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Politics of Administrative Reform in African Countries

African Public Service Governance: Another curse?

Dr. K. Khalema; the Africa Institute Information Management Center

In the wake of the challenges in Africa Civil service, Partners in Development published a series of Politics of Civil Service Reform in African countries.  This below is also worth reflecting on:

Politics of Administrative Reform in African Countries: Who Are the Key Actors and What Are the Determinant Factors of Success?

By Baraka, Pakinaz.Ph.D


The public sector in African countries was expected to spearhead socio-economic development to reduce poverty; nevertheless, it has proved largely ineffective in performing this task.  It is argued in this paper that an objective assessment of such ineffectiveness needs to consider the special context in which the public sector reform policies have been undertaken. Second, scholars need to ground these policies on advanced theories of public sector management. Third, while acknowledging the impact of the context of public administration such as historic, economic, political and social factors, the think tank and policy makers need to get together to rethink of the relationships taking place between various actors involved in the reform process.

Amongst these actors are the key stakeholders in reform policies such as the bureaucratic apparatus, political leaders, and citizens on one hand, and the external stakeholders such as international aid organizations.

As a contribution to the debate over the roles of the public sector reform in African development, the present paper attempts to analyze the status of such reform by focusing on the following issues:

(1) The impacts of the contextual factors, such as historic, economic and political factors on the reform processes.

(2) The importance of integrating administrative reform practices with innovative and advanced public sector management theories. Two of these theories are discussed in the paper that is the New Public Management and the Development theories.

(3) The impact of the internal and external stakeholders on reform policies.

(4) The strengths and challenges facing the state and its bureaucracy in relation to socioeconomic development.

Economic, political and administrative challenges that faced African countries are emphasized under three distinctive phases of administrative reforms that took place in these countries. In addition, an analysis has been made to the relevance of these policies to the main theories of administrative development studied in this paper. The paper ends with propositions and recommendations on how to address these challenges. Thus, the paper is divided into three sections.

The first analyses the impact of contextual factors on reform policies in African states and it overviews relevant theories of administrative reform, mainly the New Public Management and Development Administration theories. The second section and overviews the phases of administrative reform undertaken in African state. More significantly, it relates these phases to theories of administrative reform outlined in the first section. The third and last section highlights the major challenges faced by African countries. This section ends with recommendations on how to address these challenges.

The Context of Administrative Reform in Africa

Most African countries attained their independence by the end of 1950s and 1960s. Since their independence, the public sector was regarded as the as the pivot that will promote socioeconomic development and the main provider of goods and services to citizens based on the notion that “realization and representation of public interests and its possession of unique public qualities compared to business management” (Haque, 2001: 65). However, the public sector was not able to perform its function effectively.

Several reasons contributed to this result. Researchers indicate the following as the causes of such ineffectiveness:

(a) Public sector’s “accumulation of excessive power, lack of accountability and representation, indifference towards public needs and demands, official secrecy and inaccessibility, and role in depoliticizing the public sphere” ( Haque, 2001:67).

(b) The economic crises of the late 1970s and 1980s that prompted governments to introduce new approaches to public sector management. These approaches were drawn from the successful and international experiences of introducing market -friendly-economies into the public sector.

These market-like mechanisms have led scholars and practitioners to use a new term to describe governments’ role to what they have referred to as the “redefinition of the role of the state or public sector” (Commins, S.K. (ed.), 1988) In fact, Haque comments focused on the symptoms of inefficiencies A rather analytical approach is needed to comprehend why these inefficiencies have taken place; one way to understand the roots of current African problems is consider the impacts of contextual factors such historic, economic, political conditions that led to the slow development of public sector in these countries. In addition the introduction of market-like mechanisms as an approach to reform the public sector in Africa need to be reviewed and grounded on public management theories and thoughts and not only on successful practices undertaken in the advanced world. The next section will focus on analyzing the impacts of historic legacy of colonialism on the administrative apparatus of African countries. Impact of colonialism The role of the state in national and regional development cannot be adequately discussed without reference to the impact of colonialism. At the political/administrative level, Wunsch (1995) and Herbst (2000) have demonstrated how colonial policy, irrespective of the colonial power, has left a legacy that created conditions to foster the development of highly personalized and leadership-dependent political systems prevalent in African countries. Colonialism resulted in social fragmentation, economic backwardness and international vulnerability. When African leaders viewed these circumstances, they reacted almost as a body by concluding that a massive, coordinated and nationally led attack on underdevelopment was necessary to bring growth and poverty reduction. Given the array of challenges and problems they faced, African leaders’ identification of capitalism with European colonialism led many to espouse socialism and reinforced a predictable orientation to centralized development (Young, C. 1988). Furthermore, a strong central government was also regarded as essential to national unity and modernization of African states because of internal social fragmentation and ethnicity brought about by the policy of balkanization of the African states by the colonial powers (Wunsch 1995a; 1995b) At the economic level, colonialism’s centralizing impact can also be seen in the economic conditions most African states faced at independence. In the view of the World Bank (World

