A few hours before take-off . I will fly to Bruxelles with a stop-over in Tripoli, see A. and the children tomorrow afternoon. (even though I have just been informed that the flight is two hours late and that I will probably miss the connecting flight. O Africa!)
All in all A. and I agree that the time we were separated was easier than we expected. We talked extensively over the phone every day, and she and the children were happy in Holland. A. seems to keep up well, happy to run things on her own it seems. As for myself, I struck me recently that now I have the kind of ‘sabbatical’ I have always wanted: studying full days would have been tedious, but the combination with work is good, and I have truly enjoyed the past two months and my quiet evenings and weekends.
A productive week, and an improductive weekend. Tired as a dog, I have mostly slept since I came home Friday afternoon. The workload of the past couple of weeks together with studies are weighing heavily on me, and I don’t feel (nor do I look) particularly healthy. But I am leaving gratified and with peace of mind, which isn’t always the case when I’m going on leave.
The few remaining illusions I cherished about the diplomatic luxury life I was going to lead in Africa are now chattered: over the past seven days, I have been washing myself with a bucket of water and a plastic cup. We’ve had no running water in the morning, and only sporadically during the day. Power cuts are becoming ever more frequent, and it’s clear that the hydroelectric plant providing the capital with electricy is soon going to break down. All donor’s have known about it for years, there have been studies and more studies, but no one will move until it breaks down, causing massive humanitarian (sanitation breaking down!) problems.
I finished reading General Romeo Dallaire’s account of the Rwanda genocide. Apart from the horrific events, what struck me also was that all working for big multilateral institutions face the same problems and frustrations. The ‘we’ against ‘them’ feeling he describes when talking about HQ (as opposed to him and his team on the ground), administrative procedures, and politicians far away not taking into account the views from the field, has clear parallels with what we experience, though not with the same devastating consequences of course.
Last Friday saw another important political event in the country: Thursday late afternoon I received a phone call from State Protocol: the Head of State was to have a ‘dialogue’ with the country’s opposition, and it was imperative that all diplomats attend. In fact this ‘dialogue’was something that a committee of opposition people (= the previous regime) working all diplomatic reprsentations last week, had insisted on. They came to see us as well, and I didn’t like what I heard: they seemed to regard the armed rebellion in the North as a legitimate alternative to democratic opposition, and insisted that the President had to talk to the armed rebels. Very worrying. I told them quite sharply that a democratically elected government can only be expected to talk to those who play according to the same rules. They said that the fact that the President had been democratically elected ‘ne veut rien dire’. Imagine then that these people, when they were given the chance last Friday to speak their mind to the President in the National Assembly, in front of the nation as everything was broadcast live on radio, didn’t even show up! They had the chutzpah to declare that ‘proper protocol’ had not been followed in inviting them. They are, like the President, not in it for the sake of democracy, but for power, and they are hell-bent on getting it back, one way or the other.
To the President’s credit, it must be said that the session had real value: he spoke his mind (and confirmed that he is out of touch with some of the real problems, such as the behaviour of his army). On the other hand, he let everybody in the hall speak their minds too, and there were some very vocal critics from all walks of life who jumped at the occasion. But much of the criticism was also constructive. Again I admired the amazing eloquence of people here, in French or in the national language, no paper, straight from the heart. Following up with substance may be another matter, but they sure know how to put their thoughts to music.
I had gone to the meeting with the young French lady colleague I talked about in one of my first postings, who has become quite a presence and a much appreciated colleague at the office. We found ourselves trapped. We though we would go for at most two hours, but instead the President invited those present to intervene. The proceedings were only interrupted for ‘refreshments’ (soda and peanuts) during two massive power cuts when the lights and microphones went out. There was no programme or agenda, and we weren’t sure whether the event would go on until deep into the night, as people kept talking and talking. After 6,5 hours we simply got up left, after I saw the President yawning as well… I nodded to him in an apologetic manner, and he nodded back undertstandingly.
