Address of the Patron of the TMF, Thabo Mbeki, at the “International Conference on Governance and Service Delivery in Developing Economies”: Uganda Management Institute, Kampala, Uganda. 22 October, 2019.

Programme Directors,

Your Excellency Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi,

Hon Dr Muyingo, Minister of State for Higher Education,

Dr James Nkata, Director General of the Uganda Management Institute,

Chancellor and other leaders of UMI,

Ambassadors and High Commissioners,

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen:

In many ways 2015 was a seminal year for our Continent, Africa.

As the year began, and as Conference knows, the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union adopted the important document Agenda 2063 – The Africa we Want! It also adopted the first 10 Year Plan for the implementation of Agenda 2063, which ends in four years, 2023.

The same Session also adopted the High Level Panel Report on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa as well as a “Special Declaration on Illicit Financial Flows”.

In July of the same year, 2015, Addis Ababa hosted the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, which adopted the important Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Later in the year, in September, again as Conference knows, the UN General Assembly adopted the document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

I mention these four documents, Agenda 2063 with its first ten-year implementation plan, the Document and Declaration of Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals with their Targets and Indicators because, in principle, they describe large parts of what would by now be in our various National Development Plans.

The AU understood that there might be some concern about matters of compatibility and reconciliation between the two Agendas 2063 and 2030. It has therefore said:

“It should be pointed out from the outset that global Agenda 2030 and its SDGs were heavily influenced by the African Union’s ‘Common African Position on Post 2015 development Agenda’ (CAP), with Africa being the only region to submit a well-articulated position in writing…

“That is why the seventeen SDGs fit neatly into the twenty goals of Agenda 2063. They are all encapsulated in the 20 goals of Agenda 2063. SDGs scope is confined to social, economic and environmental dimensions. Agenda 2063 is broader in scope…Hence by implementing Agenda 2063 Member States will ipso facto be meeting their global obligations under the SDGs.”

To indicate the seriousness of the challenge our countries face in this context, I will now mention a few of the Targets which the African Union said must be achieved by 2023, the end of the first decade of Agenda 2063.

The AU says that by 2023 each of our countries should have:

  • achieved annual GDP growth rates of at least 7%;
  • increased the 2013 per capita income by at least 30%;
  • reduced the 2013 unemployment rate by at least 25%;
  • reduced the 2013 levels of poverty by at least 30%;
  • reduced the 2013 levels of income inequality by at least 20%;
  • increased access and use of electricity and the internet by at least 50% of the 2013 levels;
  • increased the 2013 levels of access to basic quality health care and services by at least 40%;
  • ensured that at least 70% of the people believe that they are empowered and are holding their leaders accountable; and,
  • ensured that at least 70% of the public acknowledge the public service to be professional, efficient, responsive, accountable, impartial and corruption free.

I would like to believe that all of us will agree that these are indeed ambitious targets. Nevertheless I also believe that we should understand the thinking behind them because necessarily our continental organisation, the African Union, has every reason to be impatient for the achievement of the required changes to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment on our Continent.

Accordingly I hope that as we discuss the six themes of the Conference, we should integrate in each of those discussions answers to the question – what should be done to achieve the objectives contained in the documents adopted in 2015, including in the context of the targets which have been set.

I say this on the assumption that we have domesticated in our National Development Plans all these objectives and targets to which our Governments agreed.

I imagine that as we do this, we would necessarily reflect openly and honestly on the two matters directly relevant to the effective and accountable governance we need in order to achieve the targets in our National Development Plans as enriched by the multilateral agreements I have indicated.

These two matters are:

  • the functioning of our elected Executive Authorities, i.e. the governing political formations in all spheres of government, relative to the accomplishment of the multi-faceted tasks which would be contained in our National Development Plans; and,
  • the functioning of our Administrative Authorities, i.e. the civil service, again relative to the accomplishment of the multi-faceted tasks which would be contained in our National Development Plans.

I am putting this matter in this way to suggest that in our discussions we should avoid an overly or exclusively technocratic approach to these matters, avoiding to engage the very political issues which are inherent in the very concept of governance.

