Currently available concepts of the developmental state are not fit for the purpose of making sense of the diversity of regime types in Africa today. Extant concepts bear too many of the marks of their origins in a very specific set of debates about then newly industrialising countries in East Asia in the 1980s. In view of the comparative evidence now available on both Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it is time to revisit the question, paying attention only to genuinely generic features.
This paper proposes a concept of what should count as a developmental state, or rather developmental regime, in Africa. This says: 1) policy content matters – but with the qualification that raising productivity in peasant agriculture is an essential first step; 2) sound policies come from an iterative, problem-solving type of policy process; and 3) a precondition for all of this is a political settlement or elite bargain that allows a national leadership to focus on things beyond winning the next short-term political struggle. The concept, including the causal hierarchy linking policies with the quality of the policy process, and in turn with the political settlement, is illustrated with reference to Rwanda.