The politics of governments in Africa is a landscape undergoing significant changes. Its actors are changing, of course, but so are its direction and dominant vision. This landscape is traversed by a path of good governance, commitment, and competence, which is expanding. As I have mentioned before, expectations play a significant role in the quality of governance. To replace bad governance with good governance, redefining expectations is more effective than simply prohibiting corruption.

Expectations are changing, especially at the highest hierarchical level, where politics meets the people. The democratic reforms discussed in Chapter 3 combined with the Arab Spring have contributed to exerting more pressure on top leaders to deliver results. “For a long time, governments benefited from the fact that not much was expected of them,” says James Mwangi. And he adds:

“Now people see that the situation can greatly improve, and they expect their government to contribute to it. My hope is that in the years to come, we will see governments evolving to no longer be a means of enriching oneself and climbing the ranks, but rather a structure attentive to development and capable of meeting the needs of businesses.”

Sam Jonah’s right-hand man, John Barton, has seen things change in Liberia and Zambia. “When a head of government resigns to denounce corruption,” he says, “as Presidents Sirleaf did in Liberia and Sata in Zambia, expectations change, both from the government towards the masses, and from the population towards the government.”

Furthermore, increasingly, high positions are filled by technocrats who possess both the skills and motivation to pursue good policies. Certainly, this trend is not ubiquitous, but it is much more widespread than it was 20 or even 10 years ago.

This change is illustrated by Ken Njoroge’s experience, who won the contract for subsidies to Nigerian farmers (cf. Chapter 4). I asked Ken about this contract because it seemed to me that a multi-million dollar offer made by the Nigerian Ministry of Agriculture would be a perfect example of bad governance. Quite the contrary. Ken’s story is striking:

“My experience is very different from what you might expect. I was in economy class on a plane to Nigeria, and as I came out of the restroom, I bumped into this guy who was interested in what we were doing with mobile payments. He was a Nigerian agronomist working for a think tank in Kenya, and he said, ‘I’m sure this payment technology they are developing could be used for agriculture.’ We started talking, and I said to him, ‘Forget about what technology can do, let’s define the problem. What is the problem?’ We needed to pinpoint it. We started sketching out the fertilizer sector on his notebook and talked for over an hour. In the end, he suggested I meet with the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. I was a bit skeptical: after all, we were both in economy class. But we agreed to stay in touch. One Saturday, he called me: ‘You know, I didn’t tell you this but when we met, I was on my way to Nigeria to be confirmed as the Minister of Agriculture.’

That an agriculture minister is not a professional politician but rather an agronomy specialist is indicative of the changes underway in Africa. The continuation of Ken’s story reveals the increasingly broad path toward good governance:

“He invited us to Nigeria to present our services. And as he said, there was the governor of the Central Bank, as well as several ministers and a state governor.

This meeting was so impactful for me. Understanding that those who govern a country like Nigeria are not just politicians, but rather technocrats. They looked at food production, asked me questions about farmers’ income, meticulously interrogated what my technology was and where it had been proven before. They delved into every aspect, asking the tough questions. In the end, they asked me, ‘Could this be ready for the next agricultural season?’ And we answered yes, that we needed five months.

At that moment, someone from public procurement objected that the duration of the bidding process itself excluded this possibility. The group asked him if he was willing to tell the president that the proposed solution would not be implemented this season due to procedures. We agreed, the solution had to be in place five months later, in March, and that’s exactly what happened.”

The governance changes taking place at the top are slowly permeating the grassroots of the civil service. Civil servants, as in this meeting with Ken, are not always as determined as in a high-level meeting. But leadership expectations are the sine qua non condition for change.

As governance requirements begin to change, they impact all actors and also evolve the government’s expectations towards businesses. Jay Ireland faces demands from African governments that would surprise many. “Now, when I work with African governments,” he says, “one of their main concerns is whether the company is there for the short term, simply seeking to profit from an operation. They are especially concerned about whether you bring long-term employment and growth.”

I’ve teased a bit …

This text is an excerpt from the book “These Businesses That Succeed in Africa” written by Jonathan Berman.

We invite you to read the following article “COLLABORATION RATHER THAN RECIPROCITY“.

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