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Monday, April 19, 2021

Corruption of public bureaucracies in sub-Saharan Africa

By Mathew K Jallow

For democratic systems and institutions of democracy to flourish, it is necessary and imperative to operate an efficient and effective public bureaucracy. This paper discusses at length the failures and opportunities of African bureaucracies, and what governments there need to do to achieve social and economic empowerment for their citizens. It is clear from all available research that effective public policies cannot be defined, articulated and implemented in the absence of bureaucratic systems that are transparent, competent and accountable. Efficient and competent public bureaucracies are a prerequisite for the effective administration of the rule of law, unbiased dispensation of justice, empowerment of the people, the equal treatment, and affording equal opportunities to all citizens without regard to tribe or political or religious affiliation. Since the attainment of political independence over sixty years ago, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have experienced an overwhelming increase in the number of public bureaucrats (First, 1972). Newly independent African governments moved rapidly to replace the departing colonial administrators with native-born bureaucrats.

For the most part, newly installed administrators had only secondary level education and the majority held junior and middle level administrative positions under the colonial administrations. Most, therefore, lacked the knowledge and the skills of the departing colonialists (Ayittey, 1998). The process of hiring these native-born bureaucrats to replace the departing colonial administrators became widely and suitably referred to as Africanization. The rapid growth of the bureaucracy throughout Africa gave rise to an influential new class who, like their colonial predecessors, also aspired to a higher social and economic status. They, therefore, soon began to acquire corporate interests in positions they held, and moved rapidly to consolidate their hold on power in order to acquire and accumulate capital and wealth. In time, this self-interest caused a wide chasm to develop between the governing and the governed, which in the process, redefined the Weberan theory of bureaucracy from one in which the public was the beneficiary of public goods and services, to one that benefited only a small privileged class. The result is that even today, in most Africa countries, the government is perceived by the ruling elites as a vehicle to rob and terrorize the citizenry (Ayittey, 1998).

African bureaucrats have been described by Professor Ayittey as artificial and comprising degreed and non-degreed bandits, who are out of touch with the people, operate through deception and abuse of power, and are perennially locked in combat with them. The new administrative system that emerged out of post-independence Africa defined new governance rules that observed no rule of law, no accountability, and presided over chaotic governments. Professor Ayittey observed that the tragedy in which government institutions became virtual properties of the ruling class, precluded institutionalization of good governance and ensured that government bureaucracies ran predatory states, which subverted the agenda of social and economic development for the majority poor. A consequence of this system of governance is the emergence of corruption, embezzlement, capital flight, increased poverty, and tribalism, which continue to suck the continent deep into the vortex of internal conflicts, administrative failures and increasing violent political implosions. The absence of accountability in government has exacerbated the problems of good governance, while the lack of skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated public administrators has ensured that open and endemic corruption is bankrupting African countries and creating a climate that continues to cause widespread social upheavals across the continent.

An effort to put corruption in African bureaucracies in proper perspective, Transparency International, in its 2005 survey, lamented the poor performance of African countries on the Corruption Progress Index (T I Report, 2005). The TI survey implicated endemic corruption as the primary cause of poverty in Africa, and the major impediment to good governance, the establishment of democratic institutions, and social stability. The Global Forum on Fighting Corruption, another good governance watchdog, declared that corruption threatened democracy, economic growth and the rule of law (Global Forum on Fighting Corruption Report, 2005). The major problem in Africa is that the governing elites lack the sense of patriotism, focusing instead on their own self-interest, as they loot the resources meant to bring change and economic development in their countries. This brought about the widespread social and economic malaise facing the African continent. Further studies will attempt to understand the reasons behind the perennial failures to establish fully functioning democratic institutions and systems of governance to promote good governance and social and economic development in Africa.

In the first decade of African independence, democratic institutions were established, but the social disconnect that emerged between the governing and governed, soon led to the abandonment of these democratic experiments. Thus, widespread discontent and civil unrest began to manifest in various forms until finally successive military coups swept the continent leading to the ousting of democratically elected governments. The ascendancy of the military regimes at first caused hopes to rise, but reality soon set it as the new rulers began to purge the ranks of the government and competent and experienced civil servants whose loyalties they questioned. The reality of military rule began to gradually unfold as the military regimes, threatened by their tenuous hold on power, began systematic arrest, detention, torture and murder of opponents of the regimes; both real and perceived. The democratic experiment, in its infancy under elected civilian governments, were abandoned or dismantled to the chagrin of the people. And human rights protocols, to which African countries are signatories, were abrogated with impunity, leading to the further erosion of civil society rights. And with these abuses, came the repression of the press, corruption and lack of accountability, which have become the hallmark of military rule.

Attempts to address issues which facilitate better understanding of democratic processes and systems of governments in Africa and for its people are an ongoing effort. More recent findings of the reports of African bureaucracies may help reduce the prevailing culture of corruption, and enable the establishment of democracy across Africa. Already, several authoritative studies have established that the failure to institutionalize good governance in Africa is a consequence of the criminal lack of accountability, the rampant corruption, and abuse of human rights, the politicization of the military and the civil service, and the repression of the independent media. It is hoped that the more study reports of the behaviors of bureaucracies across Africa will benefit the continent and other information consumers by helping identify the causes of failure to establish good governance, while offering solutions for ways to establish democracy in Africa. It is hoped that these reports will educate readers about the pervasiveness of bureaucratic corruption in Africa as the primary cause of the poor governance across the continent. It is notable that Sub-Saharan African countries have descended into lawless anarchies over the past five decades, at a time when the rest of the third world is experiencing dramatic changes in the ways governments operate and manage their human and natural resources.

Finally, over the past decades since political independence, Africa has taken a path that has only brought misery and social alienation among its population. Military rules, which began four decades ago, have established dictatorships that prevent people from realizing their full potentials, and their hopes and aspirations. Democracy is imperative in the quest for justice, equity and social and economic development, and hopefully researchers, students of Africa, the African’s political leadership and citizens, will acquire information in this study that could be useful in advancing good governance and democracy in Africa. In order to understand how African governments have administered more than half-century of poor governance, the study examines the way in which African bureaucracies have functioned in the past. The failure of Africa’s government to bring about social and economic development, therefore, directly correlates to the deviation from the ideal-type bureaucracy, and its substitution, in Africa with a system of public organization that promotes paternalism, self-serving individualism, and diverts public resources from public benefit to private use.

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