Ryan Brown/UN Women

Good Governance in Africa: The Place and Space for Citizens

How do you explain a continent that is rich in natural resources, but is last in nearly everything else? The answer: we choose to ignore the real ingredients that matter.

Whenever we talk of “good governance,” our default thinking is “government responsibility.” We place the onus of good governance squarely on those who occupy government positions. By extension, the blame for failures in governance is placed squarely on these same government officials. So, what is our responsibility? Do these people in government we like to blame for corruption or mismanagement come from outside of Africa? Are we not the ones who produced, promoted, and voted for them?

My point is this: failures in governance are a by-product of failed societies. And failed societies are a result of flawed mindsets in ordinary citizens. We produced the environment that placed these flawed individuals in positions of authority.

Africa vs Asia

A good example is South Korea. In the early 1960s, just as most African countries were gaining their independence, South Korea, a mineral barren country, unlike most countries in Africa, had dry coffers and was facing starvation. To this day they have national dishes that involve Spam because that’s what American GI’s donated.

So bad was the situation that some African countries reached out to South Korea with assistance. But today, this mineral-barren country roughly five times smaller than many African countries has an economy estimated to be 15 times the size of Africa’s combined economy. The answer to how South Korea emerged from the abyss can be found in maximizing strategic industries for export. They perfected what they had. South Korea’s growth was also helped by the existence of chaebols, whose diversified family conglomerates included Hyundai, Samsung, and LG Corporation.

Singapore is another example. During the 1960s as it was gaining independence, it was struggling with precarious markets, water scarcity, few natural resources, and limited available land. For 30 years, this country was ruled by Lee Kuan Yew, its founding father. Today, despite being Asia’s smallest country, it has one of the world’s most powerful financial centres with a GDP among the highest in the world. So how did it achieve so much in just a few decades? Lee was not a genius economist. As a matter of fact, he was not even an economist, but a lawyer by profession. Without the productivity of its citizens, Singapore would be a middling country with a mediocre economy.

Africa’s governance problems are not just bad leaders as many seem to believe. Regardless of how good a leader is if the people do not take personal responsibility for development, then nothing can be done. A leader needs a populace willing to participate. And this is the reality of good governance. A house half-built will not fulfill its requirements just like a bird cannot fly on one wing alone

Tenets of Good Governance

Heart of service, not a heart of disservice. Good governance will not be achieved unless we ordinary citizens adopt a heart of service in everything we do. We must be motivated and moved by the desire to touch lives in all our actions. We cannot allow self-serving, selfish interests to rule us. So, wherever you are, whatever you do, be moved by a desire to touch many lives, not just your own.

Impactful democracy tied to a bold realistic vision. Visions are not slogans and must be tied to citizen actions. Visions, therefore, need purpose and passion to inspire the citizenry to sustain it. In the same fashion, the pathway to impactful democracy starts from a transformed society that embraces a heart of service.

Develop real passion. Passion is the new currency. This is to say that regardless of who you are, if you lack passion, then you will run out of steam in no time. Hitch your actions to a cause that is much greater than yourself.

People, not positions, are what matters. I have heard many times people say things to the effect that “when I get this promotion or that job, then I will do such and such.” But what we neglect to realise is that what really matters is what you as a person do with what you have at hand. You will never really have these “positions” you think you need. So, wherever you are, invest in yourself to improve your skills, expand them, refine them, perfect them, and apply them. That’s how you affect change.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.