The two refreshment breaks in the VIP lounge of the National Assembly gave me a good opportunity to observe the President from very close up. He does not seem a very sophisticated man to me, no great talker, not much charisma. At some point I could seem him standing all alone in the middle of the room with nobody paying much attention to him. Weird for a head of State, who should really be the center of attention. He turned to me for lack of anybody better and as I was closest to him, and little of substance was exchanged. Since I had last met him he had grown a bit older and somewhat fatter, and looked tired, with bloodshot eyes (now that I come to think of it, he must have thought the same of me…). He asked who the lady was whom I had come with, and when the boss would be back from leave, that’s all.
A week ago, a new colleague arrived, a Belgian, to take over from our dysfunctional Head of Administration. Seems a nice guy. His wife has come along, and as they are Dutch speaking, she was a bit disappointed to find out that A. had left for a long time.
With more time for reflection and in-depth reading, the continent is getting under my skin little by little. That is to say, I am ever more fascinated by its problems, but also more skeptical as to solutions. Scaling down ambitions as regards the state, and stimulating things at grassroots level seems to be part of the answer. In the assignment I did for CeFiMS last Tuesday I actually wrote about the specific constraints of institution building in the context of our host country. After some hesitation (it's only a student paper, homework, after all) I have decided to share it with those interested among my readers, as it sums up quite well my own thinking on the country so far. Happy reading if you choose to, and talk to you again in a couple of weeks time.
(References to our host country have been replaced by XYZ.)
Advice on Institution Building for the XYG
In March 2003, the regime of President PXX, the leader of the XYZ for over 10 years, was overthrown by a rebel army led by former army general BZZ. The ensuing transitional phase, accompanied and financed by the international community, in particular the European Union, France and the United Nations, saw the drafting of a new constitution which was subsequently submitted to and approved in a popular referendum in December 2004. Legislative and Presidential elections followed, and in May 2005 Mr. BZZ was elected president in elections recognized by the international community as being free and fair. The EU resumed its aid, suspended in March 2003, in July 2005.
With some of the worst socio-economic indicators in the world, the XYZ ranks 171th among the 177 nations in the world for which data is available. Most of the country's institutional infrastructure is in tatters, following years of mismanagement, corruption, under-investment, and, as the final coup de grâce, the mass pillaging of Ministries and other state institutions following army mutinies and a coup d’état between 1996 and March 2003. Public finance management is in almost complete disarray, with no expenditure controls worthy of the name, and state revenue levels from taxes and customs insufficient to even cover state officials salaries, let alone basic capital expenditure. Salary arrears since March 2003 are now at 9 months, but 40 months when arrears of previous governments are included. Graft is pervasive at all government levels, and the rule of law is poor and for many simply non-existent. With an unpaid, demotivated and increasingly undisplined army, the present government also has to face growing security problems in the north of the country due to rebel movements and fall-out from the crises in Darfur and Chad.
As things stand, few countries in the world provide as vivid an illustration as the XYZ does of Thomas Hobbes' dictum that life without an effective state to preserve order (and, it should be added, the enabling framework for the provision of the basic amenities of life) is 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. However, whereas the previous regime received ever less international assistance, the successful transition to a new constitutional and democratic order has won the present government much international credit. It is determined to use this momentum to address the many challenges the country is facing.
Subject and set-up of this paper
The near-total delapidation of state institutions in the XYZ provides at the same time a unique, albeit sad, opportunity for an in-depth reflection on the types and designs suitable for rebuilding the institutions of the country. The local context is to be emphatically taken into account. The present reflection is to be a necessary input for any government efforts in the domain of public sector reform, and for donors seeking to target their assistance, not least the European Commission itself.
After a reflection on the role of the state (ch. 2), the paper discusses available options for change while considering local constraints on capacity building and public sector reform (ch. 3). A set of recommendations will conclude this paper (ch. 4).
