The State and Development in Southern Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Botswana and Mauritius with Angola, Malawi and Zambia

by Osei Hwedi


African countries inherited economies that are backward, skewed and underdeveloped as a result of Western colonial rule. Since independence, African states have embarked on the transformation of inherited economic structures with varying degrees of success. The debate about the role of the state in development in Africa reached its peak in the 1970s. Following independence in the 1960s, state involvement in the economy was welcomed, partly due to the lack of indigenous private entrepreneurs and partly due to economic distortions created by colonialism. However, the dismal performance of African economies resulting in the “economic crisis” in the 1970s, necessitated a reappraisal of the role of the state in the economy in the 1980s. The predominant view now, especially by neo-liberals, including international financial institutions (IFIs), is that the state in Africa and other developing countries should reduce its role in economic development [1]. Leftwich and White, taking the opposite view, argue that state intervention is necessary for development to take place because development requires not less state, as the World Bank contends, but better state action, and this is most likely from a developmental state [2].

The question, therefore, is: what kind of state intervention is conducive to the promotion of development? This paper examines and compares the role of the state in development in Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius and Zambia in order to understand why states like Mauritius and Botswana are successful developmental states and other states like Angola, Malawi and Zambia are non-developmental, and hindrances to development. Sandbrook, makes the argument that Africa needs active, developmental states capable of complementing and directing market forces [3]. In contrast to the neo-liberals, Leftwich [4] argues that the single most important factor for the generation and sustenance of development is a developmental state, with six features including a determined developmental elite; relative autonomy; a powerful, competent and insulated economic bureaucracy, a weak and subordinated civil society, effective management of non-state economic interests, and repression, legitimacy, and performance. Thus, a developmental state has the capability for sustained economic growth (i.e. high gross domestic product (GDP)), and development (i.e. welfare services to the mass of the population), qualities that Mauritius and Botswana have.

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