Who is going to pay for international development?

The world does not require another inventory of financial problems and solutions. It needs a list of priorities

The time is coming for the big ideas in targets such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be enhanced into politically realistic commitments.


There is simply not enough time or resources to do everything so what should the world’s development finance priorities be?

Addis Ababa is hosting a UN financing for development conference in July 2015, and the timing of the talks, before the goals are announced in September, is a strong message from member states that if credible financial commitments are not made, the whole exercise to refresh the millennium development goals (MDGs) would be little more than words on a page.

One thing is clear: the agenda is broad. How should progress be paid for? What is the role of the private sector? Who should keep an eye on sources of finance? Isn’t it now finally time for structural reform in global financial institutions, such as the World Bank? And what proportion of development should be paid for out of domestic as opposed to international resources?

With such a large number of issues defined as «development», it is hard to draft declarations that are useful for overburdened decision-makers who are used to being presented with shopping lists in which all the points are considered equally important to achieving improvements.

But politics is prioritisation. Politicians and bureaucrats love a map of options to choose from, usually collapsing for the path of least resistance. And anyway, there is simply not enough time or resources to do everything.

So when development finance experts arrive in Ethiopia next year, they should remember that the world does not need another list of financial problems and solutions, another meta analysis of the situation. It needs priorities.

First, identify the most important issues. One of the main problems of the MDGs, as noted in incalculable analyses, was their failure to bring the major structural issues to the table. I know of no one who thinks that aid is the most important contribution that wealthier countries can make to development, but the nebulous terms of MDG eight allowed politicians to get away with aid promises (which in some cases they didn’t keep) rather than setting an audacious agenda for transformational change in global financial governance, dealing with illicit financial flows, for example, taking bold steps towards international tax reform, and introducing better mechanisms for working out debt repayments.

Today it is even clearer than 15 years ago that such major structural issues need to be managed if the world is to adopt a sustainable path. Such issues could be unequivocally prioritised in the UN finance for development declaration next year. Aid is not unimportant, but it is less important, and could be lower in the list.

Second, achievability. One of the most depressing conversations I can remember was during a NGO coordination meeting in Barcelona with an adviser from Mali. Reflecting on the way cotton subsidies abroad had all but destroyed Mali’s cotton industry, its one big chance to emerge from aid dependency; I asked why they weren’t campaigning harder on the issue. He replied that it was useless – incentives in subsidising countries were too strong to overcome; better to work on things with a chance of progress.

The same analysis needs to be applied to the prioritisation of goals and commitments in development finance. Some issues remain fairly stubborn – such as subsidies in richer countries – but the international context for progress on other systemic issues is better than ever, as people in rich countries clamour for fairer burden-sharing in times of austerity.

The achievability test is also key to the public vs. private debate. The role of the private sector, both domestic and multinational, is critical to development outcomes. But our ambitions with regard to making it a partner in the SDG process should be proportionate to a sensible analysis of achievability. Rather than focusing on getting commitments from the private sector, which follows a particular set of incentives, it may be more sensible to set out how public actions can encourage – and sometimes force – companies and banks to be as pro-development as possible.

Prioritising some issues doesn’t mean forgetting others – it means allocating time and resources most appropriately after an assessment of importance and achievability, just as has happened for the SDGs.

Changes in the way that development is financed could be treated as goals in themselves, with a 15-year horizon and short-term monitoring mechanisms, just like the SDGs. This is the approach suggested by the in many ways visionary report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda. These commitments will, inevitably, fall more on wealthier and more powerful countries, and could be seen as a key part of the «universality» agenda, in which all countries, not just developing countries, have clear and binding targets.

Next year is a chance to write the next page of the development finance book. As well as a reaffirmation of the critical importance of international public action to achieve collectively agreed objectives (of which international public finance is a part), we also need not just a wish-list but a prioritised plan of action with a specific timeframe for changes in global finance.

What Does ‘Sustainable Development’ Really Mean?

The model for ‘sustainable development’ as espoused in official UN documents cannot withstand a serious critique. A real sustainability requires a change of economic paradigm, not a continuation of the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist economic model that is dependent on unimpaired profits.

An Attempt to Define SustainabilityImage

There is a conflict among the different ways people understand sustainability and sustainable development. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the United Nations is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two important limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability).

