Africa's "Best Practices"

I visited Ghana recently and like many others left asking: how can a "developing" country be developed? But there was something troubling about this formulation, in particular with the word "developing," which is often a euphemism for the absence of economic development. Do countries stop developing because outsiders are so intent on developing them?

My hosts, the Kweku Hutchful Foundation, invited me with a different question in mind: How can Ghanaian leaders be developed? Something troubled me about this formulation, too. It was that word "development" again.

Do we really "develop" leaders or countries? Do multinational companies, international non-governmental organizations, and multilateral lenders really understand local needs? Just because some "best practice" works in New York, does that mean it will work in Accra, Ghana? Imagine how American managers would react to consultants arriving from Ghana with their "best practice": "It worked in Accra, so it is bound to work in New York!"

Of course, there is a prominent example of just that: Kofi Annan, under whose stewardship the UN has undergone a remarkable improvement. Annan spent most of his career outside of Ghana, and had some of his higher education in the US. But, as one of Annan's advisors once put it, he "runs the UN like an old-fashioned African village, with long discussions among the elders, periods of reflection, and eventually a decision."