PATRONAGE, UNPROFESSIONALISM AND LACK OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: The Woes Of African Public Service Delivery System.
Reflections on the conference on governance and service delivery in developing nations.
African leaders’ practice of destructive patronage system and civil servants’ un-professional attitudes towards civil service jobs plus unsatisfactory civic ENGAGEMENT in public service policies formations are the fundamental causes of the continent’s sluggish public service delivery SYSTEM. Those are the main lessons I learnt during the four-day International Conference from 22nd -26th October 2019 on governance and service delivery in developing economies held in Kampala. The conference at Africana Hotel and organised by Uganda Management Institute (UMI) in celebration of their 50th anniversary under the theme: Accountability, innovations, and Quality Public Services Delivery was attended by over three hundred delegates including, scholars, diplomats and practitioners from sixty countries around the world.
It was a meeting of the minds that deliberated on the most pressing issues of African governments and the developing world affecting the service delivery. Among the delegates and participants were diplomats, researchers and other scholars. Also, in attendance was the chief guest of the conference, his excellence vice president Edward Sekandi who delivered opening speech penned down by his excellence president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Another chief guest was his excellence former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who delivered a thought-provoking keynote speech. As an African citizen in an African setting, it did not surprise me that Mbeki gave a hard criticism to the African political elite on the state of the civil service in the continent which. I am a living witness that our service system is riddled with unprofessionalism and misconducts as well as unethical behaviours.
However, what was so depressing and amazed me was that African leaders were not showing commitment and efforts towards addressing the current ills of public service delivery in Africa. For example, the African Charter on values and principles on public service and administration, adopted in 2011, was only ratified by 19 states out of the 55 African Union members. Perhaps this is due to the exercise of patronage among the African leaders of which Mbeki harshly scolded. He cited cases where he is familiar with the rampant practice of patronage in which “deliberate appointment of persons are made to higher positions in the civil service, state-owned corporations and other public bodies solely based on their loyalty to the governing party or personalities with no regard to their competencies or skills demanded for the job”. This has prompted the stagnation of the civil services in the continent. He asserted that “It is common to see people coming to work every day, but with absolutely nothing to do. Some of them spend each day playing games on computers waiting to draw salaries at the end of the month.”
The conference triggered my interest in studying more about the African Charter on values and principles of public services and administration. The document has the potential to strengthen the ethics and professionalism of public service in Africa. The Charter aims to promote the values and principles of democracy, good governance, human rights and the right to development which are prerequisite for delivering impartial services to the public and providing them with equal opportunities of employment based on merit and competency. It is equally depressing that this document did not attract much analysis and scrutiny from African scholars. Perhaps President Museveni was right on his point in his speech that African academicians are rendering themselves irrelevant for only mastering the art of problem identification without providing solutions.
Another critical factor muted in the policies of service delivery in Africa is strong ‘civic engagement’. Social accountability brings governments closer to the people and as such states should employ strategies to engage the citizens in formulating and implementing policies of service delivery. Accountability, Civic Engagement and democracy can deepen and improve service delivery, foster citizens’ participation and increase their readiness to demand accountability. Overall the conference was worth the time and energy invested in those four days. Participants challenged African scholars to investigate further the woes of African governance and service delivery problems and suggest practical and affordable solutions.
@Hassan Abdulle Hassan is a graduate of the University of Liverpool with a focus on public service delivery and volunteerism.