Let’s make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible: Sustainable development is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric of no consequence

Durban Conference: Questionable Expectations

As the world meets in Durban, South Africa, for what has become a yearly attempt to secure a global response to climate change, let us look back on 20 years of events that have brought negotiations to this point.

1988. The IPCC is born
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established in response to record heat levels, droughts and studies that point to carbon dioxide as a factor in global warming. Set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) ant the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the panel is seen as both a political and a scientific body. Through the review and assessment of the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information, it aims to enhance global understanding of climate change and the consequences thereof.

1990. Experts warn of a pressing need to tackle global warming
In its first assessment report, the IPCC predicts a rise in global mean temperature of some 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade throughout the 21st century. The increase would be greater than the experienced over the previous 10,000 years. The panel warns that the trend towards serious global warming can only be stopped if ‘strong measures’ are put in place to tackle it.

1992. US shows first signs og going it alone
Rio de Janeiro hosts the Earth Summit which leads to 154 nations signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The aim of the convention is to reduce emissions from industrialized countries to 1990 levels by the year 2000. While the majority of signatories call for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, US President George W. Bush insists that any targets or timetables must be entirely voluntary and non-binding.

1995. Berlin mandate paves the way for the Kyoto Protocol
In the spring of what is the hottest year on record thus far, Berlin hosts the first UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP). Industrialized nations agree on the need for longer-term action to prevent climate change, and the session results in the Berlin Mandate. Under the terms of the declaration, which lays the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol, legally binding obligations commit industrialized nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By now, economic growth in China means it is en route to become the largest greenhouse gas polluter by 2010.

1997. Kyoto Protocol is adopted but not ratified
On December 11, the Kyoto Protocol is adopted in the Japanese city of the same name. According to its core principle of «common but differentiated responsibility,» industrialized countries responsible for climate change have to do more to solve the problem than developing nations. The document agrees legally binding emissions cuts for industrialized nations and sets a target of reducing 1990 levels by 5.2 percent before the year 2012. The USA says it will not ratify the Protocol until it sees developing countries do their bit.

2001. President George W. Bush pulls the US out
Despite campaign promises to tackle the problem of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, when George W. Bush enters the White House, he pulls the US out of the Kyoto Protocol, which he describes as «fatally flawed in fundamental ways.» He justifies the move on the grounds that Kyoto fails to address two major pollutants –black soot and tropospheric ozone– and would have «a negative economic impact.» The Bush administration’s decision not to ratify the Protocol forces the delays of its implementation.

2002. Russia is put in a decisive position
In order to come into effect, Kyoto has to be ratified by nations collectively responsible for 55 percent of emissions from the industrialized world. European Union countries and Japan press ahead with ratification, but with the US no longer in the game, there is little room for anyone else to back out. Australia follows Bush’s lead, leaving Russia holding the final card.

2004. Moscow finally agrees to ratify Kyoto
After a long period of uncertainty, on November 18, Moscow ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. Although there are fears that the agreement could have a negative impact on economic growth, talk of stronger EU support for Russia’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization helps to tip the scales.

2005. Kyoto comes into effect but its limitations are clear
Kyoto comes into effect seven years after it was agreed. Ratified by 144 countries, the treaty aims to reduce the emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012. Major developing nations, such as India and China, are not yet required to meet targets. The European Union launches its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), limiting levels of greenhouse gases from large industrial emitters of carbon dioxide. Under the scheme, companies are given emissions allowances to buy and sell among themselves. The plan is to cut allowances gradually to reduce emissions.

2007. Bali talks start a critical countdown
Tensions reach a boiling point at the 2007 Climate Conference in Bali. Countries’ failure to reach consensus on a successor to Kyoto proves too much for UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who dramatically breaks down in tears. Nerves fray as China appears to walk out and the US chief negotiator is openly jeered. The world eventually agrees to pursue two tracks of negotiations: one on extending Kyoto and another on a potentially new agreement. Delegates give themselves two years to settle the question.

2009. Copenhagen descends into farce
Hopes abound that Copenhagen will conclude with a tough legally-binding agreement for the planet. Not since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 have so many world leaders come together in one place. With Barack Obama in the White House, there is speculation of grater US commitment and many hope China and India will sign up to targets. The talks end instead in acrimonious chaos. The most to emerge are references to significant financial incentives for poor countries, and grater –if voluntary– pledges to cut emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.

