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A state may be simply defined as a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. Claude Ake (1992) defines a state as: The organized aggregate of relatively permanent institutions of governance. It is seen as a set of associations and agencies claiming control over defined territories and their populations. The main components of the state are, consequently, decision making structures (executives, parties and parliaments), decision-enforcing institutions (bureaucracies, parastatal organizations and security forces) and decision-mediating bodies (primary courts, tribunals and investigatory commissions). The character of the state in any particular country is determined by the pattern of organization of these institutions at specific points in time. The government is usually used interchangeably with the state but it however represents the people or officers in power who change from time to time but the state does not change.

The state plays a major role in the development of a country as it is the government/state that enacts key policies are key to economic success and development in a given country. There has however been a lot of contention especially in African countries about the role of the state in regards to development of a country. This is because many African states relied and still rely heavily on foreign markets and expatriates for development in the country. For example in southern Africa most post colonial states depended on expatriates for the formulation of national developmental plans that ran for 5 to 15 years. These plans were also still financed by foreign donors. A similar case was seen in Tanzania whose first phase of its ambitious 15 year development plan was funded by external powers with domestic funding being only a fifth of the raised capital. Hence the there is debate as to whether development is brought about by the state or by market forces that are independent.

The role of the state in development

The state plays the following roles that facilitate development in a country. These roles can be divided into the following categories: a. The role of the state in current development programmes
b. Development of good governance
c. Development of policies

Implementation of reforms

These reforms include structural adjustments in the country that manage and control pricing of commodities in the country. Also the state has the powers to control various institutions including private institutions. The state should aim at implementing stable property rights, enforcing the rules and laws of the land and elimination of corruption. The state should also provide supervision over the provision of public goods and services such as transportation and security.

Implementing development programs

The state plays a major role in implementation of development programs that form a back bone other which development takes place. For example in Tanzania there was implementation of a 15 year development plan with funding from both the state and foreign markets. In Kenya the vision 2030 is another good example of a state drive n development plan that aims at achieving development in the country through various started. The vision 2030 aims to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030.

The pillars for this 2030 development program include: economic pillar that is aiming at a 10% gross domestic product increase by 2012 by targeting tourism, agriculture, whole sale and retail trade, manufacturing, IT services and financial services.

The second pillar in Kenya’s 2030 development program is the social pillar. This pillar aims at investing in the people of Kenya in order to improve the quality of life for all Kenyans by targeting education and training, health, environment, housing and urbanization, youth and sport development, gender children and social development. The state’s role in improvement of these factors will have a direct influence in development in the country. For example the improvement of education by ensuring that all people receive formal education and professional training to create a pool of qualified work force that will supports the economic pillar of development and hence increase in the GDP.

The third pillar of the vision 2030 development program is the political pillar. This aims at moving into the future as one nation and envisions a democratic system that is issue based, people centred, result oriented and is accountable to the public. This pillar aims at creating a transparent and accountable government.

The vision 2030 for development has already commenced in Kenya with 120 transformational and flagship programmes across each pillar already in progress. This shows one of the roles of the state in implementing development programs and monitoring them.

Implementation of quality governance.

The state has the function of implementing stable rules and laws that govern the country. These rules protect property rights and create an entrepreneur friendly environment for local and foreign investment in the country.

Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between good governance and the level of per capita income in the country. Establishment
of quality governance leads to increase of per capita income in the country. A good example is China that has experienced exponential growth over the last decade. State-centred accounts attribute China’s economic success to the organizational capacity of local government to monitor and intervene to promote the development of township and village enterprises (Walder 1995). This has seen china change to a strong capitalist economy and by-pass other nations such as the former Soviet Union i.e. Russia that were the favourites to see increased economic and development growth. China boasts of a strong authoritarian national leadership and an elite state bureaucracy that pursues developmental goals and industrial policy (Wade 1990).

However this role of the state in development, that is the implementation of good governance has been criticized because in developing countries of which a majority of African countries are there are no resources to implement good governance. This is due to lack of adequate skilled man power and capital to implement close supervision of state development projects. There is also neglect of various areas when development is taking place with localized development of capital cities and major towns at the expense of national development. This leads to most developing countries shifting to economic marketism with privatization of most institutions and the role of development shifts from the state to the market forces and foreign influence that comes with its own disadvantages in that development in the region in a situation of minimal state intervention remains low when compared to the era of economic nationalism, which seems to have recorded higher levels of social development (Khabele, 2002).

Implementation of policies

The state has the role of implementing policies that increase development and economic growth in a country. In most developing countries the policy challenge is not to get the state out of the way on the assumption that a capitalist market economy is already in existence and that the problem is to make it work better by removing excessive government regulation. The policy challenge is to create market and this should be reinforced by the state. The state should formulate policies that will ensure innovation in the
country, structural transformation in terms of infrastructure and industrialisation; policies that will ensure creation of jobs for the people of the country and hence aid to lower poverty in general and increase per capita income in the country. The state has the role of implementing policies in Kenya that will shift the policy in agriculture from neglect of the agriculture sector to active support to farmers through rural infrastructure, developing of linkages between agriculture and other sectors such as foreign exchange and industries. The government should also implement policies to aid in financing agricultural projects and improve the use of technology in agriculture. The Kenyan population rely heavily on agriculture for income and concentration on this resource can increase development in a country. The state also has the role to implement industrial policies that will enable increase in industries and manufacturing in a country. It should also ensure proper attention is paid to the education and training system in the country so that there is a pool of workers for the industries. Increase in industrialisation leads to economic growth and hence developments. The state should also implement good trade policies both locally and internationally. Good trade policies supplement the industrial policy and support the trading environment to maximize on the attractiveness of a countries products and services in the region and globally. Lack of implementation of proper trade policies can hinder economic development and development. A good example is Zimbabwe that had failed to implement a comprehensive national trade policy. This lead to the decline of export earnings by 49% from US$2.6 billion in 1997 to around US$ 1.3 billion in 2008. This limited export of good lead to increased foreign debt of about 25.3% of the GDP in 2001 that greatly hindered economic development in the country. (Khabele et al 2002) the government of Zimbabwe has now realised the need for implementation of proper national trade policies in order to successfully participate in regional and global market. Zimbabwe has now implemented the National Trade Policy whose policy vision is to have trade as the engine for sustainable economic growth and development in Zimbabwe.


The role of the state in development has been an issue of heated debate at theoretical and policy arenas in the African especially since the attainment of independence of most of the countries. Two main alternative or contrasting development agendas that have driven the debate were those of the nationalist political elite or the state (economic nationalism) on one hand and those of foreign capital (economic marketism) on the other. State intervention, as a key policy thrust of a development process is much stronger in respect of economic nationalism, which in itself is an expression of the political commitment of African states to chart independent development paths for their countries. However the role of the state in development is not independent of marketism as foreign and local markets play a huge role in the development process. The ideal situation would be for the state, foreign markets and private sectors to work together I good relation to ensure development in the various African countries.


1. African Development Indicators, Drawn from World Bank Africa Database, The World Bank, Washington D.C., 2001 2. Ake, C., ‘Democracy and Development in Africa’; The Brookings Institution, Washington DC., 1996 3. Khabele M., ‘The role of the state in development in SADC region’; council for development in Africa, Ghana, 2002 4. The ministry of Industry and commerce of Zimbabwe data base: ‘www.miit.gov.zw/policies’, 2012

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