04 January 2012

Leadership in Development: What do we know about it?

There's an interesting review by Ted Miguel in Foreign Affairs of Steve Radelet's book, Emerging Africa. The review summarises Radelet's arguments:
  1. Democratisation--of governments, access to information and accountability
  2. Improved economic policy
  3. Debt reduction
  4. New technologies (esp the mobile phone)
  5. A new generation of leaders
Radelet argues that democratisation is the number one contributing factor. My IDS colleagues in the Africa Power and Politics Programme, supported by DFID, would probably agree with this, although they would argue very strongly for good enough democracy that is suited to context rather than Western style orthodoxy.
In a very positive review, Miguel mildly chastises Radelet:"But in identifying democratization as the leading cause of Africa's recent economic turnaround, especially in the countries he labels as emerging, Radelet simply pushes the question of causality back another step. Left unanswered is why some African countries, such as Ghana, developed successful democracies in the 1990s, whereas others, such as Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana's neighbor, tried and failed."
Miguel's answer? He argues that it might be education. He notes that Africa's human capital stock has risen dramatically in the past 30 years. In addition to Radelet's arguments about how this means the technical level of policymaking has improved, Miguel draws on his own research to illustrate how education empowers students rather than making them acquiesce to authority that is not pro-development. Better educated students are more politically informed and are better able to see through propaganda and are less willing to identify ethnically with a particular policy stance.
I find these arguments plausible, even though Miguel's research is only drawn from Kenya. But Miguel's argument does not really address the question of why Ghana is open but the Cote d'Ivoire is not.
Personally, I think the most under researched area is Radelet's fifth factor: leadership.
What do we know about how pro-development leadership emerges and can it be supported better? What factors have shaped the emergence of pro-development leaders whether the more celebrated ones Radelet identifies such as John Githongo in Kenya and Patrick Awuah in Ghana or the unsung heroes at other levels? What role does oppression play in radicalising them and what role does democratisation play in supplying them with enough oxygen to operate? What can the educational establishment and public policy do to support future leaders?
Leadership is an important and under researched issue for development in general, not only for Africa.


  1. I think leadership/management is the no 1 gap in the development world: I wrote about it here http://rowanemslieintern.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/masters-masters-everywhere-but-which-one-should-i-pick/

  2. Everyone interested in African democracy and poltical leadership should see the powerful and remarkable new documentary film about the 2008 election in Ghana, done by Jarreth Merz,An African Election.

  3. Could you please elaborate on this issue with a long article? "How leadership affects development?"

  4. @Sociosolidarity8 January 2012 at 14:07

    Leadership is important but we have to have in mind ambient where those leaders are grown. If we have leaders of new generation that serves corrupted governments, information will be less accesseble and governments will be even less accountable. Democratization that respect local differencies (as it is pointed in your text) is a key for development of leaders that will make a change, if it is not a case good leaders will make bad governance even worse.

  5. In my understanding the APPP research is (notably) about avoiding projecting our normative views including about democratisation and its role in development. The neo-patrimonial developmental regimes that they describe are not necessarily democratic. So when you write "what role does democratisation play in supplying them with enough oxygen to operate?" (them = developmental leaders), it's hard not to take this as normative. Does it really provide them with oxygen?