Good Governance And Elections: Firming Up The Pillars Of Good Governance And Building Strong Institutions In Africa


I wish thank the AFBA in conjunction with the Malawi Law Society for the opportunity to present this discussion paper at this conference on the above subject. It is imperative to note that at this critical point of Africa development, nothing can be more urgent and apt than a conversation around the critical issues of governance without which the initiatives across multi-sectoral development cannot yield the desired outcomes.

In March 2010, a group of African Scholars under the aegis of African Good Governance Network (AGGN) in Germany has presented a similar paper ” Addressing Good Governance In Africa: A Discussion Paper in which they stated their mission, which I adopt today as the mission of this paper, and indeed this session too, ” to promote sustainable societies in Sub-Sahara Africa by advancing the understanding, development and implementation of good governance in the sub-continent”. This is mission you will all agree with me, needs to be accomplished with the seriousness and urgency that Africa’s political and economic development demand.

So, even after over a decade of stating this time tested objectives, the categorical imperatives of development and good governance that will fulfill the philosophical postulation of Fragment Bentham, “the greatest happiness for the greatest number…” in Africa not much progress has been made in quest to institute good governance in the continent.

According to Chowdhurry and Skarstedt, (2005, p.3), the concept of good governance “is emerging as a principle of international law” and African Countries and their agencies are expected to adhere to it. In modern development literatures the terms “governance” and “good governance” have both become regular labels for analyzing and describing both the art of administering a country or organizations and the system of executing such administration in a manner that meets set standards otherwise regarded as best practices( be it local or international). Thus, for instance, bad governance is regarded as an anathema and antithetical to good governance


As with many concepts in virtually all fields of study, Governance as a concept does not lend itself to a definitive meaning. However, for our purpose of discussion, we will adopt the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) definition. The UNESCAP while holding that Governance is not a new concept, defines it simply as “the process of decisions-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).

The Governance Institute of Australia defines Governance as encompassing “the system by which an organization (including a country) is controlled and operates, and the mechanisms by which it, and its people, are held to account. Ethics, risk management, compliance and administration are all elements of governance”. The term governance can therefore be used in different contexts as in corporate governance, National governance, local governance, and the like.

As a decision making process, it will naturally entails different structures-formal and informal- in the chain of processes through which policies and legislations are channeled before they can become operational. The formal structures includes government and its various arms and agencies, political parties, non-government organizations, religious organizations, the military and its allied forces, civil societies etc. While the informal structures might include “kitchen cabinets” or what has become known as “Cabals” in most administration in Africa. The role of the informal structures in exerting influence on the formal structures of governance are usually antithetical to the rule of law and promotes impunity. Thus for governance to achieve its desired goals it must be regarded as good in the sense that it does not only promotes/possess a set of features that accords with best practices, it must guarantee a strict adherence to the fundamental principles of justice , fairness, Rule of Law, as well as other important attributes as will be seen shortly.


This term generally is believed has its roots in the outcome of the study commissioned by the World Bank in 1989. According to the former President of the World Bank, Barber Coinable while speaking on the report of the study titled: Sub-Sahara Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth. A Long term perspective Study, “the major cause of poor economic performance in Africa was the failure of public institutions and that private sector initiatives and market mechanisms are important, but must go hand-in-hand with good governance…”

Instructively, this report was about Africa and there is a consensus amongst scholars and researchers that this term “good governance” was coined in the report by African Scholars like the political economist, Professor Claude Ake, Waheed Oshikoya and Gladson Kayira (See World Bank 1989, p.x) who all carried out the study on behalf of the World Bank. Thus, in searching for the etymology of the concept of good governance, we have the objective conditions of the social, economic and political outlook of the African continent to examine. Hence it is believed that development institutions Worldwide have adopted it as a condition sine qua non for the granting of aids and loans to Africa and other developing countries of the world. Accordingly, in defining good governance, the institutional goals of World economic agencies adopt the view that emphasizes the economic dimensions and state’s capacity to effectively use their development assistance. Others, like the European Union sees good governance in terms of democracy while the West, in pursuit of their avid determination to dominate World politics will consider good governance in terms of international politics.

