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  • Endris Mekonnen Faris

Persisting Challenges to Africa’s Social Policies


In 2022, 33 of the 46 nations on the United Nations’ list of least developed countries were in Africa, and this covers 61% of the continent. Data indicate the figure persisted relatively unchanged over the past several decades depicting Africa’s perpetual failure in addressing chronic social problems.

Politics both helps and impedes the development and realization of social policies, instruments that constitute the solutions to social problems. Policies intended to respond to pressing social challenges are all designed in a politically stable government. The longer the political stability a particular political society enjoys chances are mitigating solutions could see air. A conflict-riddled government deals primarily with issues of a power struggle that usually involve cliques of a belligerent group. The longer the conflict of a belligerent group undertakes the longer the upheaval the society is destined to suffer from.

As such Africa’s political instability accounts for, inter alia, the endless failures of the continent’s social policies. How really the post-independent African nation impacted by the politics pertaining to the social policies that aim to remedy chronic problems?

Outlook of African Politics Impacting Social Policies

Over the past several decades since the continent’s independence from the physical shackles of colonization, African politics has maintained a track of non-promising outlook. The 1960s wave of collective liberation from European oppressive dominance fell short of translating the momentum into a meaningful and sustainable peace and change in domestic and regional politics with few exceptions such as Botswana. Africa met with its failed transformation from freedom to political stagnation. A couple of selected predominant features explain the haunting African politics.

Forever wars

According to Geneva Academy, a platform that monitors more than 110 armed conflicts globally, as of 2022 Africa hosts more than 35 armed conflicts. The end of colonization in Africa ushered in an era of never-ending conflicts. Endless wars dominate the post-independence African political sphere. Africa’s conflicts go on. The continent’s forever wars keep running from the inferno Central Africa to the rebel-laden creeks of Nigeria’s petroleum-rich region that constitutes the largest water lands region on the African continent. Other corners of the continent are no different giving the impression that a good size of Africa’s countries are either home to active conflicts or are in a no-peace-no-war-zone political atmosphere. The pervasive wars led to the loss of millions of African lives over the decades and kept hampering social policies.

No democracy exercises

Nominally Africa’s most countries are democratic caused largely by the third wave of democracy in the 1990s which reflects Samuel Huntington’s theory of waves of democracy. Leading democratic institutions, for instance, constitutional courts and electoral commissions are known to have taken root on the continent. Nonetheless, this remains true only on paper and fewer Africans think the continent is democratic, and satisfaction with democracy continues even lower and dropping faster, according to Afrobarometer 2023.

Africa’s debilitating challenge arising from the sheer absence of a sound democratic exercise could be explained by the unchanged tradition of African leaders’ concern with staying eternally in power than with helping Africa exercise democracy. Concerns are alarmingly growing in recent years that Africa has been experiencing re-emergence of unconstitutional changes of government and the wave of coups d’état that began in 2020. The institutionalization of democracy in Africa saw tangible progress but the institutions’ functionality in terms of fostering democracy continues to face hindering factors pertaining to domestic politics. Where consolidated democratic exercises are absent, social policies keep holding lower ranks resulting in the perpetuation of entrenched social problems.

No sound cooperation

Africa has been witnessing an ever-widening gap between the number of cooperation platforms forged and their meaningful operationality. African states are increasingly interconnected through multiple regional and continental cooperative platforms. The connecting structures could theoretically serve the seamless reaching out of a particular state to another and cooperate. The question however is how sound African states’ ploriferating connections result in sound cooperation helping realize social policies.

Analysts converge on understanding Africa’s overall connecting platforms as institutional cacophony with poor levels of cooperation and inefficient coordination. Three leading factors explain pundits point out.

First and foremost comes the claim that cooperation appears to be strongly dependent on the nature of leadership and at the individual level. Cooperations could evolve and phase out depending heavily on the nature of the leaders’ political conditions rather than on the need to respond to dire challenges that affect cooperating states in common.

Secondly comes the lack of national and regional coherence. Given the glaring fact that African states that share borders also share social problems unique to their neighborhoods, coherence at national and regional levels continues to be the most neglected consideration. Observing a particular social challenge in national and regional terms would mean a strong sense of cooperation leading to a shared and meaningful solution.

There comes the third factor that has to do with the continent’s continued vulnerability. And that is the extreme dependency on external supports. European states and other international actors hold central positions in the self-cooperation platforms and activities African countries design. This has become substantial to the extent that the continent’s social policies have in essence been defined by external supports from the West. Whether or not Africa’s social policies are able to make a change on the ground needs a great reliance on support coming from abroad that is by far ineffective and loaded with interests that consider African social problems secondary.

Concluding remark

Africa’s primary challenge to ineffective social policies is political. The continent’s ever-complicating and poor politics hamper social policies. Figures underpin the devastating impacts the African politics inflicted the social policies. The state is central to the development agenda that gives the state the leading role in coordinating efforts through developing social policies to address challenges facing its society. The healthier the continent’s politics the more operational the social policies designed to address expansive social problems would be. And, that is not without a model example within the African continent where the prosperous and flourishing Botswana could commendably be mentioned. Botswana is one of the pioneers in developing and implementing layers of social policies that transformed the country to be a leading welfare state in Africa. Botswana’s achievement in the field of social policies is the result of functioning politics Gaberones continued enjoying since the 1960s after independence.


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