2011. The death knell for Kyoto
Government representatives and climate experts meet in Durban for COP17. With the first phase of the Kyoto agreement due to expire at the end of next year, the need to decide on its future looms large. Japan, Russia and Canada have said they will only sign if all major economies, including China (now the world’s largest emitter) and the US are bound by mandatory targets. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has already made clear that it is too late for Kyoto and that an interim solution will have to be found.

Business and Human Rights, a difficult bridal

After six years in office the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, acknowledges that he has made ​​progress in his job since his appointment in 2005, but he has been mainly driven by many NGOs that accused for decades the companies’ manners in some countries, particularly international businesses. Carlos Lopez, a senior legal advisor to the International Commission of Jurists, an NGO based in Geneva, reports that national and international corporations – and the states from which they originate – are opposed to excessively restrictive obligations or texts.

These firms consider that these rules could affect their ability to compete against other companies from China, India or Russia, which have different standards. But precisely a hundred years ago, the International Labour Organisation was created to establish standards that everyone would agree to meet.

It goes now beyond the rights of workers. Some suggest e.g. a set of standards, such as the right to a healthy environment. But businesses and their respective states do not want to hear about it. They say we must leave the markets go without putting rules that may impede business operations. Otherwise, facing too many binding rules (eg. taxes), they are afraid they will make less profit. There’s the rub.

A country where standards should urgently be implemented is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has repeatedly criticized the serious violations of human rights in the region, breaches connected to the mining activities and the extraction of natural resources, which are often contracted with transnational industries.

Many armed groups control these areas and they do it for economic reasons. They want to make a lucrative profit because these regions are rich in minerals. It is very well described in the meddling report to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is precisely in these pockets controlled by armed groups that mining is organized. They manage resource exploitation in situations of terrible abuse that could be defined as international crimes. In addition, international companies and companies located in other countries buy these minerals and are therefore involved in transactions. So there are different levels of involvement of foreign companies. And the international community does little to change that.

Yet the situation in DRC is closely followed by the Security Council. It has established codes of conduct and asks corporations to pay particular attention to the fact that minerals mined in the DRC do not benefit armed groups and do not help fueling the conflict. Companies should have clearer objectives in terms of respect for human rights. It should set more rules to ensure that the entire chain, all activities in any way, do not violate human rights. And that in addition they do not contribute to ensure that others do so.

Last June John Ruggie’s mandate ended. The first Special Representative of the UN for Business and Human Rights has succeeded anyway adopting common principles. However, he did not want that these principles were binding. Thus, only the goodwill shall prevail. That is a bit thin in the competitive world of these often lawlessness areas where victims have often no remedy at law.

Do Reforms Inhibit or Support African Development?


After the analysis of decades  of public sector reform in Africa with special focus on Ghana, one can draw the conclusion that the  external support during the 1980ies has been  vital,  but  to  some  degree  harmful  due  to  a  “faulty  diagnosis  and  prognosis” (1). The African public sector during that time cannot be described as too big, but as expanding. This growth was a direct result from the new-won independence and was therefore a necessary step of taking control.

In order to overcome the economic decline in the 1980ies African states were dependent on foreign investments. While the IMF, the World Bank and individual donors did provide the money, they also set unfitting goals and an unrealistic time schedules. Instead of strengthening the existing system of public administration, Western NPM methods of downsizing, retrenchment and cost cutting were introduced. As has been stated in the above, African states did not have an oversupply of qualified civil servants, but a demand for the latter. Instead of ensuring their loyalty and providing a better education for them, many positions were cut and the crucial increase of salaries was implemented with reluctance (2).

The results of these reforms of the public administration of the 1980ies in Ghana and other countries were modest to say the least. From a different point of view, one could even assert that they were modest from a short-term perspective, but fatal in a long-term perspective, because they focused on technicalities in order to save money – that actually weakened the civil service (1) and ignored the core aspects of successful public sectors. While it might make great sense to concentrate on cost-cutting and downsizing of the public administration in Western countries like the UK or  Germany – where  a  certain ethic belief may  be  attributed  to  the  public officials because of centuries of institutionalized rules and norms – African bureaucracies were nowhere near this point of development. If one observes the economic progress of Asian tiger states whose economies greatly strengthened during the past decades, one is also able to attribute this success to strong systems of public administration (3).

As there is no such history in African public management, it seems obvious that an emphasis has to be laid on the establishment of civil service ethics and accountability. One could conclude, that the reforms of the 1980ies in Africa skipped one step, because they  aimed  at  shrinking  something  that  wasn’t  even  stable  to  begin  with.  Only technicalities were at focus. Therefore, one is drawn to argue that reforms from this time period inhibited the development of committed reformers in Africa.

