Islands of state effectiveness and African agriculture


Tracking Development (TD) research found that successful Southeast Asian states created ‘islands of effectiveness’ in small but crucial parts of the state apparatus to deliver ‘outreach, urgency and expediency’. This was picked up in Africa Power and Politics (APPP) thinking, which identifies technocratic integrity in key state apparatuses as a feature of the more developmental regimes in Africa.

The research group, Elites, Production and Poverty (EPP) (DIIS, Copenhagen) has developed a striking synthesis of evidence on the conditions which generate effective state support to productive sectors, including the terms on which industry leaders and state officials interact.

This DRA research stream contributes to the growing discussion about the strengths and limitations of islands or ‘pockets’ of effectiveness in African administrations. We focus on the agricultural sectors of the four African countries studied by Tracking Development, plus Ethiopia and Rwanda. Central questions are:

  • What sorts of state-society and central-local structured interventions have been successfully used by protected technocracies to deliver ‘outreach, urgency and expediency’ and secure breakthroughs in outcomes?
  • How have ‘islands of effectiveness’ arisen or been created and protected?
  • How do the approaches which have been successful compare with current approaches in Africa? (By 'current approaches', we mean an emphasis on ring-fencing revenue authorities and Ministries of Finance but not agriculture, and 'democratic decentralisation' with weak upward accountability.)

We draw on convergent TD, APPP and EPP findings. Both successful and failed facilitation types are considered.


Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Stream leaders:

Prof Ton Dietz and Dr. André Leliveld, African Studies Centre (ASC), Leiden, Netherlands.

Initiating and sustaining developmental regimes in Africa was funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The views expressed on this website and in material published by the Developmental Regimes in Africa project are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any of DRA's member organisations.