The Developmental State Strikes Back? The Rise of New Global Powers and African States’ Development Strategies

With the arrival of new players such as China and other emerging economies, the developing landscape is changing. The project addresses the question whether the African states are able to take the lead on the planning of development programmes and if the new players represent alternative models.

​About the project

  • Background

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    Since the early 2000s, significant changes occurred in three important dimensions of global development politics: (1) A shift in global discourses and practices of development in the post-Washington consensus marked in particular by return to state-centered planned development; (2) The opening up of the ‘donor market’ with the arrival of alternative sources of financing, especially trough Chinese aid/investments, but also with new players such as Brazil, Morocco, Turkey, etc.; (3) A drastic change in the economic situation of most African economies, marked by an unprecedented period of rapid growth. These various transformations provide African states with new room for manoeuvre to take the lead in their own development strategies.

  • Objectives

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    The research project "The Developmental State Strikes Back? The Rise of New Global Powers and African States Development Strategies” aims to question the return of the developmental state in Africa. To this end, it looks at how African States define their development priorities in a context where their room for maneuver has expanded, and whether and how this impacts established structures of power.

    This project is structured around three sets of research questions corresponding to three different levels of analysis.

    1. New development discourses: At the macro level, we seek to understand the ongoing shift in international development discourses and policies, questioning in particular how the state is (re-)emerging as an engine of development. The transition away from the Washington consensus has been the object of a growing body of literature. The following research questions will guide our macro level analysis: How is the transition away from the Washington consensus playing out in global development discourses and policies? Does the arrival of China and other emerging global powers on the global development scene have an impact on these changes? How influential is the Chinese ‘high modernist’ development model on the design and implementation of developmental plans and strategies in Africa? How do African states conceive of their modernising role in this new context?

    2. New actors, new ways of financing and new practices of development: At the meso level, we aim to capture the diversification of African practices of development over the past ten to fifteen years in two dimensions. On the one hand, in our countries of focus, we will study how African governments implement their development strategies taking into account the multiplicity of global players that open new opportunities for material or financial support. What kind of influence do the type and the condition of funding have on the actual development strategies? Are African states able to take the lead on the planning of development programs by playing out the competition between ‘new’ and ‘traditional’ global players and the increase of their own financial support? Do China and other emerging global powers represent alternative models of development? How are development expert influenced by these models?

    3. New projects and development governance: Finally, at the micro level, we concentrate on development projects in the two partner countries. By focusing on a few major infrastructure projects we will be able to better understand national development strategies from below. We will consider these projects both in their obvious infrastructural dimension and as symbols of a particular vision of development. Are they just an engine of economic growth in a development strategy articulated with industrial or pro-growth policies? What are their other dimensions – political, symbolic, rhetorical? By studying the history (conception, funding, realisation) of these projects we will be able to understand the real meaning of the discourse on emergence. To this end, we will answer the following research questions: What kind of effects does the return of the developmental state model have on governance structures and power relations in Africa? To what extent are economic growth policies and investment strategies driven by a developmental agenda? What are the links between the return of the developmental state and the construction of legitimacy for African states and regimes, both nationally and on the international scene?

  • Relevance

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    This research project addresses one of the key issues facing African states and societies in this century: how to support economic growth whilst ensuring social and human development as well as political stability in a changing environment. With the synthesis of our findings, it ultimately aims to provide a basis for new ways of intervening for development and of delivering pro-poor policies more effectively.

  • Highlights and most important results

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    Our research shows that the idea of a central role of the state in development is in many respects a shared basis for most of the development plans issued by African states during the past fifteen years. It constitutes a commonly accepted prerequisite to achieve African emergence. In many ways, this return of the state in Africa is reminiscent of the social engineering of development of the 1960s and the 1970s. However, it occurred in a context marked by a shift in international development discourses and policies, from the “Washington Consensus” to the “Post-Washington Consensus”. This paradigm is mainly characterized by a new balanced role of state institutions in state-markets relations, in which both act as drivers of development. As such, the contemporary African developmental state is not an avatar of what it was used to be, but a particular historical expression.

    Our investigations carried out in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon show that the development landscape has been profoundly transformed by the diversification of international donors, which occurred in the last fifteen years. In this very new diversity, China, in particular, stands out in both countries as a privileged partner. Its influence is already expressed on many levels. At the level of development models, the Asian experience in general, and that of China in particular, is omnipresent, either in the discourses of development experts, or in planning documents. However, our research indicates that theses imported models go through a process of critical appropriation. At the level of practice, the arrival of new global powers in Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire has led to major transformations, foremost among which is the return of large infrastructure projects as a basis for economic development. In many ways, these projects give shape to the developmental ambitions of African states. Our first observations also allow us to argue that the arrival of a multitude of new international donors has accompanied an increase in the margin of manoeuvre of the African States in the definition of their priorities in matters of development. The next months of research will allow us to better define the modalities and the scope of this increase in the margin of manoeuvre of African states.

    Finally, the research carried out on specific case studies allowed us to apprehend the new African developmentalist state from below. One of the first results that emerged in this first phase of research is that of a clear disconnect between the announcements and developmental ambitions of African states, and the achievements of the latter in the field. This disconnect reveals the presence and influence of other types of logic and interests, which are expressed in the different daily stages of the realization of these projects. Our project researchers are currently trying to identify the mechanisms and concrete logic of public action in these sectors.

  • Geographic scope

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    • Cameroon
    • Côte d'Ivoire
    • Additional case studies from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Burkina Faso
  • Project website and link to P3

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