Best essay competition 2014

Below we publish the two best assignments of the students attending our STL220 Governance and Development course.




How can we use governance systems to overcome problems of cooperation and free riding in politics?

Benedikt John

If one would take a step back, venturing an unprejudiced glance at the current state of affairs on our planet, one would easily recognize that there is something inherently wrong. We humans, having narcistically declared ourselves to be the pride of creation, are just about to destroy the foundation onto which our lives are tied irreversibly, being our world itself. However the failure to tackle world-wide climate change closely associated with the degradation of our planet constitutes only one of the manifold consequences that originate in problems of cooperation in politics like the collective action problem, the tragedy of the commons and the problem of free-riding. Being aware that there are other problems of cooperation, like the few vs. many paradox for example, this paper will focus, due to the limited word account, only on the previously mentioned issues. For this reason this paper intends to elucidate the above-named problems of cooperation. Having done this, governance systems will be presented as conceivable methods of resolution to the identified phenomena. Finally a short evaluation, taking into account the previously presented line of argumentation, will be given.

Social Dilemmas

Collective action problems, or social dilemmas, are commonly referred to as situations where individuals are in conflict between their own interest and the common or group interest. Since individuals are regarded to tempt maximizing their personal benefit(Homo economicus) they do not act to achieve their group interests. Resulting from this, the whole group winds up with nothing or less than if all the individuals constituting the group would have acted in an other-regarding way(e.g Dawes 1980).

“Thus the customary view that groups of individuals with common interests tend to further those common interests appears to have little if any merit”(Olson 1971: 2). In this vein, as illustrated by Garrett Hardin’s(1968) theory of the tragedy of the commons, individuals act obverse to their groups long-range interest by exhausting common resources. In practice this phenomenon has often been associated with climate change, sustainable development and problems of pollution.

A common feature of each of the last-mentioned issues represents the absence of a clear allocation of property rights or generally accepted behavioral rules. This originates practically in their nature which can be related to the nature of common goods, being characterized by non-rivalrous consumption and non-excludability. As in these cases property rights or behavioural rules are not clearly defined and enforced, “the individual motivated by self-interest has an economic incentive to free ride”(Pasour 1981: 453, emphasis added). A free rider in turn is commonly defined as an individual enjoying a benefit resulting from a collective effort, however contributing little if anything to the effort.

Having defined the basic problems of cooperation it can be claimed in the end of this chapter, that the strain between ‘rational self-interested choice’ and successful cooperation, depicts the linchpin of the debate of social dilemmas. Hence, the question arisis, how society can overcome the ‘corrupting’ influence of rational self-interest and obviate the consequences of social dilemmas.

Governance as the solution to social dilemmas?

To govern behavior in situations of social dilemmas a great range of institutions(formal and informal rules, behavioral codes and norms that constitute prescriptions ordering repeated, interdependent relations(Kjaer 2006: 8f, emphasis in the original)) have been successfully developed. Given that governance has been frequently defined as “the process of institution building” it logically follows that governance systems are able and useful to solve social dilemmas (Lecture notes). Governance, being “the multifaceted and multilevel process whereby different actors in society, both public and private nature, interact to shape decisions”, determines the formal and informal rules of society (Lecture notes). In consideration of the fact that “we are all constrained by cultural values and norms”, brought about by governance systems, human “choices are bounded by what is appropriate, but we choose among the permitted actions using a logic of consequentialism”(Kjaer 2006: 8). On this account, institutions, that define what is appropriate and make actions predictable, are crucial with regard to solutions of social dilemmas.

If once an issue characterized by a social dilemma has been identified by an actor in society, be it the government, an NGO or most unlikely a corporate actor, there are different solutions to overcome the problem. In this regard most often systems of mutual coercion have been put forward to overcome patterns of rational self-interested behavior(e.g. Hardin 1968). The government could for example coerce the desired behavior by penalties, restrictions, quotas or privatization(Lecture notes). In this connection for instance Hardin offers the example of the institution of the complete prohibition of bank robbery(Hardin 1968: 1248). More moderately governance systems could offer positive incentives, build trust among society and seek the policy buy-in of all concerned(Anheier 2013: 25, Lecture Notes). That way governance systems are capable of gradually establishing behavioral norms of conduct that can prevent undesired behavior.