The Wikipedia defines good governance as “the process of measuring how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources and guarantees the realization of human rights in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard to the rule of law”. I think the Wikipedia has Africa in mind while espousing good governance in the manner shown above. We need not go any further!

Given the foregoing perspective of good governance, while it may be difficult to speculate on how good conventional paradigm of good governance is for Africa, it has become imperative for all practical purposes for African governments and institutions to begin to address the meanings of good governance within the context of prevailing local realities rather than allow it to the whims and caprices of neo colonial forces to use it as prescription for offering grants, aids and loans(with their attendant harsh conditionalities).

This therefore calls for the understanding of good governance from the following perspectives: political, environmental and Natural resource and Corporate Governance.

A. Political Perspective:

Good governance as often used in universal ways, is biased and has ideological underpinnings in its conception and theorization –because the politics of power and hegemony in the global arena largely influence how the concept is operationalized (Eyasu, 2006). This is probably why it has become normal that in contemporary discourse of good governance, commentators always begin with apologetic acknowledgements on how the term is a difficult one. In some cases, proffered definitions have been accused of being too loose while others have been rebuffed for being too tight. Of all, when subjected to the whims and vagaries of African realities, researchers appear to have been left too busy with intellectualizing the term rather than working towards materializing it. From a political perspective, one is of the opinion that: governance in the context of today’s Africa can be said to be good when power relations between those who govern and those who are governed are strongly cemented by the interest to promote sustainable human development. It could further be considered good when it effectively facilitates the generation and utilization of public resources in a manner that secures the human development imperatives of a particular African society. In fact, governance could be deemed good if those tasked with the responsibility to manage public resources and affairs exercise capability and willingness to account to the people on whose behalf they govern. At the same time, the governed must have adequate rights to participate in demanding for that accountability. Good governance is the whole set of crisscrossing and webs of human- development oriented engagements between the governed and those governing so far its result is geared towards a benefit of all.

B. From an Environmental and Natural Resource Perspective:

In a continent where natural resources are in abundance and human (ethnic) diversities appear to have become building-blocks for conflicts, blocks for conflicts, political impasses, social chaos and economic hardship; the conventional construct of good governance tends to become somewhat disparaging and utopian in its implementation. Considering that the natural resource management cultures vary from place to place in Africa, the enforcement of conventional good governance principles could be viewed in some places with suspicion. For instance, it may take different institutions, strategies or approaches for a system to convince the karamojong (of Northwestern Uganda) that not all the cows around them are truly theirs than it will take to convince the Fulani (of Nigeria) that not all green lands around them are permissible for grazing. It is particularly difficult for these people (and many others), with their various unique world-views, to have their immediate environments subjected to the conventionality of good governance as practiced in the advanced economies. Special cases like these, call for a mode of involvement of African communities that emphasizes on consensus and participation in a way that is practicable to them. It therefore means that the perception of good governance could be summed in the context of “processes.” Good governance could be viewed as the processes within which the public, especially where natural resources are situated, participate in ensuring and guaranteeing strategic and sustainable exploitation and benefits from the resources, in a democratic environment devoid of coercion. For this to work in most African states, it is submitted that it must be characterized by:

~Active and democratic participation of local communities (See the provision for Host Communities in the recently enacted Nigerian Petroleum Industries Act 2021 which creates the Host Community Development Fund)

~Transparent processes in decision-making and implementation

~Equitable and sustainable benefit from natural-resource proceeds to local communities

~Environmental integrity

~Absence of foreign intrusions or externalities that negatively affect local communities

~Periodic monitoring and evaluation of resource exploitation and benefit streams.

~Existence of legitimate institutions and processes to undertake auditable procedures.

This implies that the while national development is enhanced from the natural resources, at least, the local communities around the resource must at a minimum enjoy peaceful and direct improvement of their livelihoods and enjoyment of proceeds, in the long-term.