2. What (not) to expect of the state
With the present disarray of the state in the XYZ in mind, it is important to go back to the basic question of statehood and what to expect of the state and its institutions
The World Bank's 1997 World Development Report (henceforth: WDR) provides a useful starting point for the present reflections. After decades of emphasis on a more pronounced role for the market in roles and functions traditionally assumed by the state, the publication marked an important shift in the international donor community's thinking about the role of the state by giving the state a renewed importance. It quotes market failure and equity concerns as the major reasons for state intervention. The two-pronged strategy it proposes for rethinking the state is to
a. match what the state tries to do by what it can do, and
b. increase the number of things it can do capably by reinvigorating public institutions.
Among the things the state can do, the WDR distinguishes between minimal, intermediate, and activist functions. It advises that countries with low state capability focus first on minimal or basic functions, that is, the provision of pure public goods such as defense, law and order, property rights, public health, macroeconomic management, and protection of the destitute. Among the intermediate functions of the state the WDR counts basic education and the provision of pensions and family allowances, functions which the present author would also recommend for inclusion in the short term reform objectives of the XYZ.
Thus, it is recommended to limit the functions of the state to what it can do, which means in the case of the XYZ the basic functions mentioned above. Scarcity of qualified human resources and financial resources in the XYZ put major constraints on efforts and viability of ambitions. Donor aid, in the form of targeted budgetary aid and technical assistance, may to some extent alleviate these constraints and enable a minimum functioning of state institutions in the above key areas, but this will not be enough. At the same time, donors and government should focus a significant part of their efforts on the second of the World Bank's recommendations: the reinvigoration of public institutions, through reforms to make them work better. To see to what extent a reformulation of the types and designs of state institutions is viable is part of that effort, and the subject of the next chapter.
3. Options for change
Local context and constraints
When considering options for reform, it is essential to analyse, however succinctly, the specific context in which the intended reforms are to take place. There is a wide consensus on the importance of taking (national, cultural) context into account when introducing reforms. Donors’ experiences with the XYZ appear to confirm the different set of rules to which African politics seem to play compared to many other countries in the world, especially in the West. It is useful to look at some scholarly work done in this area.
David K. Leonard distinguishes two premises underlying western policy analysis and management techniques: purposive rationality (the commitment to collective, formal, organizational goals) and economic rationality (the assumption that economics is the fundamental social process and that all other human transactions can be understood in terms of it). He claims that their applicability is more limited in Africa than in the West for several reasons. One of them is the fragility of most African states, which means that for a leader, government or manager to survive, political reasoning rather than purely purposive or economic rationality may take the upper hand far more easily than in other parts of the world. This observation is closely linked to his argument that, due to the egalitarianism of pre-colonial African societies and the relatively meritocratic upward mobility in the late colonial and independence periods, African elites are more likely than other elites elsewhere in the world to have extensive patronage obligations to poorer peoples and to undergo stronger moral pressures to fulfill them.
Chabal (2000: 453-4) develops the point further and blames 'neo-patrimonialism’ - clientilism in which politicians assume an as it were fatherly role to the population - for the persevering absence of development on the African continent: resources are not distributed on the basis of economic effectiveness or efficiency, but between patron and client according to non-economic norms serving only to strengthen the patron's political legitimacy.
Taken together, the above elements provide an adequate description of the situation in the XYZ - one could add the further complication of different ethnic constituencies which XYZ leaders have to satisfy. They explain a number of issues such as the problem of parallel structures (the Presidency, the Prime Minister's office, individual Ministers' cabinets) all interfering with work of technical sections of Ministries; the often astoundingly 'soft' approach in proven cases of corruption and embezzlement; the tolerance of conflicts of interests of high level state officials in the sectors they work in; et cetera.
Other constraints are of a geographical nature. The XYZ shares its borders with some of the continent's most instable countries, such as Chad, Sudan/Darfur, and the RDC. Furthermore, the size of its territory (the size of France, for barely 4 million inhabitants) is almost impossible to control for its underfunded and poorly equipped army. A landlocked country, the XYZ has only one, barely viable, passage to the sea, which is a major hindrance to its economic development and adds to the isolation of the country.
Decades of salary arrears and underinvestