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Economic Change and Political Liberalization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This volume is the published results of a colloquium on political liberalization which was held at Harvard in March 1992. The material is organized under four sections headed: Theoretical Perspectives; Case Studies (the longest section with six papers); Directions and a methodological Epilogue. In any work such as this there is the ever present danger that the concerns will be over-taken by events. This problem is avoided by focusing upon explaining the events of the early 1990s and rooting the material in an analytical approach based upon neo-classical economic notions such as rent-seeking and economic repression (i.e. the repression of 'natural' market tendencies towards equilibrium). Patrimonialism, patronage and corruption, allied to, and made possible by, the condition of economic repression, are concepts which inform many of the papers and so provide a common link. The approach is consistent and, on the whole, used rather than evaluated.

The two chapters of the first section, by R. H. Bates and B. Grosh respectively, set out the theoretical bases which inform much of the rest of the writing. Bates makes excellent use of the simple and well-known (static) supply and demand diagram to illustrate ways in which the suppression of prices interact on individual markets and then on the economy as a whole. Microdistortions have a macroeconomic impact particularly on government budgets, inflation and the demand for foreign exchange. Bates sees such interventionist policies transforming the neutral economy into a political machine, creating personalizm, patronage and ample opportunities for rent seeking. Grosh pushes the points home. In developing the idea of economic repression, and using the Ghanaian cocoa industry as an example, she illustrates how agricultural quasi-rents can be heavily taxed, in the short-run, without too much damage to production but only up to such times as assets need to be replaced, when production can suddenly implode. In imploded economies i.e. those in which economic repression has been pushed too far, resistance to economic liberalization collapses as the economy collapses, making the change-process more rapid than in sluggish economies.

The six case studies of the second section deal, in turn, with a comparison of reform in Anglophone and Francophone countries, with descriptions and analyses of Benin, Zambia, Cameroon, Tanzania and Ghana. The political economy, established in section one, is consistently pursued within tightly argued cases. Widner, in an interesting analysis of reform in French-speaking compared to English-speaking Africa, rejects the 'contagion theory' (p. 50). Differences in patterns are explained by differences in the ways in which the two groups allocated economic rents, tolerated 'parallel associations', organized voting and controlled the media. Institutional differences which spring from colonialism influenced the details of regime change. The relationship between one-party state, economic rent-seeking and change is examined by Westbee for Benin and Baregu for Tanzania. The inflation of the public service payroll in Benin exacerbated the banking crisis of 1988 and led to World Bank involvement. The Tanzanian case provides detailed background on the economic deterioration. Herbst's analysis of Ghana is of special interest since the country has been singled out recently by the World Bank as the African country in which policy reforms have gone the furthest. Reform was easier because the state had become economically secondary to the unofficial markets. State expenditure shrivelled as the tax base eroded in the 1980s. In the transition to freer economics, the existing state had few enough resources. However, Rawlings managed to increase the resource-base under PNDC rule, after moves towards a pragmatic economic policy. This may have given him some political leverage, especially in relation to the payment of the civil service.

'Governance' is the predictable main theme of the section headed 'Directions'. Rothchild considers the matrix of majoritarian democracy, elite power sharing, populism and corporatism. Democratization is seen as having longer-term advantages but the (unstartling) conclusion is that its achievement is likely to take more than one attempt. Crawford Young points the research agenda towards the dynamics of sustainability, an issue developed further in the final section in which Wilson reviews structuralist and nonstructuralist approaches to the study of political liberalization. Methodological discussion, tedious if either prolonged or divorced from a practical research context, is, in this context, useful. Structuralism is briefly contrasted with 'rational choice' in terms of a series of (obvious) advantages and disadvantages. Wilson calls for a research agenda that is comparative, conceptually clear and theoretically explicit (p. 267). Wilson locates this agenda is a modified structuralist approach which sees groups located within vertical structures but operating from unique niches.

In conclusion, this is useful work which develops interesting ideas, derived from a neoclassical approach to political economy, within the context of the political events of the Africa of the early 1990s. The network of interrelationships that it suggests and the comparative stance that it takes makes it of particular use to African Studies. Herbst sounds an important warning note about conclusions from the studies: 'We should be wary of making unwarranted assumptions on the basis of weak evidence' (p. 196). As with any really interesting and imaginative work, it needs further exploration, for example, with respect to both rent-seeking and rents achieved.

WILLIE HENDERSON University of Birmingham
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Author:Henderson, Willie
Publication:African Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1995
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