In any case it is a matter of common sense that the institutions I have mentioned, the respective Executive and Administrative Authorities, do not exist for their own sake, an end in themselves.

Rather, they are constituted to serve a purpose. The two questions therefore necessarily arise – what is that purpose and are these Authorities discharging their responsibilities in this context?

In this context let me quote from a document with which the delegates will be familiar, this being the year 2000 document of the UN entitled “Professionalism and Ethics in the Public Service…”

The document says:

“The public service, made up of those employees of the state who are covered by national and subnational civil service laws, plays an indispensable role in the sustainable development and good governance of a nation. It is an integral part of democracy because it serves as the neutral administrative structure which carries out the decisions of elected representatives of the people. It not only serves as the backbone of the state in implementing a strategy for economic growth of a nation but also runs the programmes that function as the safety net for the most vulnerable segments of a society. Given these crucial roles, a country expects its public service to demonstrate high standards of professionalism and ethics…

“Public service professionalism embraces the notion that those people who join the public service need to be inculcated with shared values and trained in basic skills to professionally carry out their official duties.”

I would like to think that all of us here fully agree with this UN characterisation and take particular note of such careful wording as – “(the public service) plays an indispensable role in the sustainable development and good governance of a nation.”

Literally and obviously this means that if the public service employees of the state fail effectively to play the indispensable role to which the UN referred, then both the sustainable development and the good governance of the nation will necessarily falter.

Fully cognisant of this indispensable role of the public service, in 2011 the Ordinary Session of the 16th AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted the “African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration.”

In this context I must mention that this Charter was adopted by the Assembly in January 2011. However it only came into force five-and-a-half years later, in July 2016. In addition, as of now, only 19 Member States have ratified the Charter and deposited their ratification documents at the AU Commission. This means that almost nine years after the Charter was adopted, 36 AU Member States have still not ratified it.

I believe that this must sound some alarm bells.

My view is that many of our countries do not pay sufficient and sustained attention to the task to build the kind of public service described by the United Nations and provided for in the African Charter we have spoken of.

I have no doubt that the failure to achieve the kind of all-round progress which the billion ordinary Africans demand, is in good measure due to the failure to build and put in place the kind of public service which would play “an indispensable role in the sustainable development and good governance of (the) nation.”

I hope the Conference will address this important matter if only to put it on the public Continental agenda to demand the necessary and appropriate action on the part of all the AU Member States.

In this regard we should not forget the Target set in the 1st Ten-Year Development Plan of Agenda 2063 that – by 2023 we must have ensured that at least 70% of the public acknowledge the public service to be professional, efficient, responsive, accountable, impartial and corruption free.

The September 2015 edition of the journal, African Research Review, carried an article entitled “Rethinking Public Administration Professionalism in Nigeria” by Messrs Chukwuemeka Okafor and Richard Onuigbo, both of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Nigeria.

I hope you will pardon me as I quote a fairly extensive but informative extract from this article. The authors say:

“The Nigerian public administration is a deep reflection of the country’s socio-political milieu.  This context…(has resulted) in (a) series of unprofessional conducts that have hampered efficient and effective performance. This is despite the existence of basic constitutional provisions such as the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution (1999) which stipulates the code of conduct for public officers in the country…

“These frameworks have not provided reasonable panacea in addressing the challenges of professionalism, incompetence, lack of industry, accountability and transparency and most often the general insensitivity to service delivery issues that confront public administration in the country. At the centre line of these unprofessional dispositions is the dysfunctional political process with over-arching influence on public administration…The impact is large scale unethical crisis which has over the years resulted in the compromise of basic principles and values and the neglect of professional and ethical standards thereby, subverting the very essence of its existence in terms of providing efficient, responsible and professional service in line with sustainable public interests…

“Professionalism is therefore, exigent in combating corruption, improving efficiency, resisting undue political influences and in adequately positioning public administration as a reliable institution of the state…

“Unethical behaviours still persist. These are identified in the form of corruption, lack of discipline, sabotages, recruitment of unqualified and incompetent personnel etc…

“The fulcrum of public administration professionalism is good governance…Strong political will and institutional mechanisms are needed to implement the policy and regulatory frameworks on public administration professionalism.”