Of course, this statement must be handled with care, as one does not have the possibility of comparison with an African country that did not follow the NPM reforms at all. However, cutting costs at the wrong places led to the “unfolding challenges” (4) African countries encountered during the 1990ies and even in the new millennium. While techniques for more ethical behavior and accountability are decided on, their implementation must be coordinated among the African states. Instead of relying on external help, the more successful countries have to set an example and support  the weak links.

Dealing with these problems, the UN concludes:

“For poor, resource-constrained countries, the reform challenges are daunting, not because the countries do not know what to do, but because they lack the resources to initiate and sustain a comprehensive program of change.” (4)

Financial aid is thus still vital today. But instead of forcing these different systems to adapt Western ideals of public administration reforms, the support should be engaged on the  education  of  civil  servants,  hence  human  capacity  building  and  training.  In combination with a rise of public official salaries, the two core weaknesses identified in this work would be tackled. While the downsizing of the public sector has already taken place, one could attempt to stabilize this system now. Therefore, the current trend of African civil service reform can no longer in any way be attributed with an inhibition of the countries’ development.

On the whole, it has been clear that the reforms of the NPM-wave during the 1980ies did   little   to   promote   sustainable   development   in   African   public   sectors   and consequently in the countries’ economies (1) (2). Despite these negative experiences and the sentiment of wasted money, external support is a sine qua non in Africa now. The necessary strategies can only be implemented after the application of sophisticated analyses and diagnoses and with the involvement of all stakeholders, especially the civil servants in regard to more ethical behavior (2).

Only by doing so, policies – such as the liberalization of markets, vital for a more successful participation in global trade – can be implemented.

In order to highlight the difficulties encountered by Ghana and other African states in establishing an efficient and sustainable civil service resulting in a stronger economic development, this paper concentrated on the introduced governance crisis (2). However, there are of course great inter-dependencies between the public administration and the central government of a country. The best governance system would only get so far without a stable, organized and constitutional government (4). It would be interesting to analyze these realities for African states, as it seems logical that weak governments are another trigger for underdevelopment.

On the whole, one can conclude that reforms of the 1980ies were not customized for African   developing countries and most probably inhibited a quicker economic development. The second  wave of reforms however, is much more focused on the involvement and training of civil servants, which is – as seen in the cases of Developed Countries and Tiger States – crucial for a stable public  administration and economic growth. If provided with the necessary financial aid, reform-committed African states like Ghana could indeed face an overcome of economic underdevelopment.

Related posts:
· The African Governance Crisis (1/4) · A sift inventory of Africa’s development problems
· The African Governance Crisis (2/4) · The Consequences of Reforms on the African Civil Service
· The African Governance Crisis (3/4) · Rehabilitating the African Civil Service
· Millennium Development Goals: Fragile states claim summit outcome off-target


(1) Olowu, B. (1999). Redesigning African Civil Service Reforms. In: The Journal of Modern African Studies 37, 1 (1999). Cambridge University Press.
(2) Adamolekun, L. (2005). Re-Orienting Public Management in Africa: Selected Issues and Some Country Experiences. In: African Development Bank – Economic Research Paper Series No. 81.
(3) Evans, P. (1995). The State as Problem and Solution: Predation, Embedded Autonomy, and Structural Change. In: Politics and Society.
(4) United Nations. (2005). Public Administration and Development – Report of the Secretary General.

Rehabilitating the African Civil Service


The customary  problems  of  public  sector  ineffectiveness  due  to  erroneous  reform movements – leading to a reduction instead of a reinforcement of the system – and the ongoing  danger  of  corrupt  public  officials,  give  reason  to  speculate  about  more successful policies for the reinvention of the African public administration. In order to do so, public service ministers came together in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2003 to respond to “unfolding challenges” in African public administration (1).

In accordance with some reform approaches of the late 1990ies, the aim of new reforms is to switch to home-grown and demand driven methods directed at specific problems and challenges instead of the donor-pressured goals of broad downsizing and cost- cutting (1). While the UN observes that contemporary reform methods do still aim to improve business and customer satisfaction techniques –“a  carry-over from the early days  of  New  Public  Management”  (1),  intangible  reform  topics   such   as  the implementation of norms and values as well as public service ethics and accountability play a vital role.

