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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Is Development Planning Dead in Africa?
Monday, 18 March 2013 12:20

Is Development Planning Dead in Africa?

Written by Dr. Chukwuma Soludo
photo: madame noire photo: madame noire

In January this year, some 30 African countries gathered in Dakar at the 50th anniversary of the UN’s African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP) to bemoan the demise, and hence launch the resurrection of, planning in Africa. Countries are encouraged to resurrect their dysfunctional National Planning Commissions. ‘Planning’ is becoming the new fad of African development discourse.



No one can seriously quarrel with the need for planning. The saying that only those who plan can control the future is an eternal truth. Sometimes, one gets the impression that the issue is trivialised in terms of planning versus no planning. Everyone plans. Even not to plan is a plan -- perhaps a plan to fail! For a country, the question is what kind of plan, by whom, for whom, and over what time period? There are city or town plans, infrastructure plans, perspective or indicative planning, etc. Hardly any country has existed without one type of plan or the other. Even the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was itself a kind of plan, albeit a neoliberal plan. The decades of the 1980s to date have seen Africa with SAPs, three-year rolling plans, poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), etc. Interestingly, Africa is said to have sustained its highest growth in any decade during this period. It is actually advertised now as the fastest growing continent in the world -- all these under the neoliberal plans (or is it ‘no planning’?).



Perhaps advocates of ‘return to planning’ are calling for the kind of comprehensive ‘development’ planning of the 1960s or as practised by some Asian countries (with all the input-output tables and often running into hundreds of pages). The emphasis on ‘development’ planning has an ideological tinge to it—a veiled preference for state capitalism in which the state is not just the promoter but the controller of development processes. Let us be honest about it. Not all Africans agree that our future can be best served with this orientation. Under this framework, unelected state planners (supposedly with superior knowledge) craft what are supposed to be non-partisan, time invariant plans to maximise the welfare of the society, and politicians (irrespective of party platforms) are expected to implement them. Such a planning framework would seek to legislate politics out of policy. In a multi-party democracy with frequent elections, and a private sector-led market economy (such as Nigeria and other African countries have signed on to), it won’t work. Perhaps, it is more helpful to underscore that certain kinds of planning go with certain economic structures, kinds of market economy and democratic institutions.



Several analysts ignore some important features that probably accounted for the apparent success of development planning in Asia including, the dominance of one political party (with a plan) for a long time; the existence of ‘national consciousness’ and state capitalism; and a time in history without the binding constraints imposed by globalisation, WTO, free trade agreements (FTAs), and aid-induced conditionalities. In most aid-dependent African countries, national budgets (de facto short term national plans) are implicitly vetted by donor agencies before the parliaments get to ‘debate’ them (democracies without accountability to the people). Even where state capacity exists, is there enough policy space to implement the kind of intrusive ‘comprehensive’ planning the Asians implemented in past decades? Consider the fact that African heads of state have repeatedly ‘approved’ one continental ‘plan’ or the other (starting with the Lagos Plan of Action, 1980, and I can count more than 10 such plans) but hardly any African government paid any attention to them – in practice!



Most of us spent the 1980s and 1990s challenging the attempt under SAPs to transplant Anglo-Saxon view of the world to Africa. Today, it must also be argued that Asian models cannot be transplanted to Africa. It is debatable whether the so-called performance immediately after independence in Africa was due to ‘independence dividend’ or due to the command and control planning schemes at the time or whether in fact an alternative planning framework would not have yielded far superior results. These are issues for another day. I am willing to bet that hardly any of the national plans (at least in Nigeria) had up to 30% implementation record, and whatever ‘progress’ we had in the early 1960s occurred in spite of the plans. Some may argue that the progress in Nigeria was largely due to ‘competition’ among the regional economies, and that in fact, programmes of nationalisation of key industries and indigenisation policy designed to give control of the economy to Nigerian citizens derailed the economy.



Our key point is that Africa must stop planning as a fashion. We must proceed to the next level, build upon the democratic advances and stop swinging with the pendulum of every development fashion. From development planning of the 1960s and 1970s, to SAPs and PRSPs of 1980s to date; and now the drumbeat is to return to ‘development planning’. Planning has never been effective when states embark on it as part of the reigning fad and fashion of development. Our thesis is that the only plans that work are the ones that derive from, and rooted in, the bargaining and compromise among diverse interest groups in society — a country’s political economy. There cannot be non-partisan national plan in a democracy! Unless analysts and technocrats understand what actually drive policy choices, implementation effectiveness and continuity, they would be wasting national resources and valuable manpower in writing up glossy documents that no one pays attention to.



