Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Training And Performance Of African Administrators

Emmanuel A. Annor

Ladipo Adamolekun in the February 20 issue of West Africa magazine reports on a recent conference of Directors of Schools and Institutes of Administration in Africa held in Yaoundé, Cameroon December 6-10, 1983 at which information on the training and performance of African administrators was discussed. EMMANUEL A. ANNOR comments on the report and offers some Suggestions for improving the performance of African administrators.
The Conference of Directors of Schools and Institutes of Administration in Africa held last December in Yaoundé to discuss the training and performance of African administrators could not have come at a more oppor- tune time. African administrators have of late been indicted, with good reason, by not only military coup makers but international agencies as well.

It is very tempting at such meetings to indulge in facile self-congratula- tions, as the conferees almost did, and pretend that the Institutes of Public Administrations (IPA's), and their francophone counterparts the Ecoles Normales d'Administration (EMA's), have made significant impacts on the administration of African governmental institutions during the post-indepen dence period. In fact in a case like Guinea, where the precipitate departure of French administrators in 1958 led to a successful start by Guinean bureaucrats, such an indulgence might be understandable.

And to the extent that the civil services inherited from the colonial administrators continued to perform their routines, the IPA and ENA directors may be justified in patting themselves on the back. For hasn't Africa produced some of the finest international civil servants? And doesn't their presence at these international agencies demonstrate the managerial talent which abounds on the continent, which, given the chance, might turn things around? Unfortunately such complements have limited merit, for it is also true that African administrators have ac- counted for the dismal wastage of pub- lic resources, reducing many African economies to their current blight. And even at the international level, are Africans really in control of these agencies did they have any say in the conceptual undergirdings of the institutional forms which employ them, or are they merely glorified clerks with bloated paychecks?

We must admit that African public administrators have done very little to innovate public administration practice. So fossilized are some civil servants in many countries that top civil officials would rather passionately guard as immutable such pallid documents as the General Orders than take innovat- ive steps to review these procedures in consideration of changing circumstances. The establishment of IPA's and ENA's, it would appear, has had an impact on public servants. While this fact may result in part from the relatively short life spans of these institutions and schools, the lack of sustained, systematic inquiry into the effectiveness of training programmes appears to be the major source of the problem.

This dearth of research is aggravated by obsolescent faculty who cling to old concepts and recycle textbook material while contributing little in the way of original research. Consequently, it is not uncommon for faculty and trainers to teach such concepts as shop-floors, collective bargaining, MBO (manage- ment by objective), etc., without ever having actually visited production lines or become involved in bargaining situations, much less tested for themselves the hypotheses underlying concepts like MBO.

Thus, in order that the IPA's and ENA's have any effect, the Directors must face the onerous task of debunking ‘knowledge for knowledge's sake' and take the initiative to involve faculty, students and trainees in short courses on, for example, conducting ongoing research in public establishments. Only then will they have anchored theory in practice.

The humble beginnings of African administrators

While faculty may appear somewhat behind in their fields, public officials - principal secretaries, senators, military officers occupying civilian posts - are walking fossils. So encumbered are these officials with countless petty details that they have little spare time to read books or journals for intellectual improvement or improvement of their performance on the job. Such personnel might have impressive credentials to their names and in many cases belong to reputable foreign professional organizations (often cited with pride), but hardly do they contribute articles of professional journals in their specific disciplines. At the local level, the lack of home-grown trade and professional journals, due to either lack of printing facilities or plain intellectual sloth, leaves high government officials plodding along, year after year, government after government, sinking deeper and deeper into obsolescence.

Such laxity among public officials comes at a critical time. Africans have become avid consumers of modern technological hardware. Ironically, the 20th century knowledge explosion has compelled high government officials to deal, completely unpreparedly, with smart international negotiators, tricksters, business people, and salesmen who, by their 'superior' wealth of knowledge, manipulate our unwitting bureaucrats into gambling away their patrimony.

