There are several reasons why development in Central Africa is lagging behind. However, the sub-regions’ real obstacle is poor governance of public affairs. As long as this aspect is relegated to second place, even the best development policies will be doomed to failure, despite the efforts made in these states.
Governance is, in fact, a system for managing organizations inspired by the private sector (corporate governance), in which the responsibility of actors is an essential parameter closely linked to their performance, in particular their ability to achieve the objectives set beforehand. According to Patrick Le Galès, governance is defined as a process for coordinating public and private actors, social groups, and institutions [aimed at] achieving specific goals that are discussed and defined collectively in fragmented and uncertain environments.
In a society where political responsibility is not effective, all these orientations of democratic governance remain pious hopes.
In coordinating the actions of public and private sector groups and institutions, a system of relationships is created in which each actor is accountable to the others for their actions to help achieve a common goal. With this in mind, the concept of democratic governance seemed appropriate for developing countries, particularly those in Central Africa.
Conceptualized at the end of the 1990s, democratic governance refers to mechanisms for regulating interests that seek to reconcile the principles of efficient public management with the objectives of strengthening democratic rules. It reflects the idea of good governance, the aim of which is to guarantee sustainable development and the rule of law. In the absence of a consensus on the content of this concept, international programs identify five major guidelines for strengthening democratic governance:
- The protection of fundamental rights.
- The reduction of economic and social inequalities so as, in specific terms, to enable the most disadvantaged people to gain access to essential public goods and employment.
- The construction of the rule of law.
- The promotion of political pluralism.
- Social pluralism, i.e. the strengthening of civil society and its participation in development, as well as the guarantee of media independence.
In a society where political responsibility is not effective, all these orientations of democratic governance remain pious hopes. Political accountability is one of the criteria of democracy in a republic. Consequently, “because the holders of public office in the Republic are merely agents or delegates of a governing or management power that does not belong to them, they are accountable for it.” They must give an account naturally – and, so to speak, willingly – of the way in which they run the community and manage the collective patrimony. This natural form of accountability is still foreign to the governments of Central African states. As proof of this, the parliaments of these states have hardly gotten into the habit of holding those in power politically accountable, while corruption and embezzlement are growing exponentially.
Political accountability is considered to be the obligation of those in power to answer for or explain the conduct of public affairs. This obligation must be permanent. Leaders no longer have to wait for official channels of accountability to engage their political responsibility toward the people. At all times, they must submit to a minimum of political accountability, which takes account of society’s democratic aspirations.
On one hand, the political authorities, without exception, must submit to media debate where, in addition to journalists, representatives of civil society can express their views. The media debate is one of the key elements in the legitimacy of all public management today. This mechanism can validly compensate for the limitations of oral question sessions put by parliamentarians to members of government. A genuine opportunity for dialogue between the representatives of the nation and the members of the government, the parliamentary debate has become a stage act in a context where the ruling party has an ultra-dominant majority in the representative assemblies.
On the other hand, the political authorities must imperatively answer for the performance of their management within public bodies. There would be no point in instituting results-based management mechanisms if the political actors in charge of implementing them are not accountable. It is imperative to make such accountability effective so that the continuation in a position of political responsibility is justified by the performance achieved. This responsibility must be above partisan considerations, the sole objective being to ensure effective management of public affairs.
In sum, the political accountability of governments is still a missing link in the governance of Central African states. It is not enough to adopt the rules governing this responsibility; it must also be made concrete, effective, and dynamic.
Dr. Théophile Nguimfack Voufo is a Ph.D. holder in Public Law, option Public Finance. Dr. Nguimfack is currently an assistant at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences of the University of Dschang.
Article first appeared in On Policy.
Photo by Skylark via Pixabay.