Towards Democratic Developmental States in Southern Africa

During the 1980s and 90s – the lost decades of development for Sub-Sahara – African states implemented Structural Adjustment Programmes at the behest of the IMF and World Bank.

Towards Democratic Developmental States in Southern Africa


The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

August 14th, 2017

During the 1980s and 90s – the lost decades of development for Sub-Sahara – African states implemented Structural Adjustment Programmes at the behest of the IMF and World Bank. The new millennium, however, witnessed a change of fortunes, marked by rising growth at an annual average of at least 5% during the period 2000-2015. This sustained growth was driven by increased demand for Africa’s primary commodities largely from emerging economies, especially China, as well as improved economic management.

The 3 December 2011 edition of The Economist changed its ‘basket-case’ prognosis of the previous decade towards a positive outlook for Africa, dubbing it ‘The hopeful continent: Africa rising’. The IMF predicted that seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in 2011-15 would be in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 6 January 2011 edition of The Economist used the headline ‘The Lion Kings?’, capturing the expectation that Africa would take advantage of its youth bulge, a workforce at its healthiest and best educated, and being more globalised than at any time in its history. Crowning this, was the discovery of untapped natural resources on an unprecedented scale.

With sustained growth since the turn of the millennium, this ‘rising’ has been celebrated. What was not acknowledged though, was that it failed to create productive employment, or address food insecurity, poverty reduction and rising inequality. Unlike the growth episodes in East Asia associated with rapid structural transformation and poverty reduction, the growth experienced in Sub-Saharan Africa was not accompanied by structural transformation or the reduction of poverty. At less than 10% of GDP, manufacturing remained small while agriculture employed over 60% of the labour force although its share of GDP is much lower at an average of 25% owing to relatively low levels of productivity and

Since the global financial and economic crisis exposed the limits of ‘market fundamentalism’, the consensus emerged that structural transformation cannot arise from the ‘trickle-down’ benevolence of market forces. The crisis led to a rethink of the role of the state, from the minimalist state of the neo-liberal era charged with maintaining peace and macroeconomic stability, regulation, collecting taxes and correcting market failures, to one that exhibits two components, the ‘developmentalist’ ideology and the structural (high rates of accumulation and industrialisation). Such a state intervenes strategically to achieve developmental goals – this is the ‘developmental state.’ While the Asian developmental state was authoritarian, this has to change, with citizen mobilisation translating development into a hegemonic project. It can be achieved in a democratic environment through engagement and persuasion rather than coercion. Thus the concept that this book explores is that of ‘the democratic developmental state’. Each country case study examines policy interventions since independence, identifying obstacles to developmental state interventions (internal and external) and the potential for developmental state interventions in future, considering the various political, social and economic factors at play.


Praise for ‘Towards Democratic Developmental States in Southern Africa’

Dear Masego Madzwamuse,

Thank you for the book TOWARDS DEMOCRATIC  DEVELOPMENTAL STATES IN SOUTHERN AFRICA. I've just started reading.  It's a gem.  The conundrum though is that our governments generally want the people vulnerable so that they can manipulate them, so they have no interest in structural transformation as the status quo serves them well.  I have been thinking away at this problem for years.  I think I have a contribution to make and I am now working on a concept.  We'll see.

Thank you very much for this empowering work. 

Kind regards,

Tsitsi Dangarembga (Author and Filmmaker)


‘The first round of this region’s Developmental State debate quickly became stale, because it was top-down and in the talk-left walk-right tradition. This very welcome book, with chapters authored by hard-working regional scholars, NGO staff and activists, will help reignite the discussion. The timing now is especially urgent, as the end of the export commodity price boom – and with it ‘Africa Rising’ myth-making – reveals the limits of both the neo-liberal strategy and the Chinese model. This book shows how better economic balance (including along gender lines), productive localisation and income redistribution are crucial components of genuine developmental state building.’ - Patrick Bond (Academic and Activist).


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