The post - Cold War era ushered in challenges – both new and hitherto ignored- to the world arena, thereby altering the course of trends in the political and socio-economic spheres worldwide. With the advent of globalisation, emergence of a single superpower, growing disparity between rich and poor nations, widespread strife, along with bloody conflicts and general civil unrest, the last decades of the 20th century witnessed major shifts in the agendas of the West and introduction of new policies, reforms and initiatives.

Defining Good Governance

Over the past decade, the concepts of good governance and civil society participation have been assuming increasing priority in international discourse on politics and development across the world.  There have been constant definitions and re-definitions – by institutions and individuals alike- as to what really constitutes good governance. Although by no means new, the term good governance featured prominently in the parlance of politico-economic discourse in the late 1980s.  The World Bank, as the chief engineer of the good governance agenda defines it as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development (1989, 60).  The key components of good governance, according to the Bank, include effectiveness and efficiency in public sector management, accountability and responsiveness of public officials to the citizenry, rule of law and public access to information and transparency (World Bank 1992b, 3; 1994, viii).

Indulging in a lengthy discourse on, or investigating detailed theoretical arguments surrounding the concept of good governance is beyond the immediate scope and purpose of this introduction.  It would suffice to adopt a definition, which, more or less, incorporates the basic elements commonly shared by most existing definitions… Narrowly defined, governance means the exercise of political power to manage the affairs of state.  In a broader sense, it can refer to the various processes relating to leadership, such as policy making, transparency, accountability, the protection of human rights and the relationship among the public, private and civil sectors in determining how power is exercised (Mutume 2005,11).

In 1989, the World Bank released a report entitled, Sub-Saharan Africa: From crisis to sustainable growth.  The report identified personalisation of power, prevalence of unaccountable and authoritarian governments, violation of human rights, rampant corruption, absence of the rule of law, state intervention in the economy, and lack of decentralisation as primary causes underlying the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.  Thus, the Bank stated in no uncertain terms that the road to emancipation of the continent was wholly hinged on getting rid of these ills and mal-practices (World Bank 1989, 7).
When it became evident that Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) were not yielding the anticipated outcome in Africa, emphasis was shifted to political and economic reforms as the economic crisis facing the continent was attributed to the failure of national governance.  In simpler terms, the Bank demanded for political pre conditions to support the strengthening of the economic conditionalities already imposed on developing countries by the Bretton Woods Institutions.  Hence, according to the World Bank and donor agencies, one of the imperative ingredients of economic growth and development was now viewed as good governance. The reasoning behind this position was that, introducing liberal democratic institutions was not only essential for economic development, but that it will lead to the emergence of a democratic society and the development of good governance.  In fact, good governance became a pre-requisite for securing loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), bi-lateral and multi-lateral institutions.  

In conjunction with this development and “acceptance” of the good governance agendas, various institutions, governmental, non-governmental organisations and development agencies have attempted to come up with yardsticks to measure the progress of democracy and good governance in various recipient countries.  The inclusion of and emphasis on good governance as a conditionality for securing aid was not accepted unanimously, and was met with objections in some countries (Lumina 2004, 329-344). There was a general degree of uncertainty, unwillingness, implicit and explicit objections especially among governments of developing countries.  Questions as to the practicality and fairness of the conditionalities were very often raised.  As President Thabo Meki put it: Notwithstanding some specific problems in some African countries, there are many among these countries that have and continue to have responded positively, even under very difficult circumstances, to the prescription of both the perspective investors as well as the multilateral institutions. Many of these countries have created the necessary climate conducive to investment, for example by liberalising their trade, privatising state-owned enterprises, reforming their tax system and generally adhering to the prescribed injunctions, all done in an attempt [to receive] the necessary investments. The response from the developed countries, to these attempts by especially many African countries to stay within the confines of the   rules, has been to treat the African continent as one country, and therefore, to punish a country on one end of the continent for the deeds of another on the other end (Address by President Thabo Mbeki to the Commonwealth Club, World Affairs Council and United States-South Africa Business Council Conference, San Francisco, 24 May 2000).

