Speaker's Corner

Governance – the good, the bad and the ugly

Governance – the good, the bad and the ugly
  • PublishedMarch 3, 2021

After all is said and done, what distinguishes one country from another boils down to the quality of its governance. The fruits of good governance are as clear and welcome as the rotten fruit of poor and bad governance are unwanted. Where does Africa come on the scale of governance? asks Allen Choruma.

Africa cannot achieve its noble objective of creating a prosperous continent – as the AU’s ‘The Africa We Want’ theme demands – based on inclusive growth and sustainable development if good governance, be it in government, civil society, the public and private sectors, is not adhered to.

Numerous studies by multilateral development institutions like the World Bank and the AfDB, for example, provide empirical evidence directly linking good governance to the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI), and inclusive development outcomes in Africa.

Good governance can therefore be singled out as the single most critical element needed to drive Africa’s development and transformation agenda.

It should be noted that Africa is not a homogeneous continent in terms of governance standards or level of development. Across both North and Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a dichotomy between the good, bad and ugly in terms of governance. Yet despite these striking variants, there are common governance traits which cut across most African countries, resulting in writers, like myself, often looking at Africa as a collective or as one large bloc. But, when we talk of good governance in Africa, our focal point should be on national governance, the executive, the leadership, where most state power and resources reside.

Separation of powers

The principle of separation of powers which requires that the three arms of the state – the judiciary, legislature and executive – should be separate and act independently of each other is a long-established idea, forming the bedrock of modern constitutional democracy and good governance.

The separation of powers is a system of checks and balances that prevents the concentration of power in one arm of the state by allowing each arm to check and balance the other to ensure good governance. If correctly applied, this separation promotes good governance by preventing dictatorships and arbitrary rule in a constitutional democracy.

The majority of African countries now have democratic constitutions that recognise the separation of powers. The sole exception is Eswatini, which is an absolute monarchy, and Lesotho and Morocco, which are constitutional monarchies. In addition there are the so-called ‘democratic dictatorships’ which purport to have all the democratic institutions but in fact are thinly disguised dictatorships. 

But coming back to the increasing number of true democracies in Africa, what remains to be done is to strengthen state institutions falling under the three arms of the state to ensure that they are resting on a strong legal framework, and that they are capacitated in terms of resources to allow them to act and carry out their functions independently, without bias, patronage, fear or favour.

Countries that operate without strong and independent national institutions, based on a robust legal framework, scare away investors and are prone to bouts of instability that lead to chaos, corruption, human rights abuses and retarded growth.

National governance

National governance sets the so- called ‘tone from the top’. If tenets of good governance are upheld at national government level, through the national systems of public administration and management, this will have a positive trickle-down, percolation effect on the rest of the economy and society. The converse is also true.

Good governance in Africa can only thrive in an environment where our political leaders, heads of states and governments, lead by example through displaying a culture of good governance, characterised by servant leadership, upholding the rule of law, transparency and accountability.

African leaders have a responsibility to create enabling environments for good governance in both the public and private sectors. Good governance is needed to unlock and stimulate investments and allow businesses to grow, thereby creating the much-needed growth and employment opportunities.

The African Renaissance, propounded by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, cannot happen without a solid foundation of good governance. African leaders have a huge role to play in ensuring that the governments they preside over put in place appropriate legal and institutional frameworks that promote good governance across all sectors. It is said that the private sector is the driver for development, growth and wealth creation. But companies do not operate in isolation, they operate within the context of the political and macroeconomic environment prevailing in any given country, region or continent.

Corporate governance cannot therefore be looked at in isolation from national governance.

Corporate governance

In order to harness Africa’s full growth potential, good corporate governance in the private sectors is as important as strong national governance.

World Bank research shows that there is a positive synergy between good corporate governance and economic development outcomes.

In view of this, suffice it to say that corporate governance is a key enabler to Africa’s inclusive growth and social transformation agenda.

According to the World Bank’s 2012 Corporate Governance and Development Report: “It is evident that, although corporate governance may not be the sole driver for sound economic performance, it is a significant contributor, and we have only to see the devastating consequences of poor corporate governance practices to appreciate the importance of corporate governance to economic development and its benefits for jobs and wealth creation.”

Sustainable development, wealth and employment creation, and narrowing gaps in inequality resonate in the World Bank submission cited above as the results of good corporate governance.


A weak governance architecture in any country usually manifests itself in a proliferation of corruption, which has become a scourge across Africa. The late former UN SG, Kofi Annan, aptly  described corruption as follows: “Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects in societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish…

“Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.” (Kofi Annan statement: UN Convention against Corruption, New York, 31 October 2003.)

Corruption, a product of bad governance, scares away both the domestic and foreign investors needed for Africa’s development.

Good governance is also a human rights issue and should be used as a tool for poverty alleviation and driving inclusive development that benefits all people, without leaving others behind. Good governance is also necessary for the stability and national security of any country and the continent collectively.

Going forward

With African countries having started to implement the provisions of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January, which will be the world’s biggest trading bloc of 54 countries, good governance is going to be imperative for its successful implementation.

If governance is strengthened across the continent, African countries will emerge with strong economies geared to attracting investments, creating wealth and millions of jobs and opportunities for Africa’s younger segment (those under 35 years), who are estimated at close to 1bn of Africa’s 1.3bn population. 

According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, there has been significant progress in overall governance in the last decade. This is encouraging but a lot of governance challenges still remain ahead.

In other words, as we move forward in a brand new year, more work and dialogue still needs to be done in promoting good governance in Africa, in line with the AU’s Agenda 2063, whose primary objective, among others, is to create a prosperous continent based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

Written By
Allen Choruma

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