2019 Social Policy in Africa International Conference

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The paradox of liberal democracy in much of Africa since the 1990s has been, on the one hand, the narrowing of the policy space in development and modes of securing the wellbeing of citizens, and on the other hand, the stabilization of electoral modes of governance. If the mass protests that in many countries saw the end of authoritarian single-party state and military rule were triggered by the mass entitlement failures imposed by the orthodox stabilizations policies of the 1980s, the electoral polity that emerged in the aftermath has not ensured the flourishing of wellbeing, significant reduction in poverty, reduced wealth inequality, and employment. Much of this is linked to the politics of neoliberal orthodoxy which locked out many policy instruments necessary for enhanced human wellbeing. The ‘good policies’ that are locked in are those that are framed by market-centric logic. The space for wellbeing enhancing policy instruments are further constrained by restraints and blockages imposed by extra-territorial forces, not the least in forms of ‘donor’ conditionalities.

If in the early phases of liberal democracy in Africa, the challenge was one of absence of policy choices (alternative to neoliberal orthodoxy)—what Mkandawire refers to as “choiceless democracy.” The challenge in the 21st century is the hegemony of market transactional logic and aversion for encompassing public provisioning among most African public authorities. The gap between choice over which politicians rule your state and which economic policy prevails is reflected in the dissonance between ‘constitutionalism’ and ‘popular sovereignty’; a gap between democracy as formal equality as distinct from substantive equality. The dominance of the conception and articulation of democracy, as ‘universal suffrage, regular elections and basic civil rights’ (Rudebeck), is held separate from ‘equality in actual practice’ in which popular pressure secures socio-economic rights and human flourishing. Also, there has been a shift in the mode of politics for the framing of popular sovereignty—a shift from organised, membership-based social movements, as mediating institutions between the individuals and the state, to non-membership based non-governmental organisations and middle-class driven advocacy organisations.

Date: 25 - 27 November 2019
Venue: Sierra Burgers Park Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa.

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Last modified: 2019/09/06