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Policy learning and policy failure in Africa

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submitted on 2023-09-12, 05:09 and posted on 2023-09-13, 10:33 authored by Frank L. K. Ohemeng, Joshua Jebuntie Zaato

Do policymakers learn from past policy mistakes or failures? This is a question that public policy scholars continue to wrestle with. For instance, the lesson learning literature focuses on policy learning from different policies, actors, and the environment, as well as the successful implementation of policy elsewhere, and whether the same policy actors learn from their mistakes over future policy enactments in the same socio-political environment. In a rational model, one expects policymakers to learn from policy errors, but this seems not to be the case. Repeated policy errors and failures are common across the world, leading to increased attention to policy learning and failure in public policy studies (Mueller 2020). Dunlop (2020) highlights the need to study whether policymakers learn from policy failures because “although policy failures present valuable and multiple opportunities for policy learning...the potential is very difficult to explain” (p. 2). Nowhere is this “potential” more serious than in Africa where countries have been accused of not making their own policies (Conteh and Ohemeng 2009), but are rather “policy bandwagoners” (Ikenberry 1990) or “policy hooks” (Ohemeng 2005) to the international policymaking game. Policy failures remain across Africa despite the help and assistance from international policy actors in designing and, to some extent, in implementing policies. Thus, expectedly African policymakers need to learn from such failures. But, considering the repeated policy mistakes, this is rarely the case, especially, as commonly seen in privatization, defned here as the means of transferring or shifting the functions, responsibilities, and authority of public organizations to private sector management (Bensch 2019).

Other Information

Published in: Routledge Handbook of Public Policy in Africa
See article on publisher's website:



  • English



Publication Year

  • 2021

License statement

This chapter is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University
  • College of Public Policy - HBKU

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