of development outcomes within the local and national community. Identifying the positive and negative developmental impacts of traditional leaders requires attention to the different implications of their roles as lobbyists, local governments, political patrons, and land authorities.

Article

Responses to Economic Crisis in Africa  

Peter M. Lewis

In the era following the decolonization of Africa, the economic performance of countries on the continent can be traced across three periods. The early postindependence years reflected moderate growth and policy variation, with occasional distress in some countries. From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the region was gripped by a sweeping crisis of growth and solvency shaped by a steep economic downturn and a slow, stuttering recovery. This was also a period of convergence and restrictions on policy space. By the early 2000s, accelerated growth buoyed most economies in Africa, although commodity price shocks and the global economic slump of 2008–2009 created episodic problems. Different approaches to policy and strategy once again marked the landscape. A number of influences help to explain variations in the occurrence of economic crisis across Africa, and the different responses to economic distress. In addition to structural factors, such as geography, resource wealth, and colonial legacies, middle-range political conditions contributed to these downturns. Key institutions, core constituencies, and fiscal pressures were domestic causes and external factors include donor convergence, access to finance, and policy learning. One framework of analysis centers on three factors: ruling coalitions, the fiscal imperative, and policy space. The ruling coalition refers to the nature of the political regime and core support groups. The fiscal imperative refers to the nature of state finance and access to external resources. And the policy space comprises the range of strategic alternatives and the latitude for governments to make choices among broad policy options. Applying the framework to Africa’s economic performance, the first period was marked by distributional imperatives, a flexible fiscal regime, and considerable space for policy experimentation. During the long crisis, regimes came under pressure from external and domestic influences, and shifted toward a focus on macroeconomic stabilization. This occurred under a tight fiscal imperative and a contraction of policy space under the supervision of multilateral financial institutions. In the 2000s, governments reflected a greater balance between distributional and developmental goals, fiscal constraints were somewhat relaxed, and policy variation reappeared across the region. While the early 21st century has displayed signs of intermittent distress, Africa is not mired in a crisis comparable to those of earlier periods. Developmental imperatives and electoral accountability are increasingly influential in shaping economic strategy across the continent.

Article

Postcolonial Approaches to the Study of African Politics  

Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin

Postcolonial theory has been embraced and critiqued by various scholars since the 1980s. Central to the field of postcolonial studies is the examination of colonial episteme and discourse, European racism, and imperial dominance. Broadly, postcolonialism analyzes the effects, and enduring legacies, of colonialism and disavows Eurocentric master-narratives. Postcolonial ideas have been significant to several academic disciplines, largely those in the humanities and social sciences, such as cultural and literary studies, anthropology, political science, history, development studies, geography, urban studies, and gender and sexuality studies. The key scholars that are connected to postcolonial theory, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Spivak, have been critiqued for grounding their work in the Western theories of postmodernism and poststructuralism. Given the predominant association of these three scholars to postcolonial theory, Africanists have argued that postcolonial theory is dismissive of African theorizing. Moreover, some scholars have noted that Africanists have hesitated to use postcolonial theory because it is too discursive and has limited applicability to material reality. As such, the relevancy of postcolonial theory to Africa has been a repetitive question for decades. Despite this line of questioning, some scholars have posited that there are African thinkers and activists who are intellectual antecedents to the postcolonial thought that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally, other Africanist scholars have engaged with the colonial discursive construction of African subjectivities and societies as inferior. These engagements have been particularly salient in women and gender studies, urban studies and studies of identity and global belonging.

Article

Land-Related Conflict and Electoral Politics in Africa  

Catherine Boone

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

Article

Globalization and Regionalism in Africa  

Pádraig Carmody

Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.