By Barnaby Dye

What factors drive countries’ economic development? Is it still possible for Africa to follow the trajectory of the Asian states that saw rapid industrialisation in the latter half of the 20th century?

A new working paper by Benjamin Chemouni and Barnaby Dye analyses these issues in Rwanda. They focus on debates about the role of the state in development.

Read: The contradictions of an aspiring developmental state: energy boom and bureaucratic independence in Rwanda

Typically, literature on so-called ‘developmental states’ emphasises the importance of the capability and effectiveness of government bureaucracies and how well connected they are to the business community and wider society, so that they can understand their needs. The independence of government bureaucracies from a country’s political leadership, is also often discussed: it is stressed that the civil service should be able to formulate technical policy and advice without being biased. To summarise the idealised model discussed in the literature: it involves a political leadership setting objectives with the civil service, then implementing these politically-decided goals in the most technically proficient way.

This working paper adds to this idealised model. It argues that independence is needed not only in policy formulation, but also in its execution. Moreover, the authors argue that this independence is necessary, not only to involve technical expertise in policymaking, but also to allow government bureaucracies to question policy ideas and give critical feedback to the political leadership. The absence of such independence mattered in Rwanda. In the early 2010s, the government did not heed abundant technical advice about targets for building power plants. The consequence of this was severe, with a system now constructed that is prohibitively costly. Chemouni and Dye use this evidence to illustrate their concept of bureaucratic independence, arguing that the Rwandan case demonstrates the significance of giving the bureaucracy space to implement political goals with technical expertise and the importance of incorporating critical examination into the state’s decision-making process.

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of FutureDAMS as a whole.

Image by analogicus from PixabayCC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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