Over the past 20 years, many African countries have experienced sustained economic growth. Few, however, have embarked on the kind of structural change, driven by rising productivity in key sectors, that has been responsible for transforming mass living standards in parts of Asia. The Developmental Regimes in Africa (DRA) project has been investigating the causes and implications of this worrying scenario, building on the findings of previous research by the Tracking Development project (TD) and the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP). Exploiting further the systematic comparative methods used by TD and APPP, DRA research has shed new light on how developmental regimes might emerge and be sustained in Africa in the 21st century.
Our findings on regime origins add weight to the TD proposition that the policy priorities and choices of the political leadership are the key explanatory variable. Our findings on sustainability of growth suggest that the key is the presence of one or other of two sorts of strong institution: a governing party with a tradition of consensual decision-making or, in the special case of Thailand, a state bureaucracy that can insulate policy from changes in political leadership. Relating to the question of ‘pockets of effectiveness’ in agriculture, research by DRA and a team at the University of Leiden suggests the potential for ‘innovation clusters’ that stimulate productive liaisons between farmers, market and credit agencies and knowledge centres, without the necessity of heavy government involvement.
On ‘developmental state’ concepts, DRA analysis suggests a concept with defining features at three levels: policy content, especially regarding agriculture; policy process, especially the ability to arrive at appropriate policies through iterative and adaptive problem-solving; and a type of political settlement that frees policy-making from the usual constraints. The DRA findings as a whole add force to recent calls for both governments and international agencies to ‘do development differently’ by embracing policy methods based on problem-solving and learning by trial and error.