Building effective institutions in Africa: Ivor Chipkin’s insights from Kenyan TV interview


In a recent interview with Kenyan television station KUTV, Ivor Chipkin, co-founder and Executive Director of the New South Institute (NSI), discussed the Institute’s work in South Africa and its expanding global presence in the Global South, including regions such as the former Yugoslavia and South America. During the interview, Mr Chipkin shared insights from his recent work at NSI, which is in line with the Institute’s objective of strengthening democracies by building effective and accountable institutions.

Mr Chipkin highlighted the issue of state capture, which is closely linked to the institutional conditions that enable corruption. He emphasised the need to address lax legal requirements for senior officials, as this has allowed politicians to appoint loyalists to key positions. In this context, he mentioned the NSI’s recent report ‘Personalising and De-Personalising Power’, which assesses the near absence of professional criteria for the appointment of senior positions in the South African national government. Mr Chipkin noted that NSI’s research on strengthening institutions not only focuses on service delivery and related issues, but also seeks to understand how to improve the independence of institutions critical to the functioning of formal democracy, such as electoral commissions. This can be achieved by insulating them from political parties and preserving their autonomy and credibility.

While acknowledging the importance of service delivery to meet citizens’ needs, Chipkin also stressed the need to address citizens’ social grievances. He argued that if democracies fail to deliver what citizens need, authoritarianism will become more attractive to a growing number of people on the continent and around the world. He noted that the inability of governments to deliver services can exacerbate social grievances and protests, and stressed the importance of governments listening to their citizens and addressing the root causes of discontent. Ivor cited South Africa as a prime example where social protest is widely accepted as part of the democratic process, but the potential of protest to improve service delivery remains to be seen.

Mr Chipkin was also invited to comment on his thought-provoking opinion piece comparing the impact of corruption in China (where, according to some researchers, it has contributed to economic growth) and South Africa (where it has led to state capture and failures in public service delivery). In discussing his commentary, Chipkin challenged the idea that South African institutions and leaders are uniquely corrupt compared to the rest of the world. Drawing on Yuen Yuen Ang’s book ‘The Gilded Cage’, Chipkin expressed his intention to explore whether countries like South Africa and Kenya could make corruption work to their advantage, as China has done. He emphasised the role of institutional design in shaping different corruption outcomes around the world.

During the 30-minute interview, Mr Chipkin covered a range of other topics, which can be found on the NSI’s YouTube channel. These topics included the Institute’s focus on various policy areas such as migration, public service reform, security, institution building and welfare reform, among others. The interview provided a valuable opportunity for Mr Chipkin to share NSI’s goal of enhancing the reputation and capacity of public policy analysis in South Africa and beyond. It also provided an excellent platform for Mr Chipkin, on behalf of NSI, to express his hope for future collaboration and dialogue with Kenya and other African countries to address these complex issues.

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