Scientific Publication

APPP Discussion Paper No. 5. Researching the practical norms of real governance in Africa


This is a think piece (desk study) commissioned as an input into the APP programme design phase. All social-science researchers recognise that in Africa a particularly significant discrepancy exists between the official norms of the state and the public services on the one hand, and the behaviour of political elites and officials on the other. Terms like 'clientelism', 'neopatrimonialism' and 'informality' are used to characterise this discrepancy. But beyond what these terms convey the everyday operation of African states (what we call here 'real governance') remains poorly understood, particularly at the level of the delivery of public or collective goods and services. We propose to use the concept of 'practical norms' to focus attention on the question, to be addressed without value judgements, of what rules actually govern the actions of public actors. Examples of such practical norms suggest they are as far removed from the values and codes of precolonial Africa as from the injunctions and expectations of Northern development partners. The exploratory concept of practical norms signals the need for empirical research that is capable of capturing the complexity, variety, ambiguity and modernity of the behaviour of state agents in Africa