Through this, an economic upsurge that deepen and widen equitable resource distribution within African countries could evolve. By extension, the frequent emigration of thousands of the continent’s brightest and most skilled human resources to industrialized countries on a regular basis can be halted.

C. From a Corporate Governance Perspective:

Corporate governance is an important consideration for investors around the world. Integrating good governance into corporate governance in Africa, therefore, will produce greater business outputs. Considering that Africa is the forgotten continent for business, with its share of world trade too small and hugely concentrated on natural resources (Nganga et al., 2003), the continent’s corporate environment is usually viewed with suspicion. Jensen and Meckling’s (1976) identified two possible problems with corporations –from managerial moral hazard, due to lack of full ownership, managers are unable to capture the full benefits of their efforts and at the same time they do not bear the full costs of their actions. In most African countries, there appears to be high mix of business with state politics. Ownerships are in most cases concentrated around top-political elites. Other stakeholders, especially minority shareholders lack adequate legal and institutional protections. Although corporations do adopt International Accounting Standards (codes), they barely put them into practice. Hence, managerial deficiencies, abuse of discretion and self-succession problems are rampant in businesses in the continent. It is therefore submitted that good governance must play a role in aligning the interests of politicians, bureaucrats (principal) and the electorate (agents). Considering the varying corporate cultures, good corporate governance in Africa should imply the practice of business codes that embody processes and systems by which provider organizations are directed, controlled and held to account relative to their prevailing business cultures –so far shareholders’ values are legally maximized, ethically sustained and fairness is maintained within the system.

We can now look at the Characteristics and Pillars of Good Govern

There are several features of good governance which serves as pillars for the enthronement and sustainability of a governance systems that guarantees development for any country, African countries are not excluded.

According to the United Nations (UN), Good Governance is measured by the eight factors of Participation, Rule of Law, Transparency, Responsiveness, Consensus Oriented, Equity and Inclusiveness, Effectiveness and Efficiency, and Accountability.
2.1: Participation requires that all groups, particularly those most vulnerable, have direct or representative access to the systems of government. This manifests as a strong civil society and citizens with the freedom of association and expression.
2.2: Rule of Law is exemplified by impartial legal systems that protect the human rights and civil liberties of all citizens, particularly minorities. This is indicated by an independent judicial branch and a police force free from corruption.
2.3: Transparency means that citizens understand and have access to the means and manner in which decisions are made, especially if they are directly affected by such decisions. This information must be provided in an understandable and accessible format, typically translated through the media.
2.4: Responsiveness simply involves that institutions respond to their stakeholders within a reasonable time frame.
2.5: Consensus building is demonstrated by an agenda that seeks to mediate between the many different needs, perspectives, and expectations of a diverse citizenry. Decisions needs to be made in a manner that reflects a deep understanding of the historical, cultural, and social context of the community.
2.6: Equitability and Inclusiveness depends on ensuring that all the members of a community feel included and empowered to improve or maintain their wellbeing, especially those individuals and groups that are the most vulnerable.
2.7: Effectiveness and Efficiency is developed through the sustainable use of resources to meet the needs of a society.
2.8: Sustainability refers to both ensuring social investments carry through and natural resources are maintained for future generations.
2.9: Accountability refers to institutions being ultimately accountable to the people and one another. This includes government agencies, civil society, and the private sector all being accountable to one another as well.
These are the building blocks for good governance generally accepted as standards for measuring government performance across the globe. The question is, how well have these been operationalized within the continent of Africa?
With respect to the rule of law, which is one of the most fundamental ingredients of good governance, for instance, having an independent judiciary that guarantees the protection of the citizens’ rights have become a most challenging task due largely to the overbearing influence of the executive branch of government. This is almost an axiomatic truth across the continent.
However, the good news is that some countries are beginning to have a judiciary that can take bold decisions to reflect the Will of the people and restore confidence in the ability of its institutions to put a check to the impunity of other State’s institutions. I was gratified to note with abiding relief of the trajectory of the Malawian judiciary which according to President Lazarus Chakwera at the opening ceremony of this conference had ordered a rerun Presidential election in Malawi in 2020. It is instructive to note that, the Malawi Suoreme Court in May 2020, rejected the appeal of the incumbent President Peter Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission and upheld the order for a rerun Presidential election held a year before in which the Muharika won a second under very controversial circumstances. This was commendable as can be seen that the incumbent could no longer secure victory in the rerun Presidential election thus leading to the emergence of the incumbent President Lazarus Mctharty Chakwera as the President of the Republic of Malawi.
Earlier, this act of strong judicial activism has been demonstrated in Kenya by its Supreme Court in 2017. Opposition leader Raila Odinga had challenged the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and in a historic and unprecedented ruling by any Court in the continent of Africa the Supreme Court nullified the Presidential election and ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days after finding that the outcome of the August 2017 Presidential election was tainted by irregularities.
While these are commendable for a resurgence of new paradigms for electioneering in African, this posture needs to transverse the entire spectrum of the continent so as to re awaken a consciousness of a rule based governance as opposed to a governance system that is predicated on the whims and caprices of political actors or even remote-controlled by Western donors or the Asia aggressive agenda of economic colonization of Africa.
For this to happen, other institutions of governance needs rejigging for effective and efficient performance in a manner that yields transparency and accountability in government


