Working Paper 68 - Governance and Poverty Reduction in Africa
Of the 4 billion people that are known to be poor in the world today, Africa hasmore than her fair share, and the number of the poor, as percentage of the totalAfrican population, has been steadily increasing since independence. While thestate played an extremely important role in financing social welfare during the firstdecade after the independence of most African countries, this role has declinedwith time. Malnutrition, high child mortality, lack of access to basic education,homelessness, and various types of social indignity have been dominant features ofthe decline of human development standards in Africa.Yet Africa has the resources and the potential to overcome these indignities if onlypublic revenues were used responsibly and accountably, resources developedproductively for satisfying human goals and public authorities put priority on meetingbasic human needs and not excessive human wants.In this paper we argue that the challenge for good governance in Africa needs tobegin by recognizing and accepting this fundamental point of departure. Thelegitimacy of any government of a modern democratic republic must begin withtaking into account the basic needs of its citizens in terms of food, shelter, clothing,education, health, security and social solidarity or human dignity. It is unfortunatethat these basic values may easily be sacrificed at the altar of “market direction” orneo-liberal dictates that look much more at macro-economic fundamentals ratherthan the “human needs fundamentals”.Hence the principal indicators of poverty reduction need to begin by looking atimprovements of the standards of living of the people given the above human needsfundamentals. Quite often, while these could be realized, governments in Africawaste valuable resources in corruption, excessive private and public consumptionand external debt repayments and servicing. In order to recapture the road tosustainable development, good governance needs to be refocused on governancefor meeting the basic needs of the citizens, i.e. poverty reduction in our historicalcontext.
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