Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

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

Working papers

Written by David Booth

At the heart of current policy thinking about Africa there is a significant knowledge gap concerning governance and development. This paper is concerned with what can be done about that state of affairs, drawing on the initial experience of a new research venture, the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP).

The APPP proposes to discover forms of governance that might work better for development than those prescribed by the current ‘good governance’ orthodoxy. It aims to do so chiefly by examining systematically the range of postcolonial experience within the sub-Saharan African region.

The paper reviews the issues and challenges posed during initial efforts to implement this plan. They include the choice of a suitable approach to gathering and analysing the relevant data; how to arrive at some reasonably firm working hypotheses while finding a pathway through the conceptual and methodological disputes among Africanist social scientists and historians with which such attempts tend to get entangled; and avoiding ‘reinventing the wheel’ by failing to draw fully on the concepts and methods pioneered in other fields of comparative institutional enquiry. The writer’s personal take on the work in progress in two of the programme’s seven research streams is the subject of the final section of the paper.

David Booth