Popular classes and masses have been turned into a helpless lump of poor waiting with bowls in their hand to receive “poverty reduction funds.” Curiously, the dialectic opposite of ‘the poor’ is not ‘the rich’ but ‘the donors'! The analytical question is not ‘how-the- poor-became-poor and continue to be so’, but rather ‘how many are poor, moderately poor, very poor’ and how long would it take to eradicate poverty?
What is the conceptual status of ‘good governance'? At the minimum, liberal and radical paradigms would agree that governance refers to the institutions and relations to do with political power: the way political power is exercised and legitimized. In other words, governance is constructed primarily on the terrain of power. Thus articulated, the values and principles by which governance would be judged and characterized relate to forms of governance, such as democratic governance or authoritarian governance or dictatorial governance. The “good governance” discourse, however, does not admit of the relationships of power. Rather it presents itself as a moral paradigm, distinguishing between the good, the bad and the evil. What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ governance thus turns out to be a moral judgment, on the one hand, and relativist and subjectivist, on the other. The result, I want to suggest, is that ‘good governance’ has no conceptual or theoretical value in understanding a phenomenon with a view to change it. Rather, it is, at best, a propagandist tool easily manipulatable by whoever happens to wield power.
One of the political conditionalities imposed on African governments by the IFIs and the “donor-community” is ‘good governance’. This has become a flexible tool in the hands of global hegemonies to undermine the sovereignty of African nations and the struggle for democracy of the African people. For, the people are no longer the agency of change but rather the victims of “bad governance” to be delivered or redeemed by the erstwhile donor-community. The instrument of this deliverance is supposedly the policies and political conditions — multi-party, governance commissions — which must be put in place for a state to qualify to receive ‘aid’. The recipients on their part ‘reform’ their governance structures, with aid and technical assistance from the same ‘donor-community’, to satisfy their, what these days are called, “partners”. The example from my country, which is far more subtle, and relatively more independent in its relationship with ‘partners’, illustrates the point.
In Tanzania, we have first a ministry, headed by a full-fledged minister, of good governance. Then, through donor pressure, the Government was obliged to establish a Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance with aid from the Danish government. Among the first things was to build a gargantuan structure to house the Commission and establish the infrastructure at a cost of over 1.5 billion shs. (or roughly 1.5 million US$). (The people of Tanzania would never know the exact amount nor the conditions of the contract. It is secret from them. The Danish people would perhaps be in a better position to know how their government promotes “good governance” in Tanzania.) Then another bureaucratic structure of civil servants headed by seven commissioners is set up drawing usual salaries and numerous allowances.
Besides a minister of good governance and a commission, there was another ‘benefit’ the Government received as part of ‘good governance’ assistance. A couple of years ago, the distinguished Finnish diplomat, Martin Althassari, paid visits to Tanzania as an ‘advisor to the President’ on good governance, sponsored by the World Bank! Presumably, he made a report to the President (or the World Bank, who knows?) after consulting civil servants, a sprinkling of NGO representatives, academics and private sector among others, as is the consultants’ custom these days. How this consultancy represents the struggle of the people of Tanzania to construct a democratic state and polity, I cannot tell. And this is because, we are not even sure if “good governance” means the same thing as democratic governance of, for and by the people of Tanzania! After all they were never consulted on the appointment of the advisor to their president!
What about the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance?
The Commission, among other things, receives complaints about violation of human rights and abuse of power and investigates the same. This is precisely the kind of work supposed to be done by the mainstream judiciary and the former Permanent Commission of Inquiry. The Permanent Commission was set up in the middle sixties modelled on Scandinavian Ombudsman to inquire into abuse of power by state officials and report to the President. True, both the judiciary and the Permanent Commission had a lot of flaws. People have had lots of criticisms and grievances against these institutions and expressed them, whenever they got an opportunity, or, whenever, they could snatch such opportunities. Both institutions cried out for reforms. Both required the political vision, will and resources for reform based on the grievances of the people.
If the reforms were internally generated and grounded in the struggle and demands of the people, they would have almost certainly taken a very different trajectory. For example, the judiciary, in particular the lower judiciary, could be improved significantly by directing resources to train judicial personnel, providing reasonable benefits to the staff, such as housing and transport, and by innovative structures to institutionalize people’s participation in judicial processes. Yet, that is not how “good governance” reforms are conceived. Structures parallel to existing ones are put up as a result of donor-pressure. The desirability and viability of such structures is hardly assessed within the countries concerned.
One of the effects of setting up such structures is to undermine time-tested traditional state structures. Worse, reforms from the top instigated by donor conditionalities undermine the right of the people themselves to struggle for and conceive their own institutional reforms and set their own priorities. Furthermore, needless to mention, such top-down reforms conceived, prioritised and financed by the erstwhile IFIs and donors undermine the very basis of democratic governance, that is, accountability to the people. The “governors” are accountable to the “donors” and their consultants and advisors on “good governance” rather than the people. Where is then the so-called democracy, trumpeted so much, and in whose name, political power seeks legitimacy?
No wonder, in my own country, which perhaps is not the worst example in Africa of utter submission to hegemonic powers, the President cites the acclamation he receives from IFIs (not his own people) as an example of the success of his policies.
One cannot help being cynical about the whole good governance project. This is not to say that Tanzania, like many other African and non-African countries, including some in the North, do not require reform of their governance structure. But the point is what kind of reforms, in whose interest and conceived and implemented by whom. Democratic reforms, let it be said for the umpteenth time, is the prerogative of the people. It is the exercise of their sovereignty and their right to self-determination. That is what the struggle for independence and liberation was all about. It was the struggle of the African people to reclaim their humanity and dignity and the right to think for themselves and to chart their destiny. This was, and is, precisely the essence of anti-imperialist struggles. It follows, therefore, that economic and political conditionalities, including those on good governance, are an expression of the reassertion of imperial domination, however it may be labelled.
By Issa G. Shvji
Professor of Law, Dar es Salaam
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