Since African countries like Ghana do not possess the financial assets necessary for a much needed rise of public servant salaries, it seems crucial to at least stabilize the employees feeling of normative obligations. Despite negative experiences citizens have encountered with corrupt public officials so far, the latter must still be expected to have a  special  awareness  for  accountability  since  they  belong  to  the  directly  elected government of the country (2). Von Maravic argues that ethics in public management influence the quality of decisions made in public administration as well as the trust the citizen has in the system. (3). Hence, if one could ensure the ethical comportment of public officials, African (and more precisely Ghanaian public administration) could highly improve.

However, at this point another problem must be faced: the lack of resources. In this way, the UN states:

“In many countries, public administration remains weak largely owing to a shortage of human resources and to deficiencies in staff training and motivation.“ (4).

When speaking about the amelioration of African public services, one must be cautious not to attempt to apply the same public sector reform logic to all African countries. The differentiation of Adamolekun provides a possible classification of African states that has been mentioned before when referring to Ghana as a reform-committed country.

The above  table  or  a  similar  one  could  be  used  in  order  to  ensure  a  sustainable improvement  of  African  public  administration  systems.  In regard to this, the UN highlights the necessity of information sharing among reforming African states (4). Implementing the homegrown, but still NPM influenced methods of public sector reform in combination with the support of ethical and accountable changes in countries of the “virtuous circle” could be a first step (5). While the public service ministers all attempt to work on similar criteria they must accept countries like Botswana, Namibia or South Africa as a ‘primus inter pares’and a focal point of orientation. Moreover, it is obvious that foreign investments are still necessary; however one must not repeat the mistakes of the 1980ies and let donor schedules pressure the implementation of reforms.

Related posts:
· The African Governance Crisis (1/4) · A sift inventory of Africa’s development problems
· The African Governance Crisis (2/4) · The Consequences of Reforms on the African Civil Service
· Millennium Development Goals: Fragile states claim summit outcome off-target


(1) African Press Organization. (2008). 6th Conference of African Ministers of Public Service Opening Remarks.
(2) Solinski, H.M. (1993). Ethic-conscious outlook behavior in public administration in Switzerland. Considerations and suggestions for the introduction of an ethics understanding based on the American experience. Reports and contributions of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen.
(3) Von Maravic, P. (2009). Ethical challenges in administrative action. 5/4/2009.
(4) United Nations. (2005). Public Administration and Development – Report of the Secretary General.
(5) Adamolekun, L. (2005). Re-Orienting Public Management in Africa: Selected Issues and Some Country Experiences. In: African Development Bank – Economic Research Paper Series No. 81.

The Consequences of Reforms on the African Civil Service


 “Since the late 1980s, many African countries have been reforming their civil services (…) Unfortunately, these reforms have not been very successful because of faulty diagnosis and prognosis. They have failed to tackle the major problems confronting African civil services.” (1)

Before the analysis of African public administration reforms can be undertaken, one must remember that the landscape of Africa’s civil service was not build from scratch. With its independence from British colonial rule, countries like Ghana inherited a system of public management that fulfilled tasks of “assuring the continuity of the state and maintaining law and order” (2). However, the civil service was doomed to re-orientate after independence in order to follow national interests instead of the ones of former colonial rulers. The African Development Bank thus asserts  that  an  enormous  expansion  of  the  civil  service took  place  until  the  grave economic decline at the  end of the 1970ies leading to a full-scale development crisis (2). This is when reforms of the civil services this paper aims to concentrate on were launched. Ghana shall be utilized as a hands-on example in this work, because it may be identified as a reform-committed country (2) that demonstrates strong efforts to rehabilitate its public service despite tremendous economic shortfalls. Therefore, a lack of commitment can be dismissed as a possible inhibiting factor to a successful development of Ghanaian public administration.

The goal of the following chapter is thus to properly understand why policies from the 1980ies aiming at the economic stabilization and development of African states such as Ghana have shown little success (1). One of these policies is the liberalization African markets (3). Taking this as the initial point of  this  work’s  analysis,  one  is  more  likely  to  comprehend  the  nature  of  reforms launched  during  the  1980ies.  The question whether the latter actually inhibited or actually reversed Ghanaian administrative, hence ultimately economic progress shall now be at focus.

