The Role of Public Administration In This Retrospective Engagement
SUCH an enterprise will engage our public administrators throughout the continent as they are the repository of our development history and experience. It will require that they revisit and resume their strategic and intellectual preoccupation which was their greatest asset at independence when they and they only were in a position to guide our political leaders through the labyrinth of our colonial administration.
African civil servants used to be amongst the best in the world, and with much less formal education than they have today.
Time has come for them to return to that eminent position of serving as the architects of nation-building, not manning the bureaucracy of government which was designed in the first place by our colonial masters to obstruct or outright prevent African independent thought, judgment and action, and, consequently, any opportunity for creativity and innovation.
The exercise of any such initiative, it was determined, would undermine the control that was the critical underpinning of colonial rule.
Just think back to the days when virtually all civil service letters were written on behalf of someone else. “I have been instructed to inform you,” the letters always began, and they went on to pass on information often as simple as acknowledging receipt of your letter.
Often (and mostly unnecessarily) these letters were stamped “Secret” or “Top Secret”, and to leave no doubt as to the authority behind them, were stamped “OHMS” on the envelop, which stood for “On His Majesty’s Service” or “On Her Majesty’s Service”, depending on the gender of the reigning British monarch. At the end they were always signed on behalf of someone else, the Permanent Secretary in most cases.
At the time of the invention of this protocol, the Permanent Secretary was, of course, a white man. Ten, twenty, even thirty years as a civil servant and you did not have the right and authority to write a letter under your own name and signature. How could such a self-effacing system have promoted good and responsible governance and administration?
How could it have promoted innovation? Significantly, it obviates identity and authority, and by subverting initiative, undermines accountability in public service. How could such a pedigree produce innovative public service and administration unless we strip it down and redesign it?
The Deficits of Unmitigated eEngagement and eActivity
There are serious limitations to the whole-hearted embracing of electronic communication without proper communications skills, social discipline and enlightened reflection and circumspection. The most obvious ones are two:
a.The use of the Internet has created functional illiterates even out of once well-educated young people.
b.The social networks have replaced reflection and serious engagement critical for self-development and maturation with chatting and twitting in the lives of our young ones who most need to be seriously engaged at the time in their lives when they still have the courage to dream, learn and be daring.
50 Years Later – Who Governs Africa, How and To What End?
Looking back over the last fifty years since most of our countries in Africa gained political independence, truly and candidly, who governs Africa, how and to what end? We all know the answers, painful and embarrassing as they might be.
Governance By Proxy
Put quite simply, much of Africa, from the richest to the poorest nation, is governed, in reality, essentially by everyone but Africans themselves. From the erstwhile colonial powers who embedded and continue to embed their operatives in the civil service establishments of independent African nations, to international corporations and conglomerates that dominate our economies by virtue of being able to craft, create, manipulate or sponsor trade and market regimes, Africa has been and continues to be managed by agents external to the continent.
Together, they contain us as sources of raw materials at low cost while compelling us to open our markets to high-priced value-added goods that sustain their manufacturing labour forces.
From the coalition or consortium of international institutions and organisations that, acting singly or in concert, have over the years taken full command of the right, responsibility and authority to design and craft policies, strategies and programmes for the management of practically every aspect of African life and governance, to the consultants and experts they hire for or on behalf of African governments, governance in and of Africa has become, perhaps even inadvertently, essentially by external proxy.
Additionally, in quite a few cases Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been and are funded by some of these institutions and by their own governments to manage aspects or components of African governance by serving as proxies for them, even if one step removed.
Notinfrequently, as exemplified most significantly under the Structural Adjustment Programme of the World Bank, a plethora of fiscal, financial, psychological and political strategies have been used as instruments of enforcement, especially on countries badly in need of emergency food and financial support or subvention.
The Tele-governance of Africa: Outsourcing Africa’s Development
The consequences of this tele-governance of Africa, this outsourcing of Africa’s development, has been the exclusion of African initiative and innovation from the masterminding of Africa’s destiny and the undermining of the critical capacity development, experience and maturity inherent in self-development that all peoples and societies need in order to grow and advance and ultimately become globally competitive.
No society, nation or continent can grow meaningfully unless it is the prime and principal architect of its own development strategy and the corresponding programme of implementation, assessment and adjustment.
Usurping The African Development Space
Furthermore, the process of usurping the African development space and crowding Africans out of it has left Africans on the sidewalk of their own life and progress, mere observers of the external pursuit and prosecution of their own destiny and legacy.
This, in turn, has created intellectual and emotional joblessness as Africa’s best and brightest have found themselves far removed from their government leaders, left to wonder and wander when they would and could engage Africa’s challenges with their knowledge and expertise with superior outcomes and results eminently more likely to advance Africa’s success, well-being, growth and development.
The Process of Self-Alienation
How has this alienation of Africa and Africans from their own governance and development come about? One important process is the way in which Africa’s leaders and government officials are so engaged or engage themselves relentlessly in all manner of visits, consultations, programmes and conferences that they have little time to sit at home and think.
More critically, they are left with little time, energy or enthusiasm to sit with the people and engage them in genuine and passionate dialogue on the common challenge and dream, the common effort for the pursuit of the good of all, and, above all, the common destination and how to get there.
