The concept of democracy has received extensive treatment in the social sciences literature. It is generally conceived as voters, through regular elections, choosing their leaders. A classical definition in this regard is that offered by Huntington who conceives a political system as being democratic, “to the extent that its most powerful collective decision makers are selected through fair, honest and periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the adult population is eligible to vote”.1 This has become the dominant way in which democracy is conceived.


Despite the fact that scholars might have emphasized different aspects of it, there is a general consensus that liberal democracy has some basic principles, namely:

  • • Citizen participation (meaning choosing their leaders)
  • • Equality
  • • Political tolerance
  • • Accountability
  • • Transparency
  • • Regular, free and fair elections
  • • Economic freedom
  • • Control of the abuse of power
  • • A bill of rights
  • • The separation of the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary
  • • Accepting the result of elections
  • • Human rights
  • • A multiparty system
  • • The rule of law.

What is clear is that electoral democracy advances social and political rights. But this concept tends to give greater premium to the ‘professionalization of public policy’ (a techniques approach to public policy) with its strong emphasis on political parties and civil society. This approach loses sight of the fact that citizens make democracy. As a result, there is a global trend toward the replacement of citizen democracy by consumer democracy, with citizens conceived as consumers, clients and users, government services increasingly seen as commodities and access based on the ability to pay. Across the globe, civic identity is being replaced by consumer identity, cooperation by sectarian conflict, the creation of commonwealth by conflicts over the distribution of private wealth, citizen participation by apathy and disengagement and everyday politics by career politics. Not surprisingly, there is a trend towards declining public interest in elections, increasing citizens’ disengagement from public affairs and distrust of government. Divisions characterised along left-right political leanings exemplify present-day politics. The bitterness of this division limits the scope of citizens to work collaboratively, in partnerships with government, for common social goods. It fosters conflicts among citizens, communities and organized interests. Democracy is also conceived only in terms of a struggle over the distribution of wealth and private accumulation rather than the creation of commonwealth.


This is how one of the leading US political theorists, Harry Boyte, aptly captured the adverse implications for citizens. According to him:


When politics becomes the property of professional elites, bureaucrats and consultants, most people are marginalized in the serious work of public affairs. Citizens are reduced to, at most, secondary roles as demanding consumers or altruistic volunteers. Moreover, with the transformation of mediating institutions…, such as civil society think-tanks, …[which] became technical service  providers – citizens lost all stake and standing in the public world.


Consequently, the question of democracy has largely neglected issues of economic justice – basic needs such as access to food, shelter, medical care and housing. In the absence of equal opportunity for all citizens to these essentials for human existence, the equality being stressed in liberal democracy is defeated. White poignantly captured that danger for democracy:


 …democratic citizenship is undermined if there is too great a contradiction between the egalitarian norms of a democratic polity and the inequalities of individuals and groups in civil society. Glaring inequalities undermine democracy in two basic ways; first, by fuelling social discontent and political instability and, second, through the persistence of poverty, by excluding more or less extensive sections of the population from access to the political process and its fruits.


It is in the light of this that some African scholars have critiqued liberal democracy. For example, Eme Awa averred that democracy must be made to deliver some economic empowerment and a higher state of living for the people. A democracy that cannot deliver on the basic needs of the people will be short-lived. Conceived this way, democracy and development must go hand in hand – in other words, they are mutually reinforcing. Thus in the view of some scholars, socio-economic justice is at the heart of democracy.


In view of the above, these scholars observed that the quest and struggles of the African people for democratic governance are aimed not only at doing away with repressive and autocratic governments but also at improving their socio-economic conditions in a way that will lead to a qualitative improvement in their material conditions. This has important social and political value. Citizens are able to exercise real choice after they have overcome poverty, squalor or ignorance, as these constitute constraints on freedom and equality. In other words, social, economic and political empowerments are mutually inclusive. Embedded in such conception is citizens’ active participation as a necessary requirement in the development and governance process. As will be shown later, this approach has important implications for the concept of a democratic developmental state. A democratic developmental state is one that not only embodies the principles of electoral democracy, but also ensures citizens’ participation in the development and governance processes. Thus when questioning how the democratic developmental state can be placed in the African context, it is pertinent to bring citizenship back into politics. This means placing emphasis on cooperative work and deliberative traditions by bringing people together across party lines, racial backgrounds, class divides and other differences, for the common good. Conceiving the democratic developmental state in this way is not an attempt to do away with representative democracy but rather to recast the debate by placing greater premium on the how ‘participatory democracy’ compliments ‘representative democracy’. To be effective, however, citizens will have to organise themselves to be able to participate in consultative arenas or networks of consultative decision-making. Because of the divergent interests in society, citizens organise themselves into various groups, which are at times in conflict and are at other times complementary. But to ensure the objectives of redistribution and the reduction of inequalities, the form of civil society that is most suitable for that task is associations of politically marginalised groups.6 Hence marginalised people have to form popular organizations that will advance their interests. This is because, across the globe, it

has been shown that where elite groups dominate the consultative arena, it reinforces inequality.


