Half of a Yellow Sun is the 2006 award-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It tells the story of the Biafra War through the lens of the dynamic relationships and torn lives of its star-crossed characters. Because none of the political events were changed, the book is imbued with ‘emotional truth’. It shows starkly how civil war has affected Nigeria to this day.
German novelist Thomas Mann said that, “Opinions cannot survive if one has no chance to fight for them.” Policy is the lingua franca that enables government to govern — to seek the truth, to execute action, to measure impact — within a politically-charged, public arena. What are the issues at stake in making policy that serves the public good?
Effective policy development depends upon a systematic, structured approach for managing changes in:
• Environment – factoring demographics, shifting centres of economic activity, rising citizen expectations, reduced trust in government, and budgetary pressures;
• Process – adapting just-in-time needs, complex cross-cutting issues, global and local perspectives, evidence and results, and enforceable solutions;
• Analysis – embracing stakeholder consultation and advice, problem definition, creative options, risk assessment, and best-balanced choices;
• Capacity – institutionalizing central government strategies, core professional competencies, and departmental capability reviews; and
• Relationships – aligning commitment, government priorities, the right people and expertise, and system-wide delivery focus.
But ‘the proof is in the pudding’. The latest World Bank review of Sub-Saharan Africa policymaking found uneven performance and lingering governance challenges. It examined 16 development indicators related to economic management, structural reform, social equity, and public institutions. Eleven countries strengthened their policy agenda, with Kenya topping the list. Twelve countries declined due to severe policy constraints, including South Sudan. Some recovering from conflict and political instability like Côte d’Ivoire demonstrated unexpected improvement.
The Bank observed that, “African countries with better policies tend to have higher economic growth. Macroeconomic stability can facilitate the emergence of a productive private sector. Conflict and instability can greatly affect the policy gains of non-fragile states as well. Governance continues to lag all other areas assessed, reflecting deep-rooted challenges.”
Policy is the ‘fruit of the spirit’ of good governance. Public policymaking can help bridge nations from dreams and plans to reality and results. In situ policy development and sovereignty over policy outcomes increase the chances of making progress count.