Debating Developmental States in Africa: Reflections on Culture and Civil Society in Botswana

Gbenga Emmanuel Afolayan


The debate about developmental states raises numerous conceptual and contextual questions. Beginning with a critical reflection on the export of ‘developmental states model’ from Asia to Africa, this paper—which considers the emergence of developmental states—explores questions of increasing significance across Sub-Saharan Africa: What might “developmental states model” actually mean in post-colonial Africa? How much component does the concept of developmental states have? How can we relate this discussion about each developmental state within the wider debate about developmental states in Sub-Saharan Africa? How does it engage with local cultures and civil society? This article addresses these questions by providing the conceptual explanations of developmental states as well as their features, before considering  the potency of culture and civil society. It further explains the conditions that favour the emergence of developmental state in Botswana. The article will argue that the conditions that have significantly favoured Botswana’s post-colonial economic success are: legitimate state-apparatus, good governance and democracy, commercial customs, strong property rights, and inter-ethnic harmony. The article concludes that the peculiar case of Botswana’s success is not only located in its economic system but also, in particular, in its culture (Tswana) which was developed before and during the colonial period. This particular factor has significantly helped other factors in shaping Botswana’s post-colonial developmental accomplishments. 

Keywords: Developmental State, Culture, Civil Society

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