It needs to be stressed that the democratic developmental state is one that can also foster economic growth and development. This means that not only is the state able to transform its economic base by promoting productive, income generating economic activities but must ensure that economic growth has the resultant effect of improving the living conditions of the majority of its population. White puts this succinctly: “development includes a process of economic change involving the construction of more complex and productive economies capable of generating higher material standards of living”.


In line with the above, a democratic developmental state has to have clearly defined socio-economic objectives that require active state interventions. Some of the social objectives include:


(the) alleviation of absolute and relative poverty; the correction of glaring inequalities of social conditions (between genders, classes, regions, and ethnic groups); provision for personal safety and security; and the tackling of looming threats such as environmental degradation… Overall, to the extent that democratic polities are instrumental in organising socio-economic progress along these lines, they can be described as developmentally successful; their success depends on the existence and efficacy of the democratic developmental state.


The African Charter for Popular Participation’ identified some of the characteristics of such people’s organisations9. The organizations should be, grassroots-based, voluntary, democratically administered, self-reliant and rooted in the tradition and culture of the society. As noted earlier, such organizations are community-embedded. This moves away from the anti-state conceptions of participation and developmentalism “that completely circumvent or marginalise the state as non-governmental organizations, the private sector and local communities proceed almost surreptitiously with addressing issues of poverty and development without the encumbrance of the state”.


In discussing the democratic developmental state, a premium must be placed on its institutional or organisational attributes and its relations to surrounding social structures. It is the organisational structures that enable it to promote and achieve better economic performance. This emphasis moves away from conceptions of a developmental state only in terms of its objectives.


A starting point in conceiving the democratic developmental state should of necessity be the developmental state literature that gained currency following the wondrous economic performance of the East Asian developmental state from the 1970s. This literature has a number of variations but remains useful for researchers in distilling some of its basic characteristics. One strand of the literature emphasises the developmental goals of the state, what Mk and awire calls the ideological character of the developmental state.


Prominent in this regard are Castells12 and Pronk13. To Castells, a state is developmental when it establishes as its principle of legitimacy, its ability to promote and sustain development; understood as the combination of steady and high rates of economic growth and structural change in the productive system, both domestically and in its relationship with the international economy. Pronk follows in Castells’ footsteps by defining a developmental state only in terms of its objectives. In his view, a developmental state is one which is able and willing to create and sustain a policy climate that promotes development by fostering productive investment, exports, growth and human welfare.


Useful as such conception might be it ignores the institutional characteristics, what Mk and awire refers to as the ‘state-structure nexus’ that enable one state to be able to achieve growth and development while others can not. As noted earlier, a premium has to be placed on the institutional/organisational configurations of the democratic developmental state. This is primarily because what sets a democratic developmental state apart from others is that not only is it able to clearly set its development objectives; it also establishes institutional structures in order to achieve the objectives. Hence, a democratic developmental state also has to be defined by its institutional attributes. This approach is located within the second strand of the developmental state literature. Taken this way, a developmental state can be defined “as one whose ideological underpinnings are developmental and one that seriously attempts to construct and deploy its administrative and political resources to the task of economic development”. In other words, the democratic developmental state is defined by its objectives and its institutional characteristics.


The key organisational features of importance are ‘autonomy’ of state institutions, which enables it to define and promote its strategic developmental goals, and its ‘embeddedness”, which is the state forming alliances with key social groups in society that helps it to achieve its developmental goals. In this perspective, autonomy implies the presence of high degrees of coherent state agencies that are able to formulate and implement coherent developmental goals. Put differently, autonomy means the ability of the state to behave as a coherent collective actor that is able to identify and implement developmental goals.


Implicitly, the developmental state is not overwhelmed by particularistic interest groups. The point being stressed is that state bureaucratic coherence is achieved by, among others, meritocratic recruitment, which in turn engenders coherent networks within the state. This enhances its capability to identify and implement independent goals. Meritocratic recruitment is complemented by predictable career paths and long term rewards for bureaucrats both of which help to generate a sense of corporate coherence. Another significant feature of an autonomous state is greater coordination of industrial change and economic adjustment.