Before I say anything about all this, let me also cite some of what was written by the eminent Egyptian scholar, Dr Pakinaz Baraka, on “Politics of Administrative Reform in African Countries…” She wrote that:

“The dynamics of patronage relations have proved economically highly damaging. As noted by Tangri, R. (1999:19) patrimonialism is “potentially economically destructive”… He explained that for example, politically loyal officials have often filled top public-sector positions, especially in the important government ministries as well as key parastatals…

“For much of Africa, then, development of the rural areas was sacrificed to finance Patrimonial states. These patronage-based systems created opportunities for all those connected to government through patron-client networks. For the elite, appointed by rulers to the highest party, administrative, and SOEs positions, state office and political influence created amazing legal and illegal advantages for personal gain. In addition, in virtually all states, those in positions of power (and their patrons) moved to use their influence for economic profit (Young, 1988).”

It is not possible for me to confirm or deny what Messrs Okafor and Onuigbo said about the Nigerian public service.

And neither do I know whether what was described by Dr Baraka is still generally prevalent in at least a large part of our Continent.

However there are two observations I will make in this regard.

The first is that this important International Conference is convened so that, in part, we share experiences. I would therefore hope that we will have time to compare notes to gain a better understanding as to whether or not, and to what extent, what was described by Okafor, Onuigbo and Baraka characterises the African public service!

This would not be an idle or academic exercise especially given, as I have said, the fact that the African Charter on the Public Service is in force and is therefore binding on all AU Member States.

The Charter prescribes actions which must be taken to follow up on its implementation. This includes those which must be taken up by the AU Commission. Among others the Charter says:

“State Parties shall submit every two years, from  the date the Charter comes into force, a report to the Commission on the legislative or other  relevant measures taken with a view to giving effect to the principles and commitments of the Charter.”

This means that the first report should have been submitted to the AU Commission by July 2018. I do not know if this was done and would be happily surprised if this did take place.

I am suggesting that out of this Conference should come some observations to be made to the AU Commission, perhaps jointly by the UMI and CAFRAD, reporting on work done in Africa to implement the provisions contained in the African Charter on the Public Service.

I have said that I cannot vouch for or repudiate directly or otherwise the characterisations of the African public service made by the academics I cited, Okafor, Onuigbo and Barak.

However, and this is the second observation I promised, what these African academics said pointed me in the direction of what to look at if I sought to assess the health of the African public service.

In this regard this I would like to say:

  • I know personally of a public service in which a significant and influential number became beholden to a patrimonial order, and therefore a patron-client relationship which makes it impossible for the affected public servants to discharge their responsibilities consistent with the provisions of the African Charter on the Public Service;
  • I am personally aware of the deliberate appointment to senior positions in the civil service, state owned corporations, and other public organisations, of individuals solely on the basis of their loyalty to the governing party, and/or leading political persons, with no regard whatsoever as to whether they have the necessary competence and skill to discharge the responsibilities demanded by the positions to which they were appointed.
  • I know of the bloating of the public service by abusing state power to get the State unnecessarily to employ relatives, friends, supporters and acquaintances as part of an established patronage system.
  • In this context you will therefore see people coming to work every day, but with absolutely nothing to do. Some of these will therefore spend each day playing games on the departmental computers, only waiting to draw their salaries at the end of the month. In the meantime, as the public wage increases, the public funds to finance development begin to dry up.
  • I know of how in a neo-patrimonial system public servants have misused and abused their positions to enrich themselves, and therefore entrench corruption within the entirety of the public service, from the national to the municipal levels.
  • In the national instances to which I refer, this has gone so far as to normalise a new normal according to which it is ‘socially expected and accepted’ that those in positions of authority will use their positions to acquire personal wealth, by means fair or foul.
  • I know of the corruption and subversion of the very organs or institutions of State to ensure that these serve the interests of a self-serving (and self-enriching) political, administrative and business elite, regardless of any Constitutional and Statutory prescripts, and the principle and practice of the rule of law.
  • I have therefore concrete knowledge of how the public service on our Continent can, because of the machinations of a corrupt governing elite, become so compromised that it absolutely cannot discharge the responsibility visualised by the United Nations and the African Charter to play “an indispensable role in the sustainable development and good governance of (the) nation.”
  • Practically the consequence of this, as I know from my personal experience, is that indeed progress towards the achievement of both objectives of sustainable development and good governance does indeed falter, precisely because, in part, the public service fails to live up to its obligations in the context of the practice of good governance.