Concluding this chapter however one has to acknowledge that there are equally several reasons that might prevent the establishment of successful institutions. For example the establishment of the institution is very likely to be a social dilemma itself, individuals may not have the same priorities for institutions and institutions might be disfunctional since they need to be trusted but have to be functional before people trust them(e.g. Linchbach 1997, Miller 2000, Rothstein 2000).


To take up the initial point of this paper, being the global degradation of our planet, it has to be noticed that even, as demonstrated in this paper, systems of governance are capable to overcome social dilemmas, there has to be done more to secure the future of our children and grandchildren. As cited in Hardin following the words of Hegel “Freedom is the recognition of necessity” I believe it is time to set out to fight the global degradation of our planet in every sense(Hardin 1968: 1248). However due to the absence of a world government and therewith coercion at a global level, while states are pursuing the realist notion of absolute gains I struggle to forecast the speedy and irresistible advance of change.


Anheier, H.K. 2013. ‘The Governance Report 2013; Hertie School of Governance; Sovereignty, Fiscal Policy, Innovations, Trade-offs, Indicators’. 2013. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 33-58.

Dawes, R.M. 1980. ‘Social dilemmas’. Annual Review of Psychology 31(1), pp. 169-193.

Hardin, G. 1968. ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. Science, New Series 162(3859), pp. 1243-1248.

Kjaer, A.M. 2006. Governance. London: Polity Press.

Lichbach, M.I. 1997. The cooperator’s dilemma. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Miller, G. 2000. ‘Rational choice and dysfunctional institutions’. Governance – An international Journal of Policy and Administration 13(4), pp. 535–547.

Olson, M. 1971(1965). The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Pasour, E.C. 1981. ‘The Free Rider as a Basis for Government Intervention’. The Journal of Libertarian studies 5(4), pp. 453-464.

Rothstein, B. 2000. ‘Trust, social dilemmas and collective memories’. Journal of Theoretical Politics 12(4), pp. 477–501.



From an academic perspective, is the African Renaissance agenda a necessary policy for nation building in order to contribute to the project of transformation in South Africa post-1994?

Ryan Dalton

The concept of the African Renaissance has raised epistemological and historical dilemmas in post-apartheid South Africa. Several questions have entered popular discourse, namely “who? And what is African? And what is African about the African Renaissance? As the new policy agenda of the post 1994 government these questions will be addressed as well as the Afro-pessimistic and Nativist interpretations of the concept. The call for the African Renaissance has been made at a unique historical juncture; offering the fruits of globalizations and a new path of development, free from colonial rule. However, without substance the concept will tear, rather than sow the nation together; negating any hopes for transformation.

The African Renaissance

The African Renaissance represents the national vision and policy directive taken by the government in South Africa (Ramose 2000: 48).The term can be traced back to the writings of Cheikh Anta Diop (Ujaama 2002) and has since been a common idea shared by African liberation activists in their struggle for the continents emancipation (Mbeki 1999). More (2002: 62) argues that the call for the renaissance has led to two popular conceptions of “the return” in post-apartheid South Africa. The Afro-pessimist interpretation depicts “the return” as a regressive event whereby African states in the absence of colonial rule are destined to revert to a Hobbesian state of nature, characterized by lawlessness violence and corruption.

The second and more liberal notion is held by Nativists. In contrast to the Afro-pessimistic and predominately western view of Africa, Nativists argue that pre-colonial Africa was a complex civilization; rich in the arts and culture and advanced in science and technology (More 2002: 73-74). The African Renaissance is seen as a progressive and emancipatory process where Africans establish a mind-body connection to a point in the past to construct a positive epistemological framework for confronting post-apartheid/post-colonial realities.

Transformation can only occur when there is a fundamental change in identity or inner nature (Collins 1966: 274); where new paradigms are created and people adopt lenses of knowledge which challenge and uproot old structures (Dazsko and Sheinberg 2005). The view adopted by the paper and articulated by Van Hensboek (2001: 7) is that the potential of the Renaissance may not lie in a fixation with a pre-colonial past. Instead, it seeks to critically and creatively appropriate classic values and traditions embedded in African culture and surpass them; reawakening the creative spirit, ending old ways and igniting the desire for progress (Vale & Maseko 1998:278).

The alternative position incorporates the emancipatory elements of the Nativist perspective, without falling on essentialism, whilst offering an anti-imperialist platform to challenge negative western images of Africa.

African identity

During apartheid “African” was a racial category referring to the black indigenous people of the African continent. Black Africans were placed in a multifaceted system of racial oppression under white minority rule (Jordan 1997). To draw from Steven Biko’s Black Conscious philosophies; “black” will not equate to “African”, instead it denotes all those who have suffered under colonial domination and have been denied the privileges accorded to whites (Van Vuuren 2000: 75).

