China can offer Africa lessons in effective governance

By Song Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/31 20:03:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT


Over the past half-century, African countries have received substantial aid in terms of infrastructure and technology, but they have had little success in poverty alleviation and modernization. Since the new millennium, Sino-African cooperation has been strengthened, and economic, political and cultural interaction between the governments and people on both sides has been extremely active.

But all concerned agree that while Africa doesn't lack opportunities for growth, it is weak in policy guidance. Africa is not short of advanced ideas, but it lacks the capacity to convert those ideas into reality.

The main problem facing African countries is that the development of political institutionalization lags behind social and economic change. Insufficient public services make it difficult for African countries to effectively integrate the resources for promoting domestic, economic and social development and provide people with the necessary public goods.

Given this situation, how can Africa industrialize and join the global value chain? How can Africa's poverty alleviation drive be integrated into the global governance agenda? It is necessary to share experience between China and Africa and actively promote the modernization of African governance.

First, in terms of a guiding principle, we should realize that sharing the Chinese experience can be an important contribution of China to global governance. Driven by the so-called Third Wave of Western democracy, most African countries rapidly promoted institutional change. But they generally lacked sound systems and effective political authority, so they were unable to coordinate the increasingly divergent interests of their societies and resolve the political contradictions intensified by rapid reform.

The root driver of China's economic take-off was that it had a government with a strong desire for economic development and with the capacity to mobilize and allocate resources to promote development. Thus, sharing China's experience in foreign policy setting and anti-corruption work is not placing additional political conditions on aid, nor does it constitute interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Rather, it is a form of taking responsibility for the global governance agenda and structure.

Second, in terms of implementation, China should shift from sharing experience to promoting policy implementation. Most of the current African leaders and government civil servants have received a Western education as well as Chinese official training, and some modern management ideas have been also introduced to Africa.

For example, "one-stop" services have long been written into African policy documents, but they have never been implemented. In line with the observations of UN agencies and other donors, Africa's development plans are mostly drafted by them, but not in a systematic way.

Some donor countries speculate that this may be just a way for African countries to show their receptivity. Based on this situation, China should help African countries to draft industrial development plans, while at the same time helping them to develop appropriate implementation methods. China should emphasize the need to have a service-oriented government, based on its own experience, so that political inertia can be reduced.

Third, assessment and accountability mechanisms should be introduced for safeguards. There is an international consensus that weak governance is the root cause of inefficiency when it comes to poverty reduction in Africa. However, some international donors care little about whether aid is efficient - they only care about their own interests. They are worried that once an assessment has been carried out, they will have to cease the non-compliant activities, which will be questioned by donors and taxpayers.

Such irresponsible behavior not only breeds corruption and dependence, it also deepens concern among the countries of the South about the Western-dominated global governance system.

The vast majority of African countries do want to duplicate China's development experience, but our communication mechanism is not mature. To create a new type of cooperative relationship under the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, we must first establish an accountability and error correction mechanism. That will bring more stakeholders into the assessment process and avoid rent-seeking and other violations.

The author is an associate researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.


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