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Q&A with John Endres*, CEO of Good Governance Africa

Categories: HEADLINES, Government
Good governance is essential in Africa if the continent is to prosper.

The governance community has a new member: Good Governance Africa, launched in February 2012. Who is this new kid on the block and what is it trying to achieve? Constanza Montana, editor of Africa in Fact, interviewed the CEO to find out.

What is Good Governance Africa?
Good Governance Africa (GGA) is a research and advocacy organisation based in Africa that works to improve government performance on the continent. In February 2012, GGA opened its first centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a team of four. Over time, there will be more centres throughout Africa. In each instance, local staff will run these centres.

What prompted GGA to be set up and who funds it?
Recent developments in Africa - faster economic growth, the emergence of a middle class, more democracy - are drawing increasing attention to the continent and provide grounds for cautious optimism. GGA was set up to support the positive developments, with funding contributed by private businesses that share this aim.

How do you define good governance?
GGA believes a country is well-governed when three broad requirements are met: First, citizens must have a say in how the country is run. This implies that there should be democracy, accountability, and transparency. Second, the rule of law and human, civil, minority and property rights should be upheld and enforced by a legitimate government with separate, independent branches of power. Third, the government should pursue inclusive, growth-oriented policies. Research shows that almost every indicator of human wellbeing rises with income - including health, life expectancy, education and happiness.

What is bad governance?
In a badly governed country, citizens have little influence on what happens in their country. They cannot express their wishes at the ballot box and civil society is not heard or permitted to speak. Laws are poorly crafted and applied arbitrarily. The administration is inefficient. The judiciary is biased. Evildoers get away with murder.

Corruption is rampant because a lack of transparency gives great scope for covert action. Living standards stagnate or decline because the economy does not grow - or, if it does, an unaccountable elite skims off rents, leaving the vast majority of people poor.

Doesn’t this describe most of Africa?
Yes, it does.

Why is good governance important?
Good governance is needed because bad governance has such devastating consequences on people’s lives. Poverty, short life expectancies, violence and a loss of personal and civil liberties are all potential consequences of poor governance.

Good governance takes power out of the hands of individuals who are potentially iniquitous and places it instead in laws and institutions determined by citizens. When implemented successfully this prevents abuses of power.

China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Fujimori’s Peru and Pinochet’s Chile are examples of economic success in the absence of democracy. Do you agree?
These countries show that economies can grow in the absence of democracy - a troubling observation for believers in freedom and human rights. Many of these countries are guilty of state-sanctioned murder, repression, and terror. This is inevitably what the absence of democracy leads to and it should not be used to justify economic growth.

You can have economic growth and freedom. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Is economic growth a prerequisite for democracy or vice-versa?
Neither. There are examples to show that economic growth can be achieved in the absence of democracy, as the countries mentioned previously illustrate. Conversely, there is evidence that suggests that democracy is hard to sustain in the absence of economic growth. When economies decline, citizens are often more willing to forfeit their rights against the promise that a firm hand will improve the economy. But citizens should not be required to make this trade-off. If economic growth is even possible under conditions of good governance - and indications are that it is not only possible, but also that such conditions actually favour growth - then citizens should have both.

Why not have a benevolent dictator who can implement growth-focused policies that will reduce poverty and promote prosperity?
GGA is wary of the “benevolent dictator” argument. History shows that benevolent dictators usually turn into despotic dictators at short notice. Absolute power corrupts thoroughly and before you know it, you have state torturers, disappearances and assassinations. That is not a good outcome.

What are GGA’s goals?
GGA aims to improve governance by influencing the ideas of those who define, design and implement policy. Ultimately, GGA will influence governments to improve their performance in areas ranging from ease of doing business and education to healthcare and human rights.

How will GGA achieve these goals?
GGA will be an active voice on governance in Africa. It will engage citizens and leaders in business and government to advocate for improvements. By showing how good governance makes things better, those in power will be encouraged to make changes that lead towards better governance.

How will you know if GGA is effective?
Broadly, there are two ways in which the impact of GGA’s activities can be measured: First, there are occasions when it might be possible to see a direct effect of GGA’s work on ideas or policies. Second, we expect to see governance in Africa to continue improving as a result of many influences - including the work done by GGA.

What is the state of governance in Africa?
In general terms, African governance can be described as poor, but improving. The 2011 Failed States Index by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace lists all African countries as being borderline or worse. But in the last 12 years, only 10 coups have taken place compared to the 20 coups per decade between 1960 and 2000. Elections and peaceful transfers of power have increased. Citizen rights and the rule of law are still weak in most countries. Economic growth benefits small elites rather than the broader population.

What are the positive examples that stand out?
Other than islands like Mauritius and Cape Verde, Botswana, a country with a homogenous population dominated by one large corporation, and Ghana, which is a clichéd example, it is hard to think of any examples. I’d hesitate even to include South Africa.

Many other organisations are monitoring governance. Why does Africa need another governance group?
Yes, there are already many organisations working on governance in Africa. There seem to be more every day. But GGA is different because it is based in Africa, bases its advocacy on research, and is not afraid to speak truth to power.

Who is the target group of GGA publications? Who will benefit from GGA’s work?
GGA targets its work at individuals and groups that make decisions and that influence governments, businesses, and the media. Each of these target groups will be able to work better by keeping up to date through GGA. Ultimately, the actions of these target groups should improve governance and thereby benefit the citizens of the respective countries.

Who will work with GGA? How can interested individuals, groups or corporations participate in GGA’s work?
GGA will seek to engage with any individual or group that can influence good governance. Participation can take the form of joint events, information sharing, writing of articles, calls to action, staff exchanges and financial donations.

*John Endres, CEO
John previously worked as senior project officer for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a liberal German foundation. He has also worked in business and as a lecturer, translator, interpreter and language coach. He obtained his doctorate in change management
at one of Germany’s leading business schools and also studied in the USA and Venezuela.

"This story first appeared in Africa in Fact: The Journal of Good Governance Africa."

Source: Good Governance Africa - www.gga.org.

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