NPM-Waves in Africa

Influenced by donor countries providing the necessary financial support for reforms (4), the ideal of New Public Management began gaining ground as a leitmotif for reforms in Ghana and other SSA countries. In general one can follow Bamidele Olowu in asserting that “African civil services [were] originally modeled on their metropolitan precursors.” (1). Although New  Public Management does not  translate  into  the  same  dogmatically  closed  catalogue  of  instruments  in  every country, in this work NPM shall be understood as a business interpretation of administrative action, hence a trend toward micro economic behavior in public management.

According to Peter Evans, this phase of reforms in developing countries may be seen as market-centered (5). After decades of viewing the state as the ultimate instrument of development, reforms in the 1980ies were initiated under the sentiment of negative experiences with the central government, hence a thrive for a reduction of the state.

As mentioned before, Ghana like many other African countries experienced a great expansion of the civil service sector after the 1960ies (1). After the global oil crisis, African economic decline and the ideal of a business-oriented reform wave  of  the  public  administration,   this   growth  of  the  state  was  to  be  ended (2). Donor countries provided African states with the necessary financial aid for the cutback of civil services (4). To make this more accessible, one must look at some exact data, in this case from Ghana.

The shrinking of the Ghanaian public administration was tackled through a myriad of reforms steps. The most important ones for the analysis in this paper are as follows. A grand movement of organizational restructuring led to a reorganization of government ministries eliminating four agencies during the reform efforts. Hence, seemingly unnecessary agencies were cut.  Another method, which was very well received by donor countries, was Ghanaian retrenchment. The core goal of this policy may be seen in the cutback of unneeded civil servants in order to shrink the countries’ public administration system. Therefore, Ghana reduced its civil servants from 131 089 in 1990 to 80 000 in 1995 (1).

Despite the reduction of civil servants, the payment of the latter was to be increased. Therefore Ghana foresaw decompressing wages and providing higher salaries for public managers. While information on the actual increase varies depending on the source, it is safe to say that actual salaries in Ghana did not rise significantly. Although still higher than for many African countries, the increase during the reforms in Ghana was modest (2).

These three aspects of Ghanaian public sector reform are sufficient for the following line of argumentation. However it shall be noted that Ghana was also at the forefront in regard to privatization and decentralization of public services (1). Due to its British past and organizational influence, reforms like the latter were faster implemented than in other African countries (1).

Evaluation of the NPM Reforms in Africa

The crucial part now lies in the evaluation of the New Public Management reforms and their effect on policy-making capabilities of the African civil service.

As mentioned above, the size of the Ghanaian public administration was decreased in regard to the number of agencies as well as the number of employees. Donor countries favored this approach due to  the conviction that a smaller public sector would work more  efficiently  as  for  instance  experienced  in  the  UK  (3). Moreover, the state’s involvement was seen as one of the core problems in developing countries after the 1970ies (5), thus the idea of a roll back of the state was widely popular (6).

However, the African civil service was never abnormally big in comparison to other regions (1).

      Figure 1: Government Employment as a Percentage of Population (various recent years)

Source: Olowu, 1999, p. 9.

As visible in the above chart, the central as well as the local government in sub-Saharan Africa is much smaller than the OECD average. While the observation that there was an enormous growth of the latter may very well be correct, this must be viewed as a post- colonial necessity. It seems rather logical that a growing economy must increase its public administration capacities. In regard to the number of public employees, the UN states that the African public administration “is significantly understaffed in professional and managerial areas, and perhaps overstaffed in semi-skilled and unskilled areas.” (4).

Therefore, one must conclude that a reduction of Ghana’s civil service at all levels was contra-intuitive and defeating the purpose of a more effective public administration.

The retrenchment in the civil service in general has proven to be more costly than expected in the beginning. More precisely, the research on the proper identification of cost saving possibilities mostly exceeded the actual ex-post cost saving (1).

Ghana is once again a perfect example for this miscalculation as the country actually encountered cumulative losses as a result from downsizing in the 1980ies. Although  Ghana  has  been  classified  as  a  committed  reformer,  the  former  head  of Ghanaian civil service, Robert Dodoo asserted his dissatisfaction in regard to the reform movement. According to him, the reason for the lack of improvement of the country’s development lay in the “donor time-tables, agendas and conditionalities” (7). While external support was necessary and vital for an improvement of the African  civil  service  the  provision  of  money  came  with  unreasonably  short-term expectancies.  It  does  not  seem  surprising  that  a country in  danger  of  loosing  all monetary  support  decides  to   hustle  through  a  reform  and  risk  less  successful implementation instead of the loss of crucial financial aid.