Other objections emanated from those who contended that the mere presence of multi-party systems and regular elections, free press and other liberalisation reforms installed in the administrative institutions does not necessarily guarantee the transition to democracy.  As Kenneth Good highlights, patterned democracy in the form of institutional structures – an option which almost every African state has embraced in principle – does not necessarily give rise to participatory politics, nor to good governance (Good 1997, 2; 1999).
Civil Society in Africa
The idea of civil society and building stronger, wider participation in governance has been, like good governance, a dominant component of global political and development forums over the last two decades. The current interest on civil society came particularly as a result of the persistent push for growth of the formal sector to achieve a liberal economy. Although the role of civil society was not clearly articulated or emphasised in the initial packages of good governance, it was later endorsed in the re¬conceptualised definitions of the concept.  The term civil society has various origins, forms and denominations, notwithstanding the various definitions. It is basically understood as:
The realm of organised social life that is voluntary, self generating, self supporting, autonomous from the State, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules.  It is distinct from society in general in that it involves citizens acting collectively in a public sphere to express their interests, passions and ideas, exchange information, achieve mutual goals, make demands on the State and hold State officials accountable  (Diamond 1994,5).
Other views take the notion of civil society from a developmental perspective. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for example, advocates that, a viable, strong and informed civil society is central to good governance… and should be [an] effective partner in the process of development (UNDP 1997, 11).
The reality on the ground in Africa, however, is that there is a legacy of widespread, weak civil society given the fact that throughout the 1960s and 1970s, most governments in the continent progressively narrowed the economic and political space for independent societal action outside the control of the state.  However, since the late 1980s, the situation has been slowly changing. While a few governments that restrict the proliferation and vibrancy of civil society organisations are still in existence, political systems that encourage pluralism are now the norm rather than the exception.  Alongside this changing scenario, civil society is growing stronger and applying constant pressure for better governance.  The last decade alone has seen competitive and democratic elections taking place in an unprecedented number of countries.
Nevertheless, despite significant steps that have been registered so far, the overall picture remains that Africa still needs to go further in promoting good governance and wider civil society participation.  The need is particularly felt in countries where the broader policy environment does not favour the development of thriving civil society groups.
There are challenges and problems in the ongoing efforts aimed at improving governance and economic management in various countries examined in this volume. OSSREA organised the conference on “Promoting Good Governance and Wider Civil Society Participation in Eastern and Southern Africa,” within the context of the prevailing conditions of good governance and civil society participation in the region. The justification for OSSREA’s interest is its conviction that the contribution will generate debates and facilitate further understanding of the problems under review and hopefully produce workable approaches that will create an environment in which good governance and wider civil society participation will be realised on the continent.
The conference sought to:
    • Enhance the role of the social science disciplines in the evolving patterns and trends of democratic governance and economic management in the region;
    • Enhance the contribution of universities and research institutes toward the promotion of good governance in the region;
    • Suggest ways and means of minimizing the political, economic and social costs of transition from one-party and authoritarian regime types to democratic, open and transparent governance;
    • Explore new approaches for promoting accountability, transparency, and responsiveness of government administration to the people;
    • Explore viable ways and means of capacity building of civil societies, and strengthening the role of civil society organisations in promoting good governance and serving as a link between governments and the public at large.

The 10 chapters in this volume were selected out of 24 papers presented at a regional conference on “Promoting Good Governance and Wider civil Society Participation in Eastern and Southern Africa”.  The conference, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, was held in November 2000 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The selected papers were revised in 2005 to take into account contemporary issues that have arisen since then. The chapters in this volume investigate the conditions of governance and civil society participation, challenges encountered in the respective countries, and recommend alternatives.

OSSREA Strategic Plan 2016 - 2020

The OSSREA 2016 - 2020 Strategic Plan is a blue print that guides the activities of the Secretariat and its National Chapters for the period 2016 to 2020. Download the PDF version and be informed about the planned intervention areas.

OSSREA Annual Reports

OSSREA publishes and freely disseminates the status of all its current activities regarding research, capacity development, publication, dissemination, financial and administration in an annual report form. The annual reports are avialable for download in PDF format.

OSSREA Catalogue

The OSSREA catalogue which is updated yearly contains short information about the publications of OSSREA. The PDF version of the catalogue is freely available for download. Download now the 2013 Catalogue to find out more about the publications of OSSREA.

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