Jason McSparren 12.13.2019

Quincy, MA

Through structural adjustment programs (SAPs), the World Bank focused on public sector reform aimed at efficiency and economic growth across Sub-Saharan Africa. However, a shift took place following a 1989 Bank report that blamed a ““crisis of governance” in Sub-Saharan Africa for a lack of effective use of development aid in the region” (World Bank 1989). This shift was influenced by the concept of the ‘good governance agenda’ which had appeared as one of the themes of the Bank’s 1991 Annual Development Economic Conference (World Bank 1992). The Bank calls into question the ability, capacity and willingness of political authorities to govern effectively in support of common interest. This indicates a focus on the quality of a nation’s governance system.

Empirical evidence compiled by the World Bank shows a correlation between good governance and sustainable economic growth as measured by per capita income (World Bank 1999). For instance, good governance correlates to positive effects such as increased free flow of information between government and citizens, enforcement of rule of law and improved political accountability to society for the decisions made and policies implemented (Hilson and Maconachie 2009, 67).

The good governance agenda underscores the institutional structures of the EITI and has been a mainstay in the development literature since being introduced in the 1989 World Bank report, Sub-Saharan Africa: From crisis to sustainable growth: A long term perspective study, which states:

A root cause of weak economic performance in the past has been the failure of public institutions. Private sector initiative and market mechanisms are important, but they must go hand-in-hand with good governance – a public service that is efficient, a judicial system that is reliable, and an administration that is accountable to its public. And a better balance is needed between the government and the governed. Thus, the report sets out a range of proposals aimed at empowering ordinary people, and especially women, to take greater responsibility for improving their lives – measures that foster grassroots organization, that nurture rather than obstruct informal sector enterprise, and that promote nongovernmental and intermediary organizations. The growing conviction is that development must be more bottom-up less top-down and that a learning approach to program design is to be preferred to the imposition of blueprints.

(World Bank 1989, xii)

Civil society has been a key constituent in the diffusion of neoliberal policies in SSA. In the 1990s, support for civil society development became a way to further embed neoliberalism into society.

Non-governmental organizations were initially meant to play two associated roles in the neoliberal revolution (1980s) in Africa: (1) to substitute for state services, and (2) to ease the transitional social costs of economic adjustment. However, they were to assume greater political significance in the evolution of neoliberal development policy in the 1990s with the elaboration of the theory of ‘good governance’.

(Carmody 2007, 4)

The idea that governance must be approached from a bottom-up rather than an exclusively top-down approach was novel at the time. More than a quarter of a century since ‘good governance’ was explicitly included in development analysis, socio-economic development struggles to take hold in Sub-Saharan Africa.

African Origins of the GGA

It is noteworthy, that the concept of good governance originated among African scholars who were commenting on the condition of state–society relations in Africa, expressing the concern that these need to be developmental, democratic, and socially inclusive. The World Bank ( acquired the idea of ‘good governance’ because the Bank requested background papers from noted African scholars, Claude Ake, Nakhtar Diouf, and Ali Mazrui as a foundation for the 1989 report. The term has since been taken up by the international development sector, led by the World Bank and International Monetary fund (IMF) ( (collectively, international financial institutions (IFIs)). The IFIs latched on to the concept as a new label for aid conditionality, in particular structural adjustment in all its various manifestations (Mkandawire 2007, 679).

More precisely, the idea of good governance conceptualized by African scholars focuses on challenges of state–society relations claiming they should be:  

(a) developmental, in the sense that they allow the management of the economy in a manner that maximizes economic growth, includes structural change, and uses all available resources in a responsible and sustainable manner in highly competitive global conditions; (b) democratic and respectful of citizens’ rights; and (c) socially inclusive, providing all citizens with a decent living and full participation in national affairs. Good governance should therefore be judged by how well it sustains this triad. The urgency of the democratic aspect of good governance was highlighted by the clamour for democracy by social groups that had opposed misgovernment and the imposition of policies by unelected institutions – national and foreign.

(Mkandawire 2007, 680)

Structural adjustment promoted in Africa by the IFIs had long been focused on the task of getting the macroeconomic fundamentals right. Therefore, the initial response to the 1989 report, especially from the economists at these institutions, was not supportive of the focus on governance. Concentrating on politics was perceived as distracting attention from the narrative that orthodox adjustment polices work, and that the poor performance of African economies was due to their failure to implement agreed-upon adjustment policies.

During the early 2000s Sub-Saharan African countries continued to struggle with economic development even in country contexts where structural adjustment policy recommendations were implemented; thus, the idea of a governance factor became acceptable and the development industry began to consider ‘institutional weakness’ and ‘bad governance’ as contributing factors (Mkandawire 2007, 680). The result is the current combination of fiscal and governance reforms promoted by the IFIs and donor community in developing states. Good governance has become part of conditionality in contrast to its original conception by the African scholars of generalizing developmental, democratic and socially inclusive structures.

The good governance agenda is embedded into an array of voluntary global governance policy initiatives. The underlying objective remains the same as structural adjustment policies of the 1980s and 1990s – to institutionalize procedures and values perceived in the West as beneficial to global commerce. The perception that the norm entrepreneurs from the international community actively diffuse new norms of good governance to norm receivers in developing countries through structural adjustment and policy programs may be problematic.


Carmody, Padraig. 2007. Neoliberalism, Civil Society and Security in Africa. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Hilson, Gavin, and Roy Maconachie. 2009. “‘Good Governance’ and the Extractive Industries in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Mineral Processing & Extractive Metallurgy Review 30 (1): 52–100.

Mkandawire, Thandike. 2007. “‘Good Governance’: The Itinerary of an Idea.” Development in Practice 17 (4–5): 679–83.

World Bank. 1989. “Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth: A Long Term Perspective Study.” Washington D.C.

———. 1992. “Proceedings of the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics 1991.” Washington D.C.

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