In a democracy, political party system and electioneering processes provide the platforms for articulating and choosing plans for development. Most national constitutions provide the broad sketch of a ‘non-partisan’ national plan. Chapter Two of Nigeria’s Constitution—“Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” not only defines the ultimate goals of state policy, elucidates the principles and feasible boundaries of action, but even in some cases hints at the instruments. The role of political parties in Nigeria’s democracy is therefore to produce their respective ‘operational plans’ consistent with Chapter Two — based on their interpretations of the national interests, with choice of instruments and timelines based upon their ideological dispositions, available human and material resources, and constraints imposed by domestic and external institutions. Voters then choose from alternative plans, and by voting for a candidate/party with a particular plan, they have given him/it the ‘mandate’ to govern and implement such a plan. There is therefore ownership of the plan by the people.



Two weeks ago, my taxi driver in Accra, Ghana gave me a long lecture on why he voted for John Mahama as president despite the fact that he comes from Akufo-Addo’s region. According to him, while Akufo-Addo promised free education, John Mahama insisted that free education was not yet feasible but would rather spend the resources to build schools and equip them especially in places without one at the moment. He thought Mahama’s ‘plan’ was more credible and voted for him. In the UK’s recent election, the websites of different parties advertised the fact that their respective plans were ‘fully costed’ and therefore implementable. Most of us watched the US presidential debates between Romney and Obama where each candidate canvassed alternative visions and plans for America’s future on issues ranging from immigration, medicare/medicaid, welfare system, jobs, education and competitiveness, energy and climate change, trade, crime, military and foreign policy, to taxation and fiscal sustainability. The American people narrowly gave Obama the mandate to implement his own plan. But the same American electorate voted for a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives -- thereby having a ‘divided mandate and government’. Consequently, the second stage of battle between alternative plans has shifted to the Capitol Hill — where both Republicans and Democrats are sweating it out in negotiating a compromise plan. Rep. Paul Ryan has presented the Republican “plan for prosperity” -- to balance the budget in 10 years. So, even right-wing market fundamentalists operate with a plan. The Democrats have an alternative plan. If the Democrats also had a majority in the Congress, you can bet that much of what Obama canvassed during the election would have easily passed in Congress. Conversely, if Romney had won, he promised to scrap the Obamacare, among other reversals.



The above illustrate what electioneering is supposed to be about, and how implementable plans emerge in a democracy. For those dreaming of the day you would no longer have policy discontinuity or legislating policy continuity in a democracy, it is daytime of reality! We simply delude ourselves to think that a group of technocrats, however knowledgeable, can sit in a room and craft a ‘national plan’, then undertake stakeholder consultations—involving hundreds of NGOs (as well as non-governmental individuals (NGIs) ) and present such as a non-partisan plan.



No doubt, a government in power can subject its plan to a much wider consultation for further inputs — such as what we did under Nigeria’s ‘National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS)’. As the chairman/coordinator for the drafting of NEEDS, I travelled all over Nigeria with the draft document and received about 1,118 written comments and suggestions. Did this process make NEEDS a ‘non-partisan, time invariant’ plan for Nigeria? No! NEEDS remained President Obasanjo’s four-year plan and his basis for obtaining debt relief for Nigeria. He read every sentence and re-drafted some personally. He owned and believed in it -- and mobilised the National Assembly around it — not only as a plan for prosperity but more so to achieve his set political-economic objective of obtaining debt relief for Nigeria. His successor did not waste time in launching his own plan -- the Seven-Point Agenda.



So far, because there are no political party plans, Nigeria has only had plans by the executive branch -- not ‘the government plan’ or ‘national plan’. For national plans to emerge and have a chance of continuity, they have to evolve through the political process -- party platforms —to which party members subscribe and campaign on. A national electioneering is a national referendum on alternative plans. If a party believes in state-led market economy, and thus needs the kind of Asian ‘development planning’, let the party do so if elected — on the assumption that it stays in power for long. Nothing stops the next party (which may perhaps be more neoliberal) from jettisoning such a ‘development plan’ if the citizens vote for change by electing another party (with a different plan). What will be a tragic mistake is attempt to mainstream ‘development planning’ as if there is any consensus that it is the magic wand for African development. No: there is no such agreement! In the 1980s and 1990s, Africans complained that the conditionality-driven ‘plans’ or SAPs were imposed by Washington, largely bypassing domestic political processes. Now we want unelected ‘planners’ to draft plans and make choices for everybody. I fear that Africa may once again be swinging from one end of the pendulum to another — from external tyranny to domestic demagoguery!



This is 2013 and Africa has come a long way. What we need now is to build on the momentum and not go back. For those who believe that history/context matters, the key issue to mainstream is for democratic institutions to mature, including political parties with clearly defined platforms (alternative plans) —whether ‘development’ or neo-liberal plans. Where is the policy think tank of each party? Where are their policy ideologues? Where is the electoral system and civil society to ensure that only those with credible plans for the future get elected? These should be the focus now!


Charles-Soludo bkpg-0608.jpg - Charles-Soludo bkpg-0608.jpgDr. Chukwuma Soludo, an economic and financial expert, was the former governor of Central bank of Nigeria(CBN).

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