Swiss Political Science Association Annuel Conference (Geneva, 5 – 6 February 2018)

Paradigms and Practices of state-led development in post-Washington Consensus Africa

Communication presented by Guive Khan-Mohammad (University of Geneva)

Over the past 20 years, the landscape of development in Africa has gone through three parallel processes of change. (1) Since the mid-1990s, policies and discourses have moved away from the Washington consensus, with critical economists arguing that the liberalization of the market should be preceded by strengthening state institutions. Thus, attention has shifted to the role of the state and government institutions from obstacles to potential drivers of economic growth.

(2) Considered “hopeless” at the beginning of the 2000s, African economies have gone through a period of unprecedented growth fueled by high prices of raw materials and rising demands for the continent’s mineral wealth. While it seems clear that the recent decline in oil and other commodity prices on world markets will have an impact, growth prospects for the subcontinent remain high at about 4.5 to 5 percent for the period 2015-2017. This shift in the continent’s economic performance and attractiveness has given African leaders a new leeway in their dealings with the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), bilateral donors and investors.

(3) This change in context is all the more important as it coincided with the rise of new global powers such as the BRICS countries in general and China in particular, with two related consequences for African states. First, the arrival of new donors provides alternative sources of funding to developing countries. As a consequence, China and other new donors have given a new impetus to a particular vision of large-scale development schemes through investments in basic infrastructures (trains, roads, bridges, dams, etc.). Second, emerging ‘Southern’ global powers provide alternative models of development.

This paper takes stock of theses paradigm and contextual shifts in order to interrogate the return of the state as an agent of development in Africa. So far, research has concentrated on the international dimension of the debate, i.e. on the ways in which the IFIs and Western powers on the one hand, and China and other emerging powers on the other, have been dictating strategies of economic development and growth. The paper argues in contrast that it is essential to take into account the agency of African states and development planners and to see how they respond to the ongoing changes.

But the developmental orientation of these states should not be taken for granted on the sole basis of their governments’ and leaders’ declaration of intent and strategic development plans. Indeed, the return of the state as an engine of development in both policy discourse and development practice on the ground also needs to be looked at critically. In a context where the developmental state seems to be “striking back”, the paper, and the broader project it is based on, asks whether and to what extent the development strategies of African states will lead to the simple reproduction of long-established relations of power and the deepening of social inequalities, or whether they are part of a socially transformative agenda – or both.