What’s Bad Governance? What It Means, And Why It Matters

What's Bad Governance? What It Means, And Why It Matters

Bad governance in modern democracy is widely discussed in political circles these days. Governance is a system that controls and channelizes the other relevant institutions. It is a kind of relationship between the people and decision-makers.

The structure of governance is strongly based upon fair management and transparency. But if the institutions are not vibrant enough to deliver, they can not provide transparency in the system. Consequently, it affects the nature of governance. Such a situation is usually termed as bad governance.

There are many factors that play a major role in the process of government. In poor governance lack of voice and weak accountability play pivotal roles to dismantle the system. Whereas political instability, corruption, and bad economic growth are some other contributors to bad governance. 

What is bad governance?

As defined by MSE Jonathan Chiba in the MSE 2017 Survey, it is “when people or groups subjectively perceive that the systems in which they participate do not work, in ways that might be negatively affected by the governance system.”

We have seen this in Zimbabwe, where power is controlled by a small group of elites, who work against the interests of the people, who perceive that their leaders are never accountable and are not likely to deliver on their promises.

We have also seen it in Zambia, where President Lungu inherited a difficult political and economic situation when he assumed office in 2015, and it has remained challenging.

Bad governance is also characterized by poor delivery of services to the people, particularly health and education. Strong institutions ensure transparency and deliverance. If the government is unable to provide better health services and education facilities to its citizens, a question mark will arise at its credibility.    

 Why it matters to you

Governance is such a procedure by which decisions are built. When your daily actions are negatively affected by a lack of governance, it is like your air conditioning unit suddenly failing. It is as if the absence of leadership leads to a country’s roads becoming unnavigable, or a restaurant suddenly losing a beloved chef. Or if you don’t have internet access, you lose access to the vast resources of the web.

Further, it is about the consent of the governed. When people lose trust in the capacity of their political leaders to responsibly make decisions, it reduces the level of trust in other civic institutions. In this sense, the absence of political leadership affects all of society. And this mistrust starts chaos among the people.

All of us, citizens of democracies around the world, need to take a more active role in good governance.

 How does bad governance happen?

Sometimes it is easy to spot bad governance. Routine corruption can be a dead giveaway of bad governance. The fact that a public official demands a bribe or a kickback as a condition for carrying out a function of state or a role of public office.  Or that the government seems to spend more on the public relations office than on meeting the basic needs of its citizens is a sure sign that something is amiss.

Lack of confidence in public institutions is another factor. When citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of governance, they are much more likely to voice their opinions to non-government actors. Such dissatisfaction paves the way for non-state actors to intervene and disturb the functions of the administration.

 The consequences of bad governance

There are a lot of consequences of bad governance. Below are some of those:  

  • Informalism
  • The absence of a well-designed legal framework
  • Non-transparency and lack of accountability
  • Restrictive legal codes
  • Rulers who abuse their position
  • Government attempts to protect their own interest instead of the public’s
  • No respect for the basic rights and freedoms of citizens
  • Injustice
  • Inconsistent application of laws and regulations
  • Colour Code
  • A distinction between the rights of the rich and those of the poor
  • Inconsiderate and discriminatory treatment
  • Fear and violence as a result of police and security personnel
  • The inability of the government to protect citizens’ rights and freedom
  • Impunity

Bad governance often results in a situation where citizens begin to believe that these rules, codes, and laws don’t apply to them.

 The pillars of good governance

Good governance is characterized by unity, peace, justice, transparency, accountability, and good law. It is identified as the way to ensure that all people can live in dignity and harmony in a democratic state.

In the public governance space, it is largely defined by its relationship between State and citizens. Public governance consists of various institutions that are established in a nation. These include but are not limited to: national, provincial, district, and local governments and private sector entities.

Collectively, all these public governance institutions together are referred to as the public sector.

 How to combat bad governance

The best strategy to combat bad governance is to avoid the centralization of power. As much power as possible should be devolved to local government to enable local governments to manage local problems and respond to local needs. Engage citizens in the decision-making process by doing things for them, rather than for those who are supposed to govern.

Public officials and business leaders are going to be made to be accountable to citizens through audits and other controls and other mechanisms. Take the time to develop and implement a Public Disclosure Policy.

So, how do you know what’s bad management? There’s no quick answer. When you consider yourself to be governed, you know. So, self-awareness and prompt response is the best key to eliminating the curse of bad governance. 


Generally speaking, bad governance occurs when decisions are not based on the will of the people. Or we can say that when those decisions are made in a fashion that is not conducive to creating value for the people. So, the willingness of the people is very crucial in order to make any decision. 

The problem of bad governance is very common in some of the developing democracies. In developing societies, the basic infrastructure is not as strong to meet its challenges. Consequently, the penetration of corruption is much easier in the system. Moreover, bad management creates space for non-state actors to play their roles. As a result, they can damage the whole system, and the state and its citizens pay the price for that later on.     

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