Good governance is a product of effectiveness and efficiency by which government businesses are been carried out. Government businesses or activities are conducted by institutions of government and in particular the tripod of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

Section 5 is of the Nigerian Constitution 1999(as amended) vests executive powers on the executive branch. The powers are enormous and inheres in the President who carries out the functions through Ministers, Special Advisers and all institutions of state created by laws or executive fiats.

Now, looking at the former World Bank President, Barber Conable’s identification of the failure of public institutions as the bane of poor performance in Africa, one is therefore minded to agree that no meaningful development can inure in any country when the institutions of governance are at their all-time low in terms of performance and implementation of public policies.

Let’s take for example, the vexed issue of corruption which has become very cancerous in most government in Africa. The questions are: is it that no institution of government is responsible for implementing anti-corruption policies or laws? Or is there no policy on anti-corruption at all?

We all know that the outcry against corruption has been loud in almost every African country and even some development institutions like the International Development Association (IDA) have granted aids for anti-corruption strategies. Yet, what one can find is that in-spite of the avalanche of anti-corruption laws, policies and agencies the incidence of corruption haven’t abated in any significant degree. President Lazarus McCharty Chakwera Of the Republic of Malawi at the opening ceremony of the 2022 African Bar Conference underscored the relevance of laws and the courts when he said “We cannot have governance institutions strong enough to facilitate these goals(free trade, wealth creation, job creation, justice etc) without laws and courts that ensure that institutional corruption is never given a foothold. And we cannot defeat institutional corruption without laws and courts that ensure that public officers are held accountable through a due process that is more credible than the populist mob justice that disillusioned citizens are tempted to turn to”.

has remained a challenge to good governance.

Same can be said in the area of security, which has almost brought many African economies to their knees, poverty alleviation, budget and procurement processes, etc.

Almost all institutions of state in all sectors are managed in a most bizarre manner that they don’t reflect the idea behind their establishment. Worst still, there appears to be lack of political will on the path of government in many African nations to deal decisively with these institutional failures. Unless and until, government institutions are managed with strong political will (that does not condone any lapses) in such a way that only the rules determines the outcome of any policy implementation process rather than other mundane considerations, good governance might remain a mirage


The report of the African Good Governance Network (AGGN) earlier referred to postulated an African Governance Architecture that permits and endorsed the African Peer Review Mechanism as a stratagem for monitoring performance of government on a sectoral basis across Africa.

