Perhaps as a result of our faltered pre-independence history, or our near preoccupation in post-independence Africa with the inefficiency of our governments, we hardly ask ourselves whatever should be of the role of government in our daily lives. Our WebPages are not lacking in lamentations of poor leadership, a postulation of a better structure of governance or even suggestions of what good leadership might look like. In many cases, government is the great log on our necks: standing in the way of progress and development.
But have we stopped to think long and deep about the role we want governments to assume in our lives? I doubt it. As Africans, our governments overall has failed us; the colonial masters before them did not fare any better. Simply put, we are so fed up with bad government that any government a tad better, regardless of its length, breadth or depth in our lives would do.
Indeed, an absence of a construct, a serious criticism, or any rigorous framework (resulting from a national debate) upon which the role of government in our economy, social discourse or our jurisprudence is constructed has meant that Africans (and indeed Nigerians) go the way of some kind of foreign framework handed down to us by donors, donor agencies or their agents. This results essentially in an unstable premise upon which our lives are based. Programs or ideas handed down to us by Breton Wood institutions are maintained so long as the masters of those institutions are in power in their respective domains. In the long run, non-Africans i.e. the electorate of these countries indirectly pilots these constructs as we know them (in the recipient nations).
The result is that the socio-economic construct of a strong right-wing driven IMF/World Bank appointed by say a Thatcher-Reagan are destructive-constructive policies like the now much discredited Structural Adjustment Program; while the neo-liberal coalition of Clinton-Blair institutions will plug constructive-destructive programs like NGO driven aid relief that undermine our governments and social institutions. Both policies generally coming one after another makes for schizophrenia with crippling effect on all. Of course, a coalition of the conservative-liberal kind can show occasional brilliance in crafting policies like debt relief for good governance, but that comes often in bits and pieces that hardly compensates for the downside.
A decent example of this inconsistency is Ghana. Pushed down the throes of forced privatization, deregulation and currency devaluation under SAP, Ghana suffered for years to mend its tearing economy under the most austere conditions. But today, the same World Bank/IMF that pushed for these structural poison pills are backing a larger than life role of government in the emerging oil and gas industry. How does Ghana square off selling its water utility that serves Accra to foreign entities, and yet involves in the most mundane oil industry negotiations? Why should a government that is not interested in the provision of quality, clean water to its people bother itself about the equity position of foreign entities in deepwater offshore that hardly touches the lives of the people of Ghana? These glaring inconsistencies are the result of the essential lack of debate on the role of government in our societies.
Of course, IFC acting on behalf of the Breton Wood institutions is actively encouraging the government to dip its hands in the oil reserves, and in the process corrupting the people, the system and the society to favor Western companies in lucrative oil deals that snare the Ghanaian people! The consistent model based on the SAP (assuming that program was the result of the neo-libertarian construct developed by the people of Ghana) would have been the oil "wildcatter" model that was largely used in exploiting crude oil in West Texas and oil patches of South Eastern USA.
For example, have Africans debated what exactly government should do in our economy? Do we see Africa with economies strongly or weakly regulated by our political institutions? What role do we see citizens playing in the judiciary? Do we prefer a judiciary presided upon by civil-service judges or political cronies or say citizens (jury)?
While I am not exactly sure there is a socially homogenous prescription for the right role of government, I am convinced that any society willing to evolve organically in a potentially value adding organized manner (instead of destructive fits and starts), must engage in this debate. My idea of the role of government may not necessarily be exactly the idea of my reader. However, through a process of debates, compromise, experimentation and redesign, societies have demonstrated an ability to devolve a background framework against which the socio-economic and politic constructs of their societies will be built.
In Scandinavia that social discourse has led to a leaner but effective government that however takes on a lot of responsibility, and encourages private-public partnership in its strategic industries. The influence of Scandinavia governments stretch far and wide, but in this monolithic society equally balanced with transparency and accessibility. On the other hand, the larger more pluralistic Western European societies tend to have a socially active government balanced by moneyed aristocratic interests that dominate their economies. The governments evolved in these places tend to be less accessible and formal compared to their Scandinavian counterparts.
Of course, the laissez faire approach to governance in the New World ranges from the ardent center right libertarianism of America to the moderated center left progressivism of Canada. The variegated Asian advanced democracies i.e. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have settled for a near cooperative framework between the political and economic class, balanced with a somewhat long leaning political framework that emphasizes sustainability over change. The influence of government is balanced by this cooperative outlook coupled with more traditional aristocracies. In short, each of these societies has struck a significant chord on what the role of government should be.
The question we should ask ourselves is when are we going to start to have this debate? Essentially, should we be asking if looking to the government for a working refinery is actually a good idea after all? More so, is the salvation of our fast degenerating domestic football league going to come from a presidential taskforce or from the private sector? The time to think is now. What role do you foresee for governments in Africa? Facilitator? Doer? At least not a distraction as many are today...we hope.