In the East Asian cases, autonomy was initially conceived in terms of the state imposing its will over society and suppressing civil society. As Johnson19 points out the “soft authoritarian character” of the state was the source of its autonomy. Wade’s20 conception of the developmental state also followed this logic. But the cooperative dynamism of the developmental state was stressed by Peter Evans through his concept of embeddedness, and by Weiss22 through the concept of ‘Governed Interdependence’ (GI). But a major weakness of these conceptual frameworks is that state-society relations are limited to government-business relations – an elite coalition. In addition, the earlier conception of the developmental state paid no heed to the democratic aspect of the developmental state. This is partly because some scholars regarded the repressive nature of the state as one of the factors that enhanced its developmental capacity. But as Weiss reminds us, what is of central importance is the state’s ability to use its autonomy to consult, negotiate and elicit consensus and cooperation from its social partners in the task of national economic reforms and adjustment. Cooperation is therefore a central element of the developmental state, although cooperation here is limited to the private sector.


The key point is that state autonomy is complemented by a concrete set of relationships with particular interest groups, while at the same time being insulated from direct political pressures. Stressing the importance of insulation and embeddedness, Seddon and Belton- Jones note:


Effective insulation from immediate pressures of special interests enables policy-makers to respond swiftly and effectively to new circumstances; but the capacity to identify and implement appropriate policies to promote effective medium – and longer-term development requires the maintenance of strategic relations with wider civil society.


The combination of autonomy and embeddedness by the developmental state is the basis of its efficaciousness. These seemingly paradoxical characteristics are mutually reinforcing and safeguard the state from piecemeal capture by particularistic interests, which is capable of destroying both the state’s internal coherence and its ability to coherently interact with its economic partners. The cohesiveness of the state also enables interest groups with which it shares a transformative project to overcome their collective action problems. The networks between the state and its economic partners serve as platforms for information exchange, consensus building over policy and effective implementation. By extension these networks enhance the robustness of the state apparatus.


Embedded autonomy also enables the state officials to strategically and selectively intervene in the economy (focusing on sectors, products, markets, technology, etc), which they perceive as crucial to the future of industrial growth and transformation. Embedded autonomy, it is argued, is the institutional foundation of the developmental state that enables it to respond swiftly and effectively to rapidly changing global economic conditions.


Most writers on the developmental state, including Johnson, Wade and Evans, have concluded that as capital becomes internationalized and autonomous, the state’s capability will be reduced. The argument is as follows: the social actors that the developmental state brings forth become its nemesis. In other words, at maturation, the social groups that the state helps to create, develop interests distinct from that of the state; hence they undermine the state’s capacity. If this assumption is correct, it poses significant challenges for Africa in its attempt to  construct a democratic developmental state.


Our analysis of the challenges facing Africa in constructing a democratic developmental state would therefore also address the constraints and opportunities offered by globalisation. It is important to note that while Africa may not replicate the East Asian developmental states, there are specific lessons to be learnt from that experience in terms of the objectives and institutional setup necessary to achieve those objectives.


Whatever way you look at it, the initial conception of the developmental state paid no attention to the nature of the political regime. Some even justified the undemocratic nature of the East Asian developmental state on the ground of its development performance. But if there is a positive correlation between undemocratic regimes and development, then African countries would have been among the most developed countries in the world. A succinct critique of the concept of the developmental state that did not incorporate the nature of the political regime is offered by Meredith Woo-Cummings in her critical appraisal of Evan’s ‘Embedded Autonomy’.


In recognition of the limitations of the dominant conception of the developmental state, Robinson and White came up with the notion of the democratic developmental state. The democratic developmental state retains the autonomous institutional attributes of the developmental state. But it moves beyond that as it emphasises an inclusive approach to public policy-making. In this regard, White has coined the concept of ‘inclusive embeddedness’, meaning that “the social basis and range of accountability goes beyond a narrow band of elites to embrace broader sections of society”. This becomes the basis of the state infrastructural capacity.28 That is, to penetrate society to elicit cooperation and consensus from its social partners in its developmental endeavors.


The nature of the political system is an additional element or source of autonomy of the democratic developmental state. This is what White calls ‘institutional coherence’, which implies “the distribution and use of political power, in the relations between different sections of the bureaucratic apparatus, and in the nature of the party system in political society.” This emphasis presupposes that political society creates “channels of political participation, particularly the structure and social base of the party system”. There are a number of developmental and democratic imperatives that flow from the nature of political society. The social base of a political party is likely to significantly determine its developmental agenda. A political party of the poor is more likely to be attuned to advancing a poverty reduction strategy than a party of the elite.