Neither has time stood still; international banking and finance have been transformed by the electronic age. Quality circles, Theory Z and Strategic Planning Systems are fast replacing the Theory X, Y and MBO's of yore. If public officials are to perform effectiv- ely in the latter part of this century, they certainly have to awaken from the lethargy and complacency they seem to have acquired along with their professional degrees and diplomas.

A far more critical area for the IPA's and ENA's to address in the future will be the training of military personnel, especially at the officer level. For, whether Africans fancy the idea or not, for a long time to come, the military will feel itchy to intervene in governmental systems they hardly understand. Research into the recruitment procedures and specific training of the officer corps, including non-commissi- oned officers, is imperative if we are ever to understand the mind-set of this section of the population so apparently dissatisfied with its assigned role in society that it must take on tasks completely outside its capabilities. But rather than dwell on the frequency of military interventions, the time is perhaps opportune for the IPA's and ENA's to design curricula for the training of military personnel for civilian positions as a way of preventing them from blindly over-extending themselves while in office (assuming, of course, that they would be willing to learn).

The success of such programmes will depend largely on basic values and beliefs in our respective societies, and the extent to which faculty themselves can command respectability. It is reas suring that the Directors identified values and attitudes as among the critical factors undermining performance. The values of 'fairness,' 'integrity,' impartiality,' 'commitment to public service,' 'responsiveness' and 'responsibility' have been recycled in name for ages. But what do these 'ideas' mean to the ordinary worker in the passport office, customs department, railway ticket office, post office, bank, or for that matter, the telephone exchange?

In many African countries, people view their government's property with detachment. It is the smart guy that swindles the government and trans forms his fortunes and those of his ex tended family overnight. Thus one can easily understand why, when college students go on strike, their immediate targets are their own dormitories and cafeterias and other 'symbols of the establishment.' Trade unions in Africa hardly understand the difference between picketing and wild-cat demonstrations; a demonstration means destruction. The attitude of most workers in governmental establishments is that 'the work does not belong to my parents,' the 'aban edwuma' syndrome referred to by Annis Hafar in this magazine some weeks ago.

Nor are attitudes any better at the higher levels. The 'Oga,' who is eternally 'not on seat,' the 'patron' or 'boss' who is 'sorti' or 'gone to a meeting at the Castle,' is too familiar a scenario to junior government officers. Directors and vice chancellors of institutes and universities in Africa spend more time and energy junketing around the globe and nailing down their next careers than staying home and providing educational leadership. Attitudinal changes must undoubtedly be considered critical if African institutions are to improve their performance.

It is ironic that, in an era when more Africans than ever have acquired tech- nical and other academic skills, our public organizations should be in such dire straits. The apparent inverse relationship between education and performance on the job demands attention. Has more learning come to mean less competence? Have the supposedly humbling effects of training of the mind conversely rendered us more arrogant?

The many developmental theories tested on the African continent since 1960 have evidently failed. It is time, it seems to me, for IPA's and ENA's through collaborative efforts to open new grounds that will upgrade the per formance of our public institutions, from hospitals to schools to military establishments. A possible starting point might be to take inventory, at the national level, of basic values and beliefs, which could then be incorporated into school syllabuses for the next generation. For those already set in their habits, however, hope is not lost. Mandatory continuing education classes, workshops, experimentation with innovation in their fields, and above all leadership by example (a model espoused by the Nigerian IPA's), are but a few means by which the future of African institutional management systems can become bright.

The efforts of CAFRAD (the African Training and Research Centre in Administration for Development) to take on the task of co-ordinating inter actions between the IPA's and ENA's are praiseworthy. But lest such meetings become mere vacation trips or platforms for bragging about individ ual chiefdoms or manifesting stiff necked bombast, the opportunity should be used to look at hard data as the basis for informed decisions and critical carricula reform. That way, the quality of performance in our public services could stand a chance at excellence.

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