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  • Introduction to the Special Issue:The Politics of the Nonstate Provision of Public Goods in Africa
  • Danielle Carter Kushner and Lauren M. MacLean

The Expansion of Nonstate Provision of Public Goods and Services in Africa

Over the past several decades, scholars have noted the expanding role of many new nonstate actors in the provision of public goods and services around the world (Batley and Mcloughlin 2009; Cammett and MacLean 2014; Moran and Batley 2004). The nonstate provision of public services is increasingly important in Africa. Nonstate actors include such entities as intergovernmental organizations, international and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), multinational corporations (MNCs), for-profit businesses, neighborhood cooperatives, and community-based organizations (CBOs). Nonstate providers in Africa vary widely in size, scope, organizational makeup, and capacity, ranging from a handful of Presbyterian women enhancing local food security through their community garden in a rural village in Ghana, to the delivery of health services to Sudanese refugees in Kenya by World Vision, a Christian relief organization working in twenty-five countries in Africa.1 Nonstate actors play a range of roles across the continent; they finance, regulate, and deliver goods and services in a wide variety of sectors, from security to electricity, water, housing, education, and healthcare (Baker 2002; Cammett and MacLean 2011; Rose 2007; Sacks 2012).

Nonstate provision is not new in Africa, where most countries have long histories of nonstate provision. For example, since the precolonial era, many traditional authorities, village communities, producer associations, and religious groups have self-organized to help each other through hard times (Berry 1993; Dei 1992). Koranic schools developed as early as the ninth and tenth centuries in East Africa and the eleventh century in West Africa (Levtzion and Pouwels 2000; Robinson 2004). European trading companies created so-called castle schools to educate a small group of children [End Page vii] of African merchants and local chiefs at the slave forts on the Gold Coast (George 1976). Missionaries began arriving in increasing numbers throughout the 1800s, building schools and healthcare clinics, often collaborating with the colonial state (Jennings 2014; MacLean 2010).

Despite deep historical roots, nonstate provision in Africa today is much different than in the past. The numbers, diversity, and importance of nonstate providers have expanded enormously over the past several decades. The number of international NGOs has grown exponentially over time all over the world, with particularly rapid growth outside Europe. In Ghana, NGOs expanded from just more than eighty organizations in 1980 to 4,772 in 2010 (Atingdui 1995; USAID 2010). The increased role of for-profit companies and MNCs engaging in corporate social responsibility initiatives is reflected in the 100 percent increase in private primary-school enrollments during the 1990s in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank 2013).

It is not just academics and donors that are noticing the rise in the prominence of the nonstate provision of many public services. The Round 4 Afrobarometer survey conducted in 20082 reveals that citizens in many African countries believe that nonstate actors are primarily responsible for providing a range of critical public goods and services.3 These questions do not ask about citizens’ normative views of who should be responsible for service delivery, but instead ask citizens to identify who actually takes responsibility for providing goods like education, healthcare, and security. While the majority of citizens across all twenty countries included in this round of the survey report that either a central government or a local government is chiefly responsible for service provision, a substantial minority feels that nonstate actors such as traditional leaders and community members take the primary lead in service provision. With regard to education, close to one-third (30%) of Malawians and one-quarter of Tanzanians (23%) feel that nonstate actors are the key providers in this sector, but at least 10 percent of respondents identify nonstate actors as central to the provision of education services in several countries discussed in detail in our special issue: Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.

The significance of nonstate provision is reflected yet again in the health sector, with 10 percent or more of respondents from South Africa, Madagascar, Liberia, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and Mali reporting that nonstate...


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