“African” should be the viewed as a stream of conscious, and as a shared mode of thinking that encompasses the commonalities existing in different African experiences (Smith 2008: 3).The term will be used broadly, as an overarching container for the multiplicity of identities on the continent. Creating a monolithic African identity enables national and personal identities to function in harmony; one can be a Zimbabwean, white, male, yet refer to themselves in general as African. Even where there are concepts that do not necessarily fit the African condition a solution may exist in African reconstructions and reinterpretations. In Nkrumah’s writings of “The African Personality” he states that the continents encounter with Europe is a part of the African experience (Ramose 2000: 56), thus adopting elements of European discourse or otherwise, can enhance rather than oppose the stream of African conscious.

The conditions posited by the paper to claim “Africaness” is that one must be born of the African continent and believe that they are African. The test is simple. If one had to ask a person born on the African continent if they are African, and they reply in the negative; then they are not African; analogous to the dictum “We are Africans not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us” (Higgins 1994: 10).

Nation Building

The idea of the African Renaissance alone cannot foster a sense of national identity: where the political community of South Africa shares a conscious sense of belonging to the nation. Then Deputy President, Thambo Mbeki stated that nation building entails “the construction of the reality and the sense of common nationhood which would result from the abolition of disparities in the quality of life among South Africans” (Mbeki 1998). The policies stemming from the agenda will need to address the plethora of social ills facing ordinary South Africans.

Policies are the tenets and courses of action taken by government to achieve specific goals and objectives (Roux 2002: 420). In South African politics the institutions of the office of the Presidency, Cabinet and the structures of the ruling party, the ANC serve as the most powerful policy makers (Booysen 2001: 250). In terms of policy content the African Renaissance remains an empty vessel (Maseko and Vale 1998: 276) and “ void of content it can easily be filled by those in search of an ideology to justify their own selfish pursuit of power and privilege” (Van Kessel 2001: 51).


Post 1994 South Africa is transformable. It contains the seeds of transformation but they have yet to blossom. The African Renaissance is a necessary policy for nation-building. However, it requires all facets of society to pursue transformation as defined in the paper, otherwise the realization of Africa’s rebirth will remain an idea, rather than an event which the future children of Africa will remember.


Booysen, S. 2001. Public policy-making in South Africa, in Venter, A and C Landsberg (eds), Government and Politics in the New South Africa, Second Edition Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.

Collins. 1966. Collins National Dictionary: 60 000 References. London: Williams Collins Sons & Co.Ltd.

Daszko, M. and Sheila, S. 2005. SURVIVAL IS OPTIONAL: Only Leaders With New Knowledge Can Lead the Transformation. Internet: . Accessed 30 August 2014.

Higgins, C. 1994. Feeling the Spirit. New York: Bantam Group.

Jordan, P.Z. 1997. The National Question in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Internet: Access 3 September 2014.

Maseko, S. & Vale, P. 1998. South Africa and the African Renaissance. Royal Institute of International Affairs, 74(2):279.


Mbeki, T. 1999. Speech at the Launch of the African Renaissance Institute, Pretoria October 11 1999. Internet: Access 22 August 2014.

More, M. 2002. African Renaissance: Politics of Return. Internet: in Access 17 August 2014.

Ramose, B.M. 2000. African Renaissance: A Northbound Gaze. Access 12 September 2014.

Roux, N.L. 2002. Public policy-making and policy analysis in South Africa amidst transformation, change and globalisation: Views on participants and role players in the policy analytic procedure. Internet: Access 3 September 2014.

Smith, K. 2008. Has Africa got anything to say? African contributions to the theoretical development of International Relations: a preliminary investigation. Internet: . Access 20 August 2014.

Ujaama,I. 2002. REVIEW: CHIEKH ANTA DIOP. TOWARDS THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE.  Internet:;wap2. Access 22 August 2014.

Van Hensbroek, P. B. 2001.African Renaissance and Ubuntu Philosophy. Internet: Access 3 September 2014.

Van Kessel, I. 2001. IN SEARCH OF AN AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: An agenda for modernisation, neo-traditionalism or Africanisation?. Internet: Access 14 September 2014.

Van Vuuren, V. 2000. African Renaissance: a monochrome or rainbow vision? Internet: Access 12 September 2014.


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