The exclusion of the common genius of the people form the process of their own development represents not only the most severe tragedy of the contemporary African experience to date, but the greatest threat to the stability of Africa’s future as the people begin to feel that their alienation is no longer a temporary aberration, but something fast becoming endemic.
To What End?
To what end has been this relentless effort to co-opt, control and manage Africa’s governance from outside? President Kwame Nkrumah provided the answer in his 1965 book, Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism, where he anticipated and provided the motivation, rationale and modus operandi of this post-independence phase of colonialism. U. S. Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, echoes the objective, rationale and method of this process.
For a continent so richly endowed, the thirst to grab all that Africa has and perhaps more, seems irresistible to all. Our challenge as Africans is not to blame others for wanting to take all we have and so desperately need for our own strategic self-development, but to find the courage and wherewithal to take control of our own governance and development.
To do so we must have the resilience to withstand some pain and temporary deprivation for a while in order that we can work to develop ourselves, our societies and economies under our own tutelage in order that at some point sooner than later, we can build the Africa of our dreams, using our genius and our vast resources as the quintessential investment and driving force for making them come true.
The Courage To Believe That We Can
If we have the courage to believe that we can mastermind our own destiny and the will to make whatever sacrifices are called for, we can still build the Africa we have all dreamed of. If we have the courage to once again believe in ourselves as we did fifty years ago at independence, and the tenacity and fortitude to stay the course this time for as long as is needed, we will surprise ourselves by how much we can accomplish and in the shortest time.
If we had the self-confidence to believe in our own knowledge of our condition and goals, and in our own experts whom we had trained at so much cost to manage our own development, we would be looking back today at the legacy and work we would have done and been most inspired by and proud of our accomplishments. We would be far advanced by now, alongside China, India, Malaysia and Brazil.
But we still can and must do so by taking back command and control of our own destiny and development, and the sooner we restart the process, the sooner we will be home free. As I stated earlier, we had it right at the beginning. Looking back 50 years, our own strategies for post-independence self-development were essentially very sound.
Somehow, somewhere early along the way, we hesitated and faltered, and in the process allowed ourselves to be dissuaded from being bold and ambitious in the pursuit of the African Dream, From a passionate determination to become nothing but the best, we slowly came to acquiesce to being second best, and then third best until we slid down to become a people dependent for our future on the very people we fought so courageously and successfully to liberate Africa from.
What we must do now to stem the tide of comparative decline from the overwhelming burden of seemingly intractable problems and challenges is to stop the clock, take sober stock of our experience of the past fifty years, and learn the lessons we need to learn.
Then, deploying our collective genius, we must proceed to craft a new, bold, imaginative and innovative strategy to build a truly modern, developed and globally comfortable and competitive Africa. To do so, we simply need to revisit our dream and vision at independence, study and internalise the hard lesson of the last 50 years, and, driven and empowered by our new insights and the pain of yesteryears, find the courage and passion to start over, determined to do it right this time around, once and for all.
Taking Full Responsibility For Our Condition And For Reshaping It
Fifty years after independence, we must and do accept full responsibility for the present condition we find ourselves in as Africans, for the gaps in our development process, for the failures and errors of yesteryears and for the sufferings we have caused our people in the process/ Nothing in this address may or should be construed as passing the buck and blaming others, including our colonial powers and their cousins for, the lapses we permitted and in some case encouraged or enabled, even if inadvertently.
Instead, we take full responsibility for doing what we have to do to wipe out the deficits and consequences of our weaknesses and oversights by undoing the lapses of the past and crafting new and bold strategies for going forth into tomorrow, driven and empowered by a new, inspired, inspiring and elevating African Dream. We must do his with the urgency that is called for, the brilliance that is required, and the total communal participation of all that is required to make the effort meaningful, authentic, popular, exciting, fulfilling and irresistible. This is my dream for Africa. This is my message for this august gathering.
To Whom Credit Is Due: A Tribute to Richard Kerby
Before concluding, there is one item I consider timely to address here, It is an important part of our African culture and civilisation to give credit to whom credit is due, when it is. As we talk about eLeadership in Africa today, of the Internet and all kinds of online capacities in Africa, as I watch Africans use the Internet at home and at work and at this Forum, I feel a quiet need to acknowledge the small contribution some of us made at the very beginning to make this possible and, in particular, someone who masterminded the whole engagement.
A decade and a half ago, my friend and brother, Richard Kerby, headed a UNDP programme called the Internet Initiative for Africa in which a group of us, often called “the boys”, criss-crossed this continent persuading African governments to embrace the Internet as a positive and inevitable new and upcoming development.
Richard Kerby is sitting right here, and history will one day pay due respect to him and perhaps the rest of us who braved the potential and sometimes palpable recalcitrance of governments which at the time were afraid that their young citizens would be too empowered by the Internet by virtue of the consequent vast increase in their access to information, internally and globally. The results speak volumes for themselves. It seemed like such a short time ago. This address is dedicated to him.
The Dream Lives On
The African Dream lives on and remains eminently achievable. We simply need to find the courage and the intellectual, moral and strategic wherewithal to start now to do what we should have done all these fifty years, what we know we must do, sooner than later, before it becomes too late.
Being a presentation by Dr. Okpaku, (president &CEO, Telecom Africa International Corp. ) to the African eleadership Workshop of the 2011 UN and Africa Public Service Forum at Dares Salaam, Tanzania recently.