SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

GDAI - Governance Conversations

Governance matters for development – and development matters for governance.
Governance has become a powerful theme of discussions of development in Africa and elsewhere. But there is a need for more debate within Africa on these issues.

Is everybody agreed what governance, let alone ‘good governance’, means? Is the relationship between governance and development outcomes (economic growth, poverty reduction, improved health, greater freedom, etc) beyond question? Which governance changes make the most difference to people’s well-being and to structural change in Africa? What are the lessons of governance reforms across different African countries? Has the governance issue been hijacked or depoliticised by the interventions of foreign donor organisations? Or are these organisations the useful bearers of convincing evidence and accumulated experience from elsewhere in the world?

As part of the ‘Governance for Development in Africa’ programme that we at SOAS run in collaboration with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, we will be making available a series of lectures in audio and visual formats.

The purpose of these lectures is to contribute to debates on governance and development in Africa. So, we will be producing lectures by people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, who will be presenting different opinions. John Githongo, from Kenya, for example, discusses what he sees as some of the main lessons from a decade or so of anti-corruption reforms in Africa. Among these lessons, he argues that top-down approaches are not very successful: “big fish do not fry themselves!” He also argues that domestic calls for political movements to tackle corruption have been emasculated by the external, international rush to put together particular models of anti-corruption reform. Thandika Mkandawire of UNRISD also criticises standard international views but from a different perspective, that of the need for African developmental states.

These lectures are available in audio format available at

These governance and development lectures are one part of our Governance for Development in Africa programme, supported by and in collaboation with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The other activities in this programme are: an annual scholarship programme for African researchers based in universities in sub-Saharan Africa to study at SOAS on governance/development topics; an annual residential school on governance and development (the first one will be held in Dakar, Senegal, in late March, 2009); and short-term ‘leadership development’ visiting fellowships. Further details on these initiatives can be found at the CAS site (