Dear delegates:

I have just tried to address you as frankly as I can about a matter which must concern this Conference, relating to the nature and quality of the African public service.

I trust that you will do the same as you engage one another, in the end to make proposals which our Continent, through the AU, can consider as part of the effort to achieve the renewal of Africa.

In this context I must mention an important issue which I strongly believe this Conference must address, inspired by my experience of bad governance I have just detailed.

I am talking here of the absolute imperative for our Continent, Africa, to specify the value system which must inspire and inform the behaviour and  conduct of each of our public servants, as well as the State institutions in which they serve.

Here I am not talking about such obviously correct requirements as detailed, for instance, in the African Charter, which, inter alia, says:

“Public Service Agents shall demonstrate professionalism, transparency and impartiality in the performance of their duties. (They) shall demonstrate excellence and innovation in their performance of duties. (They) shall be required to perform their professional duties and show courtesy, integrity and neutrality in dealing with users. (They) shall act responsibly and in accordance with the national laws and regulations. (They) shall demonstrate integrity and respect all rules, values and established codes of conduct in the performance of their duties.”

All these prescripts are obviously correct and all efforts must be made to ensure that they are respected throughout our Continent.

Strange to say, the African Charter does not address the matter of the value system for the African Public Service which I think is one of our imperatives.

Relevant to this matter, the African Charter says:

“State Parties shall institute national accountability and integrity systems to promote value ­based societal behaviour and attitude as a means of preventing corruption.

“State Parties shall promote and recognize exemplary leadership in creating value­ based and corruption­ free societies.”

The point I am making in this regard is that, very strange to say, the African Charter recognises and addresses the need to promote “value based societal behaviour as a means of preventing corruption” and the imperative for our leadership to “create value based and therefore corruption free societies”.

However, nowhere does the African Charter impose an obligation on the people it mentions as Public Service Agents, as it does with regard to society in general, to understand and internalise the obligation to conduct themselves according to a “value based societal behaviour”!

In many parts of our Continent there is a shared societal perspective that, in the Sotho languages of Southern Africa says, motho ke motho ka motho o mongoe – every human being exists because of other human beings! – thus to emphasise the two basic and fundamental concepts, practices and values of human solidarity and social cohesion!

During our years of struggle against apartheid, the perspective I have just described got translated, even among the military cadres who knew that they might die in combat, into the slogan – We serve the people of South Africa!

I am therefore suggesting that to construct the Public Service we need as Africans, one of our imperatives is to infuse in as many of our public servants exactly the understanding and internalisation of this critical value system according to which our ‘Public Service Agents’ would understand that whatever the detailed prescripts in terms of their contracts, the central value they have to respect is based on the concepts and practices of human solidarity and social cohesion.

The assertion I am making in this regard is that I am convinced that nowhere on our Continent are we taking all necessary steps to ensure that the Africans described by the African Charter as Public Servant Agents go to work informed by the value system which entrenches in their minds the important understanding that – they work to serve not their personal desires, but the fundamental interests of the peoples of their countries as well as those of the rest of Africa!

I believe that, among immediate actions the Member States of the African Union must take, the Union should re-examine its African Charter on the Public Service to insert in its provisions the requirement that the Public Service Agents must, like the nation as a whole, be required to adhere to the value system specified in the Charter.

I am convinced that the experience we have gathered during more than sixty years of independence has informed us of the vital importance to ensure that the Public Service throughout Africa, schooled and steeped in the African value system, is inspired by and works according to the long-standing African vision to achieve the development, unity and renaissance of Africa as soon as possible!

The African intellectuals we cited earlier raised the matter they described as patrimonial rule. Accordingly all of us must proceed from the same base in terms of understanding what this patrimonialism means.

