Governance in Developing Countries

There are many problems of governance in developing countries, as they undergo a rapid industrial revolution with immature political systems

Some developing countries are experiencing an Industrial Revolution, with all its attendant social changes, at breakneck speed.  This gives rise to many governance problems:

●  Sources of supply can develop very rapidly to adapt to new demands if they are allowed to (3.3.2), but politicians need to ensure that the necessary regulations keep pace (3.3.1).

●  The history of colonialism is outside the scope of this book, but its legacy continues to be relevant.  Many developing countries were colonised historically.  William C. Johnstone’s article, Legacies of Colonialism, points out the difficulties that these countries faced when the coloniser departed:

“The fact is that the new ex-colonial nations have to live with the legacies of their colonial past.  … colonial government was authoritarian, continuing the traditions of the past with which the people were familiar.

…Few seeds of the idea of nationhood, of a citizen’s responsibility for his government. were planted or allowed to flourish by colonial governments.

…Group identity and group loyalties whether based on religion, language, race, or location were usually strengthened or reinforced under colonial administration. This policy made it easier to prevent disorder and quell any serious opposition.

…Education in the colonies was not designed for the masses. Nor was it developed to produce the large number of administrators, specialists, technicians, and skilled persons needed by a colony when it became an independent nation.”

●  Education is essential for an industrial workforce, whereas many rural populations have high levels of illiteracy.  It is a huge logistical challenge to gear up the capacity of the education system and there are signs that India, for example, is not succeeding in meeting the challenge. The Economist article, Indian education: Why the world’s biggest school system is failing its pupils, noted that:

“More Indians are attending school than ever before. But they are not learning much”.

●  There are huge population movements from the countryside to the cities, requiring major infrastructure investments.  The Dharavi slum in Mumbai, which was the setting for the film Slumdog Millionaire, is a vivid example of what happens when people move into a city before there is housing available for them.  An Economist article, A flourishing slum, describes the dreadful conditions there.

●  The growing industrialisation can create pollution problems, as described in The Economist article, Pollution in China: Man-made and visible from space.

●  Enormous economic inequalities can emerge, as in India. The Economist article, India has a hole where its middle class should be, draws attention to political risks: “Eight in ten Indians cite inequality as a big problem, on a par with corruption”. Resentment might emerge, although in India there has been a long experience of inequality due to the operation of the caste system.  Poor people are more likely to accept these gross inequalities in the 21st century if they feel that their children have a chance of achieving success – but, as noted above, Indian education is sub-standard.

These problems are huge, but not insuperable.  Duncan Green’s book, From Poverty to Power, Edition 2: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World, uses case studies to describe ways to transform governance in developing countries:

“Active citizens and effective states are driving this transformation. Why active citizens? Because people living in poverty must have a voice in deciding their own destiny and holding the state and the private sector to account. Why effective states? Because history shows that no country has prospered without a state structure that can actively manage the development process.”

Politicians in developing countries can also offer incentives, as suggested below (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6762a.htm.