The World Bank‘s (Good) Governance Approach in Sub-Saharan Africa

Essay, 2010

19 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The failure of the Washington Consensus and the rise of the governance concept

3. The World Bank‘s Governance Approach
a) The governance approach in the global context
b) Conceptual criticism of the basic assumptions
c) Scientific criticism of the GACS

4. Conclusion: The struggle for development - emancipation vs. colonial rule

5. Resources

Internet Resources

1. Introduction

The following paper should give a critical insight into the basic assumptions of the governance (and anti-corruption) concepts and strategies of the World Bank Group with regard to the seemingly unattainable goal of substantial poverty reduction in Africa.

My basic approach is however neither leftwing nor rightwing (science is by definition neither left nor right, but objective). It can be characterized as that of the scientific pluralism, which means that different scientific fields and perspectives will be used for the description and in-depth analysis of the given topic.

But the main goal of this paper is not to follow the conceptual line of the good governance approach of the World Bank Group or to testify or falsify the implementation of the concept on the empirical level but to look critically at the basic assumptions that lie beneath the conceptual level and which from my point of view are essential for understanding the mechanisms of the poverty reproduction processes in Sub-Saharan-Africa.

It is therefore important to keep in mind that real growth and socio-economic development can only emerge as a result of intense cooperation between states. Probably it is not foreign aid that creates growth and reduces poverty and suffering but real fair economic cooperation e.g. between states (but not only states) as the main actors of the international relations.

2. The failure of the Washington Consensus and the rise of the governance concept

‘A deep insight that has emerged out of the disappointments of the Washington Consensus is that successful policy reform is at its core governance reform. . ... We might even say good governance is development itself.‘[1]

After the failure of the Washington Consensus[2] and the devastating results of the Structural Adjustment Programs of the 1990‘s the World Bank Group has partly revised its original approach and introduced the alleged new concepts and instruments (e.g. Good Governance[3], Anticorruption Strategy[4], PRSP[5]), which should symbolize an improved and innovative way of international development cooperation.

One of the main reasons for such a spontaneous rethinking of its own role in (and approach to) the international development cooperation process, was that between 1980 (the beginning of the ‘intensive cooperation‘ between WB and Sub-Saharan Africa) and today the population in extreme poverty in Africa has risen (chart I) rather then fallen despite (or because of) the huge amounts of money transferred from the North to the South.

Chart I (chart compiled by the author[6]) - Poverty in Africa since 1981

Even the official World Bank publications suggest that the absolute number of people living below the poverty line in Africa has increased dramatically since 1980.

„ In contrast, the poverty rate fell only slightly in Sub-Saharan Africa - going from 54 percent in 1981 to 59 percent in 1999 then down to 41 percent 2005. But the number of people living below the poverty line has nearly doubled.“[7]

Other important poverty indicators underline the grievances in Sub-Saharan Africa even to a greater extent:

- Debt burden: 27 of 35 HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) are from Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Low life expectancy: In 2004 the life expectancy at birth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was 46 years (world average = 67 year)[8]. In 1970 it was 46,3.[9]
- High HIV/AIDS rates: Today there are 25,000,000 of adults and children (between 0-49 years) living with HIV/AIDS. Two million of them are under fourteen years of age.
- Low standard of living: The GNI per capita is just 611 US-$ compared to the world average of 6,298 US-$ in 2004.[10]

At the same time the total amount of foreign aid in % of GDP (of all SSA countries) has more then tripled since 1970, while the economies of the African countries stagnated constantly (Chart II).

Chart II (compiled by the author)[11] - Aid and Growth in Africa

One of the new allegedly powerful concepts that should help reduce poverty through increased aid effectiveness (or at least explaining why all the efforts were fruitless) was therefore called (good) governance (GG/ G).[12]

The introduction of the concept of governance in the development agenda reflects growing concerns over the effectiveness of aid whose ultimate aim is to reduce poverty and human suffering. Confronted with declining aid budgets and increased scrutiny by civil society, the Bank has given greater consideration to the pervasive effects of mismanagement and endemic corruption. Furthermore, the Bank’s involvement in governance work has also upset the traditional division of labor between the United Nations (UN) agencies and the IFIs, questioning their respective roles in global governance.‘ [13]

It is obvious, that besides its ideological goal of reducing poverty and the struggle for increasing aid effectiveness the World Bank used the new governance approach to get more institutional power and enforce its role as the leading global financial institution and the dominant global think tank[14] in the field of international development cooperation (IDC).

(The partly latent institutional and ideological competition between this two organizations (WB & UNO) is a result of their different backgrounds:

‘With particular reference to the two multilateral organizations that have mattered the most within our policy area, the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN system, different ideas can be expected to emerge from an organization basically “owned” by the industrial countries, as is the case with the Bretton Woods institutions, and an organization with a broader global ownership, the UN system. In the Bretton Woods institutions, capital installments determine the composition of governing structures and voting rights. This has a bearing on the relative influence of the members. In the UN system, each government has one vote when development issues are involved, whether a tiny country or a major power. Such differences affect both formal structures and objectives. Although the relative influence of governments is by no means accurately reflected in the “one country, one vote” regulation, the policy does affect the self-identity of the organization, including the loyalty of secretariats. It follows that the two systems can be expected to be receptive to and themselves generate ideas that differ when it comes to development perspectives and how developing countries may be best assisted in their development efforts.‘[15])

But still, some mainstream observers and WB apologists tried even to deny the responsibility of the Bretton - Woods - Twins for the devastating results of the SAP and welcomed the new concept with an emphasis on governance and corruption which they saw as the main reasons for the failure of the Washington Consensus.


[1] Rodrik (2008), P. 17

[2] e.g. Stiglitz (2007), P.41




[6] Data source: Datenblatt Entwicklungspolitik. 10/2006. Hrsg.: Welthaus Bielefeld

[7] Poverty Data (2008), P. 10




[11] Data from Easterly, W. (2006), P. 46

[12] Kaufmann (2009), P.26

[13] Santiso (2001), P.3

[14] Tepe (2008), P.1

[15] Stokke (2009), P. 21

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The World Bank‘s (Good) Governance Approach in Sub-Saharan Africa
Free University of Berlin  (Otto-Suhr-Institut)
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world, bank‘s, governance, approach, sub-saharan, africa
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Roman Kampen (Author), 2010, The World Bank‘s (Good) Governance Approach in Sub-Saharan Africa, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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