Scott Taylor studies role
of African business groups

Problems with economic development and frustrated attempts at democracy have plagued Africa since the era of independence in the 1960s. In his dissertation, doctoral candidate Scott Taylor, who teaches political science under a Dean's Teaching Fellowship, uses case studies from Zambia and Zimbabwe to examine the role private sector business associations may play in promoting economic development and democracy.

Taylor spent a year in Zambia and Zimbabwe conducting research at the national archives, newspaper archives and university libraries of each country. But the bulk of his material came from about 130 interviews with association members and government officials in the various ministries of agriculture, commerce and industry.

Taylor's interest in African politics began in 1985, when he spent an undergraduate semester in Kenya studying environmental policy. He became more interested in the political and economic arena, including pressures at the societal level for democracy and the resistance of the Kenyan government to any kind of political liberalization.

After graduation, Taylor worked for four years in corporate banking before deciding to pursue a teaching career and enrolling at Emory in 1991. During the summer of 1992, he worked at The Carter Center, which had just been involved in monitoring Zambia's first competitive elections in 27 years.

While there, Taylor observed a conference between Zambian government and business leaders, and became "very interested in the role that business played in this particular transition and that it might play in other political transitions," he said. He also was interested in how these business associations would try to affect economic policies to make them more favorable to business institutions, potentially facilitating economic development.

Taylor decided to study both Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) because these former British colonies share a somewhat common history, having been linked in a federation for 10 years between 1953 and 1963.

In 1964, when Northern Rhodesia got its independence from Britain and became Zambia, the two countries took very different paths. Zambia, which had a much smaller white minority, nationalized most of its industry and became increasingly authoritarian until the 1991 elections, which threw that government out of power.

Southern Rhodesia-known simply as Rhodesia after Zambian independence-continued to be ruled by white settlers until 1980, when an armed liberation struggle and global sanctions forced the ruling party to concede to black majority rule. In 1980, the country was renamed Zimbabwe and came under a democratic government.

At present, Taylor said, "both regimes have exhibited authoritarian tendencies, and both countries have been plagued by conditions of economic decline."

Taylor originally hypothesized that these now common transitions to market-based economies and corresponding pressures for democratic government would foster an environment in which business associations would function more openly and productively on a national level.

He found, however, that in both countries, business associations haven't had much effect, "because the governments have been able to insulate themselves fairly well from these pressures from the private sector. To a considerable degree, they are more interested in self-preservation than production. And as a result, this has had negative implications for development."

In Zimbabwe, in particular, he found that the business associations were much more reluctant to play any type of political role that brought them into perceived opposition to the state. "The government there, while nominally democratic, is in reality more illiberal or authoritarian than the current government of Zambia," he said. "So associations are essentially fearful of speaking out on any type of pro-democracy platform, because they might face serious retribution from the state."
Nevertheless, Taylor sees hope for the future. "We tend to write off Africa and certainly African economies," he said. "But I think that the future prospects for private-sector development in Africa and for the potential role that these institutions can play on the political side is still there.

"If we look at European development, it was several centuries in the making," he added. "Despite the many setbacks, I certainly don't think Africa will take that long."

-Linda Klein

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