One dictionary definition says that “patrimonialism is a form on political organisation in which authority is based primarily in the personal power exercised by a ruler, either directly or indirectly, or a ruler who may act alone or as (part of) an elite powerful group or an oligarchy.”

This brings us to an issue I raised earlier – of the need for this important Conference to address the matter of the other vital element in our system of governance – the elected Executive Authority.

The South African Constitution states that among others the tasks of the Executive Authority of the Republic are to develop and implement national policy as well as prepare and initiate legislation.

I would imagine that these are standard provisions in democratic Constitutions.

I cite these Constitutional provisions to make the very obvious point which I am certain is a matter of common cause among us that necessarily the Executive Authorities occupy a central and critically important part in the system of governance.

Accordingly and as we all know, they set the policies which govern the public service and must practically in terms of the daily work of that public service create the necessary space for it to function according to such prescripts as those policies would have determined.

For instance the African Charter on the Public Service which we have mentioned says among other things:

“The Member States agree to implement the Charter in accordance with the following principles:

“1. Equality of all users of Public Service and Administration.

“2. The prohibition of all forms of discrimination on any basis, including place of origin, race, gender, disability, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, membership in a trade union or any other lawful organization.

“3. Impartiality, fairness and due process in the delivery of public services.”

It is expected that all Member States of the AU would domesticate the Charter to which we have referred and therefore give these principles legal force in their countries, if this had not been done before.

However I can well imagine situations in which in reality the elected Executive Authority would in fact discriminate say, for instance, on the basis place of origin and ethnicity, and therefore do everything it can to oblige the public service so to discriminate.

This would of course create enormous problems for those public servants who consider the principle and practice of non-discrimination as necessarily a defining feature of any public service in a democracy.

I would like to believe that we are at one in terms of understanding that it is possible to have the kind of conflict I have mentioned as between the Executive and Administrative Authorities.

I am certain that all of us are familiar that there are people within and outside Africa who are very critical of exactly the Executive Authorities I have mentioned.

For instance one Tahiru Azaaviele Liedong, an Associate Professor at Bath University, wrote in 2017:

“Africa is home to despots and sit-in presidents who either abuse their power or allow abuses to be perpetrated. Countries are run like family property and political dynasties are created by fathers passing power to sons. Checks and balances are weak, dissent is crashed, and alternative views are discarded, culminating in low accountability which further deteriorates leadership and reinforces corruption… Politics in Africa is synonymous with wealth, whether acquired legally or otherwise. Hence, the scramble for power can be intense and sometimes dangerous. The expectation of quick riches increases internal competition for party candidature, which often requires deal making and vote buying. (The Conversation: “African citizens have good reasons to be fed up with their politicians”. July 17, 2017.)

Earlier, in 2013, Liu Hongwu published an article under the heading “How to solve African governance and development issues: A perspective from China”. He wrote:

“First, what is the most important task or core issue for contemporary African countries’ political development? What kind of government systems are feasible, effective and can be stably maintained? Second, for the young countries in Africa, what is the best way to set up and choose standards for political systems and state regimes? Third, should these post- independence African countries set up the endogenous localized political systems and structures to form centralised and powerful governments that contribute to promoting economic development, social stability and  improved  living  standards, or  transplant the parliamentary systems and  election systems that seem  to have so-called  moral legitimacy under the background of western cultures and according to western political ideology?” (BRIDGES AFRICA: VOLUME 2 – NUMBER 6, 9 September 2013.)

I believe that this important Conference should indeed address questions such as these precisely to strengthen our system of governance so that it is empowered to drive the process of progressive change on our Continent.

A very useful document prepared by the UMI to explain the rationale of this Conference says, inter alia:

“African and other developing economies have for long needed sequential review of their Management, Leadership and Governance systems to inculcate a culture of accountability to the population…Achievements in the democratisation of political processes has not translated in transparent management of national wealth, equitable distribution of opportunities, effective service delivery and innovation.”

I wish this important Conference success, convinced that it will help our Continent to address those deficits which weaken its advance towards its renaissance.

Thank you for your attention.

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