Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance

Synthesis report of the Africa Power and Politics Programme

David Booth, October 2012


“Based on five years of original, highly empirical, and local research across several African countries, as well as on a sweeping knowledge of other research, this report shows that development is not so much about making governments do what people want but about helping people act collectively.... These [recommendations] are no doubt among the most thoughtful strategic aid policy recommendations to come out of any applied research effort in a long time. They will generate much enlightenment, ample discussion, and hopefully a significant reconsideration of how the aid business functions in Africa.”

Pierre Englebert, Pomona College, Claremont, USA


“This conceptually ambitious synthesis of a similarly ambitious multi-year empirical research program takes direct aim at the mainstream discourse on how governance and development interact – and makes numerous direct hits. David Booth and colleagues usefully pinpoint the weakness of the ideologically comfortable (for Western governments and donor agencies) ‘good governance’ discourse. And they are similarly on target in their critique of the partial, incomplete, efforts to supersede the 'best practice' narrative with advocacy of ‘good fit’ and enhanced accountability.”

Brian Levy, Johns Hopkins University and University of Cape Town (formerly World Bank governance adviser)


“...a deeply serious publication aimed at a well-informed research and policy audience.... It meticulously develops a complex and nuanced argument; and it pulls no punches in critiquing current development thinking and practice.”

Sue Unsworth, author, Upside-Down Governance


“…a thorough and very valuable analysis of Africa’s development problems… The question remains: what should people involved in governance reforms do differently? What are the practical implications of the analysis? The report is a fine overview of the way the problem has been addressed so far.”

Roel van der Veen, chief academic advisor, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Governance challenges are not fundamentally about one set of people getting another set of people to behave better – the common assumption of the stock-in-trade ‘supply side’ and ‘demand side’ approaches to governance improvement in Africa.

In APPP’s synthesis report, David Booth explores how the fundamental governance challenges are about both sets of people finding ways of being able to act together in their own best interests. They are about collective problem-solving in fragmented societies hampered by exceptionally low levels of trust. He proposes that a  smarter approach to reform and international cooperation for development would take this as its starting point.

Download APPP synthesis report (pdf, 2 MB)

Download APPP Policy Brief: Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance, David Booth, APPP Policy Brief 09, October 2012 (pdf, 0.5 MB) 

The Africa Power and Politics Programme was a Research Programme Consortium funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid for the benefit of developing countries.
The views expressed on this website and in APPP's publications are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DFID or Irish Aid or any of APPP's member organisations.