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Regional themes > Poverty reduction frameworks and critiques Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Development Policy Management Forum (DPMF)

Democracy, sustainable development and poverty: Are they compatible?

Lloyd M. Sachikonye

Development Policy Management Forum (DPMF)


SARPN acknowledges the DPMF as a source of this document:
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Different regions of the world have taken different paths to democracy and economic development. For some, industrialisation and economic development stretched over several centuries before democracy was installed. For others, rapid economic development was accompanied by authoritarianism which grudgingly conceded to democratisation only in the closing decades of the 20th century. In yet other regions, the socialist path was taken and while there was an initial burst of economic growth in the first half of the 20th century, it was a growth which subsequently stalled, thus proving unsustainable in the context of authoritarianism. The countries which developed the economic base first, before the pressure for democratisation began in earnest, include most democracies in the West. Most East Asian countries vigorously pursued economic growth while putting a lid on demands for democracy during the first seven decades of the 20th century. There was a mixed picture in Latin America, but much of the late democratisation which has occurred followed, rather than preceded, economic development albeit it was weaker than in East Asia.

Much of Africa was under colonialism during the first half of the 20th century, with most countries gaining independence from 1960 onwards. The continent experienced both little economic development and a lack of democracy until independence. It therefore faced a double challenge at independence (which arrived at different times for different countries). The newly independent states needed to respond to demands both for democratisation as well as for economic growth. There would be no trade-off between these simultaneous demands, nor would the countries have centuries or many decades in which to conveniently sequence the strident expectations from their citizens for democracy and sustainable development. This constituted a profound dilemma for the economically and politically weak new states. Nearly half a century later, most of them are still trying to grapple with the double burden of achieving sustainable growth and building democracy in unfavourable conditions.

This paper seeks to address the question of whether democracy, sustainable development and poverty are compatible in the African context. In view of the varied historical experiences and trajectories alluded to above, what chances exist for Africa to accomplish what took different time-spans and a mix of strategies to achieve economic development as well as consolidate democracy elsewhere? The paper begins by outlining the enormity of the simultaneous challenges facing the continent, and then proceeds to assess the various conceptual, if not the ideological, positions which have been taken to explain the dilemma constituted by these challenges. The last part of the paper attempts a provisional synthesis.

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