Ever-changing policy context: the one stable threat to biotech governance in Africa?

Mugwagwa, Julius (2009). Ever-changing policy context: the one stable threat to biotech governance in Africa? In: Lyall, Catherine; Papaioannou, Theo and Smith, James R. eds. The Limits to Governance: The Challenge of Policy-Making for the New Life Sciences. Farnham, UK: Ashagate, pp. 171–190.

URL: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754675082


Policy and institutional processes for managing modern biotechnology in Africa, as elsewhere in the world clearly bring out how biotechnology regulation in many respects represents the ‘avant garde’ case of technology governance. Biotechnology is characterized by highly dynamic technological developments and is inherently border-spanning in character, making it one of the most striking icons of globalization. This has led to some policy practitioners declaring that the policy responses in Africa are therefore not surprising. The fact that they are in a perpetual state of change, with new organizational and individual players coming into the fray at every twist and turn of the dynamics within the technology are seen as necessary as the organizations and individuals jostle to position themselves strategically to deal adequately with the challenges posed by the technology. The result has been that many organizations, programmes and approaches have been put in place by both state and non-state actors on the continent to try to cope with the challenge of maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of modern biotechnology. Inspired by the cross-national food security and technology challenge and policy responses ignited by the 2002–2003 food crisis in southern Africa this chapter presents and discusses some of the processes and institutional responses that were spawned at cross-national levels, bringing to the fore some of the challenges and limitations faced by both state and non-state actors in bringing about and implementing technology governance mechanisms.
This chapter argues that part of the reason why changes in policy processes and governance mechanisms for biotechnology are not clearly understood is because of the limited analysis of the deeper contextual realities behind the various institutional and policy responses. The underlying contextual terrain, made up of individuals and organizations, and the various coalitions among them, and facilitating factors overarching their activities have a huge bearing on the impact and identity of responses given to policy challenges. While ‘newness’ may be exhibited at the macro-level, in the form of new organizations and/or programmes, this chapter contends that it largely remains ‘business as usual’ at various other levels feeding into these organizations and programmes, posing a big threat to the envisaged impact of the new institutional and policy responses. Using the example of biosafety policy processes in southern Africa, this chapter brings to the fore some of the realities technology governance faces
in a developing country setting, making a case for multipronged approaches,including bringing back government, even in an era where governments are agreed to be playing a receding role. The chapter argues that there are real challenges and concerns in the subregion and the member states which need to be taken on board more if a transnational governance framework is to emerge.
Governance in this case is used more as it relates to the processes of creating conditions for ordered rule and collective action, within a context where ‘no single actor has the knowledge and resource capacity to tackle problems unilaterally'. Particular interest is on how the complex interactions at various levels within the southern African biosafety terrain shaped the cross-national governance agenda, and with what impact this had on the collective action desired. Among the main issues observed is that the emergence of new policy responses has both divisive and uniting properties alike among the new and existing players, setting the stage for abrasive interactions at various governance levels. In particular the chapter presents and discusses the challenges brought to the theory and practice of governance by this multidimensional interface between a new technology, limited regulatory preparedness among countries and the (apparently inevitable) plethora of new institutions and processes to manage it.

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