Is good Governance a framework for Political analysis? Asimiire Ritah Biirabo

KAMPALA —In a time of great change, accelerating globalization and increasing uncertainty, all countries, whether developed or developing, are searching for a new form of governance that is better adapted to the times so as to gain an advantage in economic competitiveness and create substantial and sustainable social growth.

As governance theory is becoming the dominant political theory in response to the change, the values backing the discourse and texts consistent with them have helped revise the theory of government in mainstream. When we comprehend governance theory based on the practice of public administration in Uganda, it strikes us how theoretically and practically important governance theory is for rebuilding the intellectual system of Uganda’s democratic politics, searching for an institutional platform for good governance, transforming the public policy-making model and getting rid of the practice in public administration in the process of market-oriented development that is inefficient, or even fails in many ways.

When trying to sum up what was happening in Africa in 1989, the World Bank used the term ‘‘crisis in governance’’ for the first time. Since then, governance as a word has been widely used in political development studies, especially for describing the political status of post-colonial and developing countries. By now, various scholars have come up with five major propositions on governance as theory. They are as follows:

  1. Governance refers to a set of institutions and actors that are drawn from but also beyond the Government. It challenges the authority of the State or the Government in the traditional sense and maintains that the Government is not the only power center of a state. As long as the power exercised by a public or private institution is recognized by the public, it is possible to become a power center at a specific level.
  2. Governance identifies the blurring of boundaries and responsibilities for tackling social and economic issues. It indicates that, in modern society, the State is transferring its once exclusive responsibilities to civil society (i.e., private sector organizations and voluntary groups, which are undertaking more and more responsibilities that were formerly in the hands of the State). As a result, the boundaries between the State and society and between public and private sectors are becoming increasingly blurred, as are definitions of their responsibilities.
  3. Governance identifies the power dependence involved in relationships between institutions involved in collective action. To be specific, every organization devoted to collective action has to depend on other organizations; to achieve its purpose, it has to exchange resources and negotiate a common goal with others, and the outcome of the exchange depends not only on the resources of each actor, but also on the rules of the game and the environment in which the exchange takes place.
  4. Governance emphasizes the importance of autonomous self-governing networks of actors. A self-governing network as such has the authority to issue orders in a certain sphere and work with the Government in this sphere and share its responsibilities for public administration.
  5. Governance recognizes the capacity to get things done without relying on the power of the Government to command or use its authority. In public affairs management, there are other management tools and techniques and the Government has the responsibility to use them to steer and guide public affairs (Stoker 1999).

From the aforementioned definitions of governance, we can see that, essentially, governance means exercising authority to maintain order and meet the needs of the public within a certain range.

The purpose of governance is to guide, steer and regulate citizens’ activities through the power of different systems and relations so as to maximize the public interest. In terms of political science, governance refers to the process of political administration, including the normative foundation of political authority, approaches to dealing with political affairs and the management of public resources.

It particularly focuses on the role of political authority in maintaining social order and the exercise of administrative power in a defined sphere.

Literally, there seems no great difference between ‘‘governance’’ and ‘‘government.’’ Yet semantically, they are vastly different. A prerequisite for correct understanding of governance is to distinguish it from government. As a political administration process like government by the State, governance also requires authority and power and ultimately aims to maintain a normal social order. Despite their similarities, there are two fundamental differences between them.

Fundamentally, or even essentially, the difference between the two is that governance requires authority but, unlike government, this authority does not necessarily come from organs of the Government. However, the authority for government is necessarily the State. The body of government is necessarily the public institutions in a society, while the body of governance can either be a public institution, a private one, or even a co-operation between the two.

Governance is the cooperation between a political state and its civil society, the Government and nongovernmental organizations, public and private institutions, which can be mandatory or voluntary cooperation. It is mainly characterized by contracting, rather than supervision; decentralization, rather than centralization; administration by the State, rather than redistribution by the State; management based on market principles, rather than management by administrative departments; cooperation between the State and private sectors, rather than being guided by the State. Therefore, governance is a broader concept than government.

From modern corporations to colleges and basic-level communities, all of them can do without government by the State, but not without governance, if they are meant to run efficiently and in an orderly manner.

Additionally, power runs in different directions in management processes. For government by the State, power runs top-down all the time as it exercises the political authority of the Government to implement one-way management on social and public affairs by issuing orders and making and executing policies.

By comparison, as an administrative process of interaction between the upper and lower levels, the body of governance manages public affairs through cooperation, negotiation, partnership, establishment of identity and common goals, etc. In essence, governance is cooperation based on market principles, common interest and identity. Its administrative mechanism does not rely on the authority of the Government substantially, but rather, the authority of a collaborative network.

Its power is multi-directional and two-way, rather than unidirectional and top-down.

Therefore, good governance is the active and productive cooperation between the State and citizens, and the key to its success lies in the powers participating in political administration. Only when citizens have sufficient political power to participate in elections, policy-making, administration and supervision can they prompt the State and join hands with it to build public authority and order.

Apparently, democracy is the only practical mechanism that can safeguard the fully free and equal political power owned by citizens.

Hence, good governance is organically combined with democracy. In an autocratic system, it is possible to have good government when the system is at its best, but it is impossible to have good governance.

Good governance can only be achieved in a free and democratic political system, as it cannot emerge without freedom and democracy.

Immature and essentially ambiguous as it is, governance theory is a breakaway from the traditional dichotomous thinking that has long been dominant in social sciences, i.e., market versus planning, public sector versus private sector, political State versus civil society and nation-state versus international community.

It regards effective administration as cooperation between the two; it tries to develop completely new techniques for public affairs management; it emphasizes that administration is cooperation; it argues that legitimate power comes not only from the State, but also from the civil society. The theory also deems governance to be a new practical form of modern democracy. Those are all its contributions of positive significance to political studies.

Based on the premise that the role of the State and state sovereignty are insignificant and the boundaries of nation-states are blurred, governance theory, especially global governance theory, emphasizes the nature of governance as a transnational and global activity.

The danger here is that undermining the important roles of state sovereignty and sovereign government in domestic and international governance might be regarded as a theoretical basis for the superpowers and multinationals to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries and promote their international hegemonic policies.

Therefore, we must keep a wary eye on the dangerous tendency of governance theory, especially global governance theory.

The writer, Asimiire Ritah Biirabo is the executive director of Equality Mission Uganda.

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