Any upright-thinking economist or public policy analyst and enthusiast knows and to the least understands that Economics as a discipline cannot solely be studied without paying attention to the political happenstances be it the past political events that are detailed in political history, the current political events or even the future political events that are bound to take place. Hence, applied and comparative economic analysis cannot be executed in isolation of the political activities and events. After all, the government, whether directly or indirectly, influences public policy in one way or another.
On this particular note, the economic growth and development of a state is a function of the political nature of the polity itself, its political inclusivity and to a larger extent the political willingness of the political elite and leadership to initiate, catapult and sustain an economic trajectory that seeks to positively transform the lives of the citizenry.
Related to this is the subsequent and consequential politico-economic model that emerges or if in existence, that positively enhances economic growth and development. Precisely, this refers to the specific political ideology and/or the political philosophy that a given country or state adopts. This can either be democracy, dictatorship or an intermittency of the two. This intermittent form of political governance centres on the principles and practices of both the democratic form of governance and the dictatorial one.
Over the years, democracy has been viewed and touted as the absolute standard and benchmark for political governance because it promotes inclusivity. This inclusivity comes in the form of enhancing the institutions of private property which is diametric of the exclusivity that is propagated largely by the dictatorial regimes which create bastions of cronyism by the power elite.
In this Millennial period of time, referred to as Africa’s Moment in which it is expected that Africa is gonna experience renaissance, we have witnessed the emergence and re-emergence of democracies, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. In the independence wave period of time, most of the states embraced democracy but sadly a large number failed to maintain it. What followed was an era that witnessed coups with the aftermath being the establishment of governments that were either run by the military juntas or authoritarian personalities. This was a period that was marked by economic stagnation due to embezzlement of resources occasioned by large doses of cronyism and the fear by foreign investors to establish their investments in most of these states.
Later on, with the intervention of the Bretton Woods institutions (The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to restore economic order and prosperity, these nations were required to establish democratic governments with independent institutions of governance. Some did but others did it as a formality out of the economic desperation that they encountered.
But we have come to witness that some of the states, though not democratic, have lately experienced relatively high levels of economic growth rates of approximately between 7% and 10% which to me is remarkable growth that can quickly lead to economic development. This can be easily noticed in countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia, dubbed as the African Lions, a misnomer for the countries experiencing high rates of economic growth in Africa.
A common denominator among these two countries is that they are not open democracies. Instead, they are classified as competitive authoritarian regimes that allow elections to take place but the state machinery are highly used to check on the opposition figures and civil societies who are likely to strongly oppose the views and actions promoted by the incumbent(s). In Ethiopia, we have heard cases of journalists languishing behind bars especially during the era of the former Prime Minister the late Meles Zenawi. Similarly, in Rwanda, politicians who belong to the opposition side have been jailed and some even barred from contesting the presidential elections.
But the fascinating thing is that these two countries have had resounding periods of economic growth rates despite the authoritarian tendencies by the incumbents. Could it be that the incumbents view democracy as a hindrance to economic prosperity? May be yes going by the economic miracles witnessed among the Asian Tigers. In fact, Meles Zenawi in his monograph Dead Ends and New Beginnings strongly detests the ideological and philosophical dispensation of neo-liberalism which according to him is a major bottleneck towards the realization of the African Renaissance.
For the late Zenawi and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, they fashioned and fashion respectively the economic trajectories realized by the Asian Tigers comprising of Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Asian states such as Japan and China. These Asian states adopted the ‘development first democracy later’ mantra which led to remarkable economic growth and development.
One however may argue on why some countries despite having authoritarian regimes have completely failed to take-off economically, a relevant case being Zimbabwe and Burundi among many others. The answer can be traced to two significant factors one of them being the personality of the leader and secondly the strength of the anti-corruption institutions that are in place.
In terms of the personality, there are some leaders who have a strong will to see the lives of the people improve albeit having authoritarian tendencies. These are those who are not driven by the urge to siphon public resources otherwise known as cronyism. On the contrary, leaders in authoritarian regimes experiencing economic meltdown are known for their rapacious tendencies as far as usage of public resources is concerned. Robert Mugabe for instance recently spent $1 million for his birthday party celebrations when the masses are swimming in pools of poverty.
Secondly, authoritarian regimes that experience tangible rates of economic growth at least have strong institutions especially those that check on corruption. The Asian Tigers and the African Lions have been known to have relatively low levels of graft. The comparison states on the other hand, have no institutions responsible for fighting corruption and this is where the difference emanates from.
There are several democratic states which are experiencing relative rates of economic growth and development among them Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa et cetera. Out of these states, Botswana has performed impressively owing to the inclusivity of her governance institutions. A notable and significant observation is that authoritarian countries with efficient anti-graft policies are experiencing the highest levels of economic growth outpacing their counterparts whose governance is premised on democracy. This is food for thought as far as African Renaissance is concerned. So which politico-economic model should African states adopt to adapt to the shifts and changes in the global economic landscape? Think about this. Thank you for reading.