Bank (2000b) “When African states won independence … they faced formidable constraints to development. These included underdeveloped resources, political fragility, insecurely rooted and ill-suited institutions, a climate and geography hostile to development, and rapid population growth”. In addition, colonialism reinforced centralism and elitism in the physical and human legacies it left. The administrative and supporting infrastructure: administrative headquarters, educational facilities, public utilities, consumer goods and communication facilities, was generally concentrated in a single city. The colonial legacy of administration and governance gave birth to the following five complementary strategies Colonial governments, who often ignored ethnic and cultural factors in determining national boundaries, created the present-day African countries. Colonially demarcated boundaries arbitrarily brought together diverse peoples within a single colonial territory. Under colonialism, ethnic and cultural feelings were stimulated, even sharpened. Administrative areas were often , which were pursued by African leaders after independence and thereafter until the 1980s, when structural adjustment programs and their conditions made them inapplicable: • Replacement of competitive politics by one or no-party systems ostensibly dedicated to national unity; • Reliance upon unified bureaucratic structures exclusively accountable to the central government to define, organize, and manage the production of public goods and services along lines determined at all levels by a “national plan”; • No legitimate significant role to be allowed for local government, including Traditional, ethnically related groups as well as modern institutions of true local Government; • Executive authority to be maximized at the expense of such other institutions as the legislature, judiciary, regional governments, and press and private organizations; and • The national budget to be regarded as the primary source of funding for the Development agenda, and to be raised out of the largest economic sectors: either Agriculture or mineral extraction (Wunsch, 1995b).

Colonial governments, who often ignored ethnic and cultural factors in determining national boundaries, created the present-day African countries. Colonially demarcated boundaries arbitrarily brought together diverse peoples within a single colonial territory. Under colonialism, ethnic and cultural feelings were stimulated, even sharpened. Administrative areas were often based on ethnic lines. In addition, social and economic change was uneven. Some regions produced cash crops and mineral products while others lacked major natural resources. Mission schools proliferated in some areas while others received little exposure to Western-type education. At independence, African countries lacked a national identity, partly because colonial policy did much to strengthen ethnic, as opposed to, national consciousness, and partly because the countries were too recent in existence to elicit a sense of common nationhood (Tivey 1981). The Post-independence Period and African Leadership The legacy of colonialism has very important implications for African leadership. Colonialism was an alien imposition on African societies, authoritarian by nature and usually distant from its subjects. While colonial authorities did exercise stable rule and provided some basic public goods, they were seen by their subjects as illegitimate and predatory (Chazan et al., 1999). The colonial inheritance created basic problems for the establishment of effective Governments during the post-independence period. African leaders faced manifold difficulties in gathering stable governing coalitions, fostering durable institutions, and extending substantial control over the mass of their populations. The emergent governing formulas typically blended traditional modes of authority with institutional forms inherited from the colonial regime. These strategies often stabilized nascent political elites, yet they were less effective in building sound governing structures. The post-independence period in the 1960s in Africa witnessed an enormous expansion of government intervention in national economies when the public sector was seen as a major contributor to economic growth and socio-political stability. This state capitalism, that is, ownership and intervention by the state was accepted as the dominant development strategy and paradigm. Justifying state intervention in the economy was not only an ideological necessity but also a historical one. Consequently, a variety of forms of state economic intervention inherited from the colonial period were expanded and generalized in the years after independence (Tangri, 1999).Typical examples of state economic interventions existed in greater ownership and control of the economy through what was called “capturing the commanding heights of the economy”. These interventions were meant to influence the broad direction of national development through

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