Similarly, the type of relationships fostered by the political system is of crucial importance to both the developmental and democratic outcomes. Here two distinctions are in order. On the one hand are programmatic relationships between citizens and political parties. Programmatic politics are based on collective deliberation on public issues and are characterised by dense networks of civic associations. This helps to generate consensus and create stability in the political system. On the other hand is scleintelistic politics, which is based on the award of personal favours; and at times coercion. Under such a dispensation, voters make their choices on the basis of primordial factors such as religion, ethnicity, race and personality, rather than alternative developmental programmes. Worse still, political parties are often organised around ethno-regional criteria rather than ideological lines. Osia’s incisive account of Nigerian politics is illustrative. According to him, much of Nigeria’s politics


defer more to primordial instincts of ethnicity than to the urge for nationalism… Leaders seized on ethnic particularisms and lack of appropriate political education of followers to present an extractive view of politics which persuades the individuals to seek personal advantage from the government. The ‘national cake’ turned out to be the ‘family cake’. The survival of personal and familial obligations superseded the survival of the nation. Leaders interpreted their discretionary authority as discretion to serve the interests of their family, friends and ethnic groups.


Accountability became much more synonymous with the size of a leader’s bank accounts, than a ‘measure of responsibility’ to one’s constituency and the nation. Under such circumstances, voters rarely genuinely expressed their opinion since, for them, the ballot is essentially a token exchange in an immediate, highly personalized relationship of dependency. This situation induces conflicts and instabilities in the political system. These emanate from the conflicting needs of citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and the need of the dominant political elite to entrench themselves.


Citizens are included in the democratic process as subjects/clients. By so doing, the political system strips citizens of their citizenship. This is also the result of the competition between various primordial groups for access to power and national resources.


In such circumstances, the state has limited developmental capacity as the political leaders are unable to mobilize and foster mutually-interlocking relationships between the state and various social, political and economic interests. In addition, it is unable to mobilize national resources for national development. What is therefore being argued is that a democratic developmental state has to have a political system that promotes horizontal and programmatic relationships between political parties and their members, between elected officials and citizens and between the state and society.


In fact White emphasised the developmental and democratic importance of the nature of political society, especially the nature of parties and party systems, as follows:


 it serves to determines the capacity to provide a stable and authoritative regulatory environment; to include large sections of the population and channel the views of diverse constituents; to implement programmes of social welfare and redistribution; to take the longer-term strategic perspectives necessary to tackle deep-rooted developmental problems; and to organized accountability through intra-party processes and inter-party competition.


In particular, when political parties are cohesive, inclusive, organise relative broad coalitions of social interests and are programmatic, they become effective inter-mediators in the political system. They are able to generate consensus and thereby reduce conflicts. The effectiveness of political parties as inter-mediators and aggregators of diverse socio-political interests depends on a number of factors which are important to the democratic developmental state project. These include “the nature of individual parties – the extent to which they are capable of including and organising relatively broad coalitions of social interests, as opposed to having narrow social bases which accentuate rather than alleviate conflict; the extent to which they can represent programmatic alternatives as opposed to scleintelistic or personalistic interests”. This is likely to enhance the democratic and developmental potentials of the state.


It is our contention that what the democratic developmental state requires is a political system that is able to accommodate diverse political interests and not one that prescribes one party. This is in spite of the fact that some of the countries that can be said to be democratic developmental states, Botswana and Japan, have been dominated by one party in the last fifty years. The key point here is that the rights of citizens to form and join political parties of their choice should not be curtailed by the state. Of importance is therefore a climate that allows other political parties to thrive, and regularity of elections so that citizens can voice their concerns about the social, economic and political direction of the country. Where the outcome of an election is already predetermined due to the dominance of one party, it is likely to lead to voter apathy, although there is no empirical evidence in this regard. Therefore, a political system that encourages real contest among competing parties might be more desirable; especially as it forces the dominant party to be more accountable to citizens. An electoral system that promotes accountability becomes more important than the number of political parties involved in the election process.


Two other elements of the institutional coherence of the democratic developmental state that are important for our purposes are the constitutional systems of government: parliamentary versus presidential, and unitary versus federalist. Although the debate around these has not been resolved among scholars and policy practitioners, of importance in our conception of the democratic developmental state is whether or not the system adopted is able to promote and engender coherent and authoritative governance. In this respect, the inclusiveness and stability of the system become important components in defining the democratic developmental state. One of the merits of this conceptual approach is that it allows for institutional differences or variations among democratic developmental states while the aims of their internal workings remain the same – that is, inclusiveness, accountability, stability and authoritative governance, as well as broad and grassroots  participation in the democratic process.



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