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Africa Power and Politics Programme

Led by ODI, the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP) was a consortium research programme bringing together researchers in both Anglophone and Francophone Africa as well as France, the UK and USA. It undertook field studies, surveys and historical analysis to explore the question of what works for development and poverty reduction under current political conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. It was funded for five years by the UK Department for International Development and Irish Aid.

APPP aimed to discover ways of exercising power and forms of political leadership that support development better by ‘working with the grain’ of African societies. It asked whether better results could be achieved with governance arrangements that are more congruent with the informal realities of power. It investigated particular hypotheses on these lines in seven institutional fields:

  • State bureaucracies
  • Parliamentarians
  • Business and politics
  • Cotton sector reforms
  • Local governance
  • Local justice
  • Religion and education

This body of work contributed to important shifts in thinking among development scholars and practitioners, away from over-simplified concepts of ‘good governance’ and towards context-aware political economy analysis.

ODI’s institutional partners in APPP were the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida, the Center for Democratic Development of Ghana, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, the Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherches sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le Développement Local (LASDEL) in Niger, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Marseille, and Development Research and Training in Uganda.

The programme produced two books:

  • Business, politics, and the state in Africa: Challenging the orthodoxies on growth and transformation by Tim Kelsall with others (Zed Books, 2013)
  • Governance for development in Africa: Solving collective action problems, by David Booth and Diana Cammack (Zed Books, 2013)

Journal articles and contributions to academic books based on APPP research were published by Giorgio Blundo, Richard Crook, Martin Dawson, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, Staffan I. Lindberg, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Renata Serra, Mahaman Tidjani-Alou and Leonardo Villalón, as well as by Booth, Cammack and Kelsall. Articles appeared in, among other journals, African Affairs, Cahiers d’Etudes africaines, Commonwealth Good Governance, Development Policy Review, IDS Bulletin, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, New Political Economy, Public Administration and Development, Public Management Review, and Review of African Political Economy.

The programme’s own publications included a Synthesis Report and edited series of Discussion Papers, Working Papers and Policy Briefs.

Read the Synthesis Report and a small selection from the outputs of current and former ODI researchers below.


Diana Cammack, Victoria Chambers, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, Tim Kelsall, Tam O’Neil, Sonia Sezille
  1. Towards a theory of local governance and public goods’ provision in sub-Saharan Africa

    Working papers

  2. Working with the grain? Rethinking African governance


  3. Working with the grain and swimming against the tide: Barriers to uptake of research findings on governance and public services in low-income Africa

    Working papers

  4. Developmental patrimonialism? Questioning the orthodoxy on political governance and economic progress in Africa

    Working papers

  5. Developmental patrimonialism? The case of Malawi

    Working papers

  6. Anti-developmental patrimonialism in Zimbabwe

    Working papers

  7. A research design fit for purpose

    Working papers

  8. Going with the grain in African development?

    Working papers

  9. Elites, governance and the public interest in Africa: working with the grain?

    Working papers

  10. ‘Town Chiefs’ in Malawi

    Working papers

  11. Game-theoretic models, social mechanisms and public goods in Africa

    Working papers

  12. Local governance and public goods in Malawi

    Working papers

  13. Developmental patrimonialism? The case of Rwanda

    Working papers

  14. Is the bride too beautiful? Safe motherhood in rural Rwanda

    Research reports

  15. Improving maternal health when resources are limited: Safe motherhood in rural Rwanda

    Briefing/policy papers

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

    Research reports