This briefing explores why some states in Africa seem to be stuck in a spiral of corruption and institutional weakness, while others build effective bureaucracies that are able and willing to tackle the challenges of development. Drawing on research from ESID’s PSR project, it compares the public sector reforms of Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda during the period 2000-15. The three countries exhibit different kinds of political settlement, which makes for a useful comparison of how national-level politics filters the diffusion of transnational norms. This helps to build a more nuanced understanding of the varieties of state-building in Africa, and provides some policy implications for reformers.
Purely institutionalist explanations cannot explain variations in African state-building in the 21st century.
There are different paths to change, like Ghana’s fragmented reform under competitive clientelism, Uganda’s cosmetic reform under a decaying dominant party, and Rwanda’s directed reform under a dominant political settlement.
Understanding these paths requires a theoretical framework that highlights the contested nature of the PSR policy domain, the effect of political settlements on elite time horizons, and the ideational fit between transnational policy ideas and elite ideologies.
Lessons for reformers and donors:
- Reform spaces are fluid, but contested;
- The ‘black box’ of political will is no longer enough;
- Strategic framing of policy ideas is key;
- Sustained change requires sustainable coalitions