Good governance can have a positive effect on development – helping countries to create the necessary conditions for the proper functioning of markets, private enterprises, institutions and civil society. Many think-tanks, academics and international development and donor agencies, including the World Bank, devote substantial attention to good governance and its indicators.
As York Professor Joseph Mensah notes, however, there is a growing concern that the bulk of data on which the prevailing indicators of good governance is based derives almost exclusively from the perspectives of experts in the global North with little or no input from stakeholders in the South. In an effort to rectify this issue, the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec) in London, England, invited Mensah to help organize a two-day workshop in Accra, Ghana, to gather Ghanaians’ views on, and perceptions of, good governance. The workshop was held Jan. 18 and 19 with the hopes of extending the exercise to other commonwealth nations in the future.
Left: Joseph Mensah
Mensah was invited to help facilitate the workshop due in part to his role in a project led by the Global Development Network that aimed to discern which health programs in the developing world are effective enough to be replicated in other communities (see YFile, April 10, 2007). Last July, all of the African researchers who were part of the global project came together in Accra for a workshop Mensah led on disseminating their research findings. The publicity surrounding the workshop, and Mensah’s role in leading it, caught the attention of ComSec; they were eager to draw on Mensah’s expertise.
African countries seem to exhibit the greatest need for good governance, notes Mensah. Though a workshop on this topic could very well be conducted in any African country, Ghana was selected as the location primarily in recognition of its recent successes in democratic governance. It is also home to the Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration, which has a Graduate School of Governance, Leadership & Public Management well known for training many top-level managers and public servants in the West African sub-region.
To facilitate a comparative analysis among the commonwealth countries, ComSec narrowed its principles of good governance to five – accountability, transparency, predictability, capacity and participation. The goal of the workshop was to determine what sorts of indicators influence these principles and how these principles apply to commonwealth countries. A significant portion of the workshop focused on determining which of the five principles the country is lacking and which of the five are represented. Notable Ghanaian members of parliament (MPs) and ministers, including the Ghana minister of foreign affairs, as well as business leaders, civil society organizations and academics all took part in the discussions.
Right: Workshop participants
“Right away, it became clear to me that the five principles emanated from the global North and they box other countries into a particular conceptualization of good governance that may not always be appropriate or applicable to their own national context,” says Mensah, who co-led the workshop with Roger Koranteng, a governance adviser for ComSec.
Some of the questions explored by workshop participants included: What is the relationship between good governance and development? Is the relationship between the two one-way or recursive? Which indicators help create the principles of good governance identified by ComSec? Of the five principles, which ones do Ghanaians find more important? What principles would Ghanaians subtract or add to the five, based on their own national context?
“The workshop was a resounding success and received significant national press,” notes Mensah. “Some of the Ghanaian government officials and MPs who participated over the two days plan to conduct similar workshops across the country to help educate citizens about the need for good governance and institutional efficiency.”
Mensah is now tasked with producing a report for ComSec on how Ghanaians perceive good governance, based on the deliberations of the workshop. He will also conduct an intensive review of literature on the subject and offer context and a rationale for the selection and use of specific indicators and principles in Ghana.
“When you try to pin down what good governance means and determine its indicators, its illusory character becomes clear,” says Mensah. “The observation ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts’ – attributed to Einstein – perhaps sums it best.”
Mensah, who teaches in York’s Department of Social Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) and is coordinator of the International Development Studies Program, is busy with a number of other projects. In February, a second edition of his book Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Fernwood Publishing 2010) will be released. He has also been invited by the Alliance for Health Policy & Systems Research, part of the World Health Organization, to compete for funding on universal health financing. As part of the invitation, he will participate in a workshop in Cape Town, South Africa, in March.
Recently, Mensah was nominated for the LA&PS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
For more information on the good governance workshop in Accra or Mensah’s research, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kristin Taylor, communications coordinator, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies