Governments must be accountable

The emergence of Nepad, the African Union, the Commission for Africa and other recent related initiatives testify to new mechanisms dedicated to the upliftment, transformation and better governance of Africa.

"In order to do this, Africans must demonstrate their refusal to accept poor economic and political leadership," says Reuel Khoza.

"Incompetent and brutal regimes are inherently unstable and therefore at odds with development and progress.

"Governance means nothing without discipline. One of the risks of national instability is that it can spill over into nearby territories."

This sentiment has been strongly echoed by the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

"It is a pernicious self-destructive form of reason to rise up and expel tyrannical leaders who are white, but to excuse tyrannical leaders [who] are black," he said when delivering the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in July.

He described the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe as "intolerable and unsustainable", and as an example of conflict in Africa.

"Though stability in Africa is spreading, a continent of peace is still a distant goal. A solution to Africa's problems rests on three pillars of peace and security, development and human rights, and the rule of law," Annan said.

Success in these terms depends on a government's ability to balance political, administrative and economic roles. Political compliance depends on equitable access to the services and livelihoods provided by the state; administrative capacity depends on the state's integrity and ability to tax; and the productivity of the economy rests on the quality of the protection, regulation and infrastructure that the government provides to the private sector.

Achieving this balance requires that boundaries are maintained between these constituent parts, which might be described as maintaining the necessary institutional checks and balances. The best way to do this is almost certainly to allow agents in each sphere relatively high degrees of autonomy.

"Politicians must be able to enforce the rules without being captured by particular economic or bureaucratic interests, and citizens must be able to organise autonomous political movements," says Teddy Brett.

"Officials must be able to use their professional judgment to deliver services in accordance with impersonal rules and free from political interference or corrupt payments. Private firms must be guided by market, and not political, controls, and be strong enough to generate surpluses needed to reproduce themselves and finance the state."

A neo-patrimonial regime, usually embodied in the office of the president, often exists side-by-side with a rational bureaucracy, frequently created in colonial times as is the case with Zimbabwe, that seeks to perform routine public administration tasks. Here the problems often arise for decision-makers who have to contemplate structural changes.

l This is an edited version of part of an address to the Economic Society of South Africa Biennial Conference by Professor Raymond Parsons, Department of Economics, University of Pretoria and Business Convenor at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). Full text on