This week in the African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular, we talk about economic development in Africa. In a broad study of nine African countries, Landry Signé examines innovation in development in his book, “Innovating Development Strategies in Africa: The Role of International, Regional and National Actors.” Signé kindly answered my questions about the book.
Kim Yi Dionne: As you observe in your book, both African and international development leaders invoke innovation in describing their development strategies. But how much have development strategies in Africa actually changed over the decades since independence?
Landry Signé: It depends on the way you think about innovation. In identifying innovation, most scholars focus on the content of development policy. They ask if a new development strategy is just “old wine in a new bottle,” usually on their way to explaining why a policy is doomed to fail. This substantive perspective often overlooks the slow-moving processes of some development innovations.
Most scholars have taken little interest in explaining development strategies in a procedural sense, at least when focusing on Africa. By procedural, I mean the forms, processes and mechanisms by which development strategies emerge, change and impact development outcomes over the long term.
My book examines both perspectives on innovation — substantive and procedural — and pays special attention to the lesser-explored one: procedural. Much of the research by scholars working from a substantive perspective find a lot of continuity in development…