'[Good governance in Africa is important] not because we seek to improve our relations with the rest of the world as a first objective, critically important as this is, but to end political and economic mismanagement on our continent, and the consequential violent conflicts, instability, denial of democracy and human rights, deepening poverty and global marginalization.'
- President Mbeki (Southern Africa)
It is widely agreed that good governance is important for Africa’s progress in economic growth and achieving MDGs. At the conceptual level, many scholars of governance in the African context have underlined the coexistence of the formal and informal institutions as a main defining feature. In other words, the informal relations, structures and processes, significantly inform the workings of the formal processes and structures. This, in turn, affects the way government policies are formed and implemented, whereby the informal processes imply that policy-making is embedded in the informal. This dynamic has continued in its various configurations into the post-colonial and multi-party democracy eras of many African countries, and has directly impacted on the effectiveness of interventions aimed at achieving good governance.
This understanding suggests that any project of promoting good governance in Africa has to take into account the multiple and complex ways in which governance itself is locally understood and approached, how the social contract between citizens and the state is negotiated, and how this social contract is facilitated by a myriad of interlocutors, for example civil society and the media. It also suggests that these intervention strategies have to draw on the understanding of the inherent strengths of the existing socio-political dynamics that will include the working of citizens' own tactical ways of engaging their governments and holding them to account.
Ultimately, in the African context, informal institutions and politics guide policy-making and implementation in more fundamental ways than the other way round. There is therefore more to be gained from a multi-dimensional and action-learning approach to good governance interventions, embracing other important notions such as citizenship, political representation, accountability, evidence-based approaches; and working with key interlocutors of the citizen-state relations in order to strengthen social accountability and participatory governance.