Journal Article


Working with the Grain? Rethinking African Governance

Published on 2 February 2011

At the heart of current policy thinking about Africa there is a significant knowledge gap concerning governance and development. This IDS Bulletin concentrates on what can be done about that, drawing on the initial experience of a new research venture, the Africa Power and Politics Programme.

The APPP is committed to discovering forms of governance that work better for development than those prescribed by the current ‘good governance’ orthodoxy. It aims to do so chiefly by examining the range of post-colonial experience in sub-Saharan Africa focusing especially on under-appreciated patterns of difference in institutions and outcomes. A central challenge has been operationalising the working hypothesis that institutions function better when they ‘work with the grain’ of the society which hosts them.

Governance reform in Africa has lost its way; the results of efforts to improve how African countries are ruled remain seriously insufficient (not only the episodes dominating media coverage, but also the everyday exercise of power). Below the apex of the national political systems and behind the headlines, in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa most of the time, governance is failing to work for development. Despite some economic growth, vital investments needed for this to be sustained and transformative don’t take place. The better-off solve their livelihood problems privately, while for the majority life remains harsh, troubled and short.

The institutions that will work best for public goods provision and development in the African context are ones that have a local problem-solving character and build on relevant components of the available cultural repertoire.

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Introduction: Working with the Grain? The Africa Power and Politics Programme David Booth

Towards a Theory of Local Governance and Public Goods Provision David Booth

The Eight Modes of Local Governance in West Africa Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan

Local Powers and the Co-delivery of Public Goods in Niger Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan

Local Governance and Public Goods in Malawi Diana Cammack

Makeni City Council and the Politics of Co-production in Post-conflict Sierra Leone Anna Workman

Popular Concepts of Justice and Hybrid Judicial Institutions in Ghana Richard C. Crook, Kojo P. Asante and Victor K. Brobbey

Rethinking the Relationship between Neo-patrimonialism and Economic Development in Africa Tim Kelsall

Neo-patrimonialism, Institutions and Economic Growth: The Case of Malawi, 1964-2009 Diana Cammack and Tim Kelsall

Conclusion: Rethinking African Governance and Development Richard C. Crook and David Booth


Richard Crook

Emeritus Fellow

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published by
Crook, R. and Booth, D
IDS Bulletin, volume 42, issue 2


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