At the Technical Meeting on the African Governance Architecture, 15th to 17th March 2010 (Banjul, the Gambia), Mr. Chrysantus Ayangafac (Political Affairs, AU Commission) through a presentation, introduced the African Governance Architecture as the overall political and institutional framework for the promotion of governance in Africa. The meeting specifically introduced the following as the major pillars of African Governance Architecture:

• Pillar 1: Governance vision: shared values space and normative framework

• Pillar 2: Institutions and actors: various institutions with governance mandate. The sum of these actors form the institutional framework of the Architecture

• Pillar 3: Three-processes and interactions/ the governance platform- the third axis of the African Governance Architecture as constituting the process and mechanism of interactions.

The question then is what exactly is African Governance Architecture? In the recommendations that emerged from the AU, Yaoundé Working Session on APRM, there was a firm endorsement of the idea of the African Governance Architecture being developed as the framework for “facilitating coordination and complementarity, and information exchange on governance work in Africa.” In addition to placing Regional Economic Communities and AU Organs at the center of the Governance Architecture, the Yaoundé meeting also concluded that it was “essential that a governance platform or mechanism be established for further and ongoing dialogue on Governance” (Joiner, 2010, p. 2).

While we discuss good governance, it is noteworthy for all not to forget that the main governing body for Africa, the AU, has its own framework on governance which although in line with moving Africa forward, may not necessarily be said to be in line with the framework of good governance as established in the advanced democracies. The reality is that at the moment, the AU appears to be showing their dissatisfaction with the concept of good governance by endorsing another term, African governance Architecture (AGA), rather than African good governance Architecture. To further buttress this point: many of us might not have noticed this, but it is real. Right on the AU’s official website, one is welcomed by the introductory slogan – “an efficient and effective African Union for a new Africa.” This being a vision is important for Africa –as we definitely need effectiveness as well as efficiency in our continent. However, according to report from AGGN’s observer at the last AU-meeting held on this subject, it became clear that the concept of good governance is not gracefully embraced by AU. Instead, what appeared to be more appreciated was the notion of effective governance –a notion AU believes catches more realistically the imperatives of nation-building, stability and peace- building in Africa. The inference from this is clear –even though the economically advanced countries are working hard at preaching good governance to African countries, indeed there is still a genuine question about what the good in good governance entails to Africa.

Whether it be called good governance, a term most incessantly now in use, or effective governance as the African Union would to adopt, what we must therefore advocate include but not limited to the followings:


a. The exercise of political will by African political leaders to govern in strict accordance with the prescription of the rule of law, international treaty obligations (subject however to their ratification) and the constitution of their nations without any fear or favour.

b. The strengthening of the institutions of the Legislature and the Judiciary within African countries to enable them not only to be more independent but also to be able to check the excesses of the executive arm of government which more often than not undermine good governance objectives.

c. There must be organic consolidation of existing effective and efficient governance systems towards good governance.

d. Removal of obnoxious cultural barriers to good governance (e.g. gender, woman and child rights) without demonizing the cultural rubrics of the African societies.

e. Less dependence on the power and influence of external change agents and outside resources on African States and its people.

f. There is need for more emphasis on cultural and historical peculiarities of African States and peoples

g. There is need for more culturally sustainable institutional arrangements rather than wholesale imitation of governance systems obtainable in advanced democracies.

The concept of good governance has been considered in a somewhat discursive manner to set the tone for the discussion. However, the objective conditions in Africa suggest a long winding road to the peak of a governance system that guarantees transparency and accountability in government.

The various efforts of many a people, groups and even the continental body, the African Union (AU) if anything reveals the concerns about the prospects of good governance in many aspects of governance in Africa. In all of these, the African Bar Association and indeed all National Law Societies must remain eternally vigilant in checkmating the abuse of powers by the trustees of state power. They have the instrument of the Law to ensure that state institutions are not compromised to the detriment of the citizenry, for good or effective governance and only ensure when the social relations between the government and the governed results in benefits to the society.

The issues of Election credibility, peace and security and technology deployment in all aspects of governance particularly in elections in Africa will receive other experts consideration in this session.

*Dr Samson R. Osagie is a Private Legal Practitioner in Abuja, Nigeria. He also Lectures at the Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies(NILDS). He is currently the Chairman of the African Bar Association( Nigerian Forum)