Under-provision of essential public goods is a key source of the malaise of development in sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely accepted that this is largely a governance problem, but current approaches to improving governance are not working. This paper provides a midterm report on a multi-country research effort to shed light on the institutional sources of variation in public goods’ provision at the sub-national level, with a particular focus on key bottlenecks to improvement in maternal mortality, water and sanitation, facilitation of markets and enterprise, and public order and security.
Drawing on fieldwork evidence and secondary literature, it identifies three clusters of issues and associated explanatory variables which seem to account for much of the variation in intermediate outcomes. The paper identifies questions to be settled in the final phase of research and discusses emerging policy implications, including several relating to the current form and scale of external development assistance.