There are two core weaknesses to be identified after this ex-post evaluation of the first part of African civil service reforms: (1) the way reform was embarked upon, along with (2) the goal of the reform.

The first point has been made quite clear with the previous statements of Robert Dodoo. The pressure for success coming from donor countries was in no way beneficial for the improvement of the Ghanaian civil service. As one of many, Ghana had agreed to reduce the cost of the public sector and implement questionable structural adjustment programs: “This was an explicit condition for financial support from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.” (2). Although the size of the civil service was reduced, the results in cost saving were modest.

But why reduce the African public administration at all? As demonstrated with the graph, the African civil service was in no way bigger than ones from many other states. While it was indeed expanding after the colonial rulers granted independence, this was a vital step toward a functioning economy and a sustainable development of countries like Ghana. State and market building are mutually dependent; hence a strong state in combination with a functioning market could be seen as the more adequate policy for Africa at this delicate time (3).

The World Bank itself states that

‘An effective  state  is  vital  for the  provision  of the  goods and  services  – and  the  rules  and institutions – that allow markets to flourish and people to lead healthier, happier lives. Without sustainable development, both economic and social is impossible.’ (8)

The problem  of  the  1980ies  believe  that  effectiveness  would  be  achieved  through downsizing is  made clear in the above. However, it now becomes tangible that the effects of the 1980ies reforms may very well have resulted in lacking capabilities to implement crucial policies for the countries’ development, i.e. the liberalization of markets. If there are too few agencies and employees to oversee the realization of liberalization, this process is doomed to fail.

The third reform step that shall be evaluated here is the alteration of salaries in the civil service. While there was indeed some increase in the salaries of civil servants in Ghana, they are still stunningly low (1).  When being confronted with unattractive   employment   opportunities, the reaction of workers is universally comparable. High-qualified human capital either leaves the country in order to find better-paid jobs or the employee opens him – or herself to corruption. A report by the IMF shows a strong correlation between wages in public administration relative to wages in manufacturing: “It is estimated that government wages needed to be 2×8 (…) times higher to make corruption negligible.” (The Economist 1997, Reasons to be venal).

Corruption is another major weakness of African public administration and must be seen as another NPM-influenced repercussion (1). Peter Evans asserts in this regard that methods of personalism and plundering at the top levels of African civil service destroy all possibilities of rule-governed behavior in the lower levels of public administration (5). More precisely, in order to make a living less qualified officials go along the example set at the top.

Another fatal repercussion of corruption for these countries is not only the waste of financial  resources,  but  also  the  cancelation  of  international  aid  programs  as  a punishment (5). Weak public administration with corrupt officials therefore results in a vicious circle for the whole country.

After evaluating the three vital reforms in Ghana, the downsizing of the public sector as well as an insufficient rise of civil servant salaries, in the following, this paper aims at observing some of the latest reform movements. By doing so, the goal is to make a recommendation as to where the development of the Ghanaian and African civil service should be headed in order to guarantee more capable ways of implementing policies for an improvement of the countries’ development.

Related posts:
· The African Governance Crisis (1/4) · A sift inventory of Africa’s development problems
· The African Governance Crisis (3/4) · Rehabilitating the African Civil Service
· Millennium Development Goals: Fragile states claim summit outcome off-target


(1) Olowu, B. (1999). Redesigning African Civil Service Reforms. In: The Journal of Modern African Studies 37, 1 (1999). Cambridge University Press.
(2) Adamolekun, L. (2005). Re-Orienting Public Management in Africa: Selected Issues and Some Country Experiences. In: African Development Bank – Economic Research Paper Series No. 81.
(3) Chaudhry, K. A. (1993). Myths of the Market and the Common History of Late Developers.
(4) United Nations. (2005). Public Administration and Development – Report of the
Secretary General, Sixtieth Session.
(5) Evans, P. (1995). The State as Problem and Solution: Predation, Embedded Autonomy, and Structural Change. In: Politics and Society.
(6) Goldsmith, M. J. & Page, E. C. (1998). Farewell to the British State? In: Public Sector Reform by Jan-Erik Lane. London: SAGE Publications.
(7) Dodoo, R. (1996). The Core Elements of Civil Service Reforms. In: African Journal of Public Administration and Management
(8) World Bank. (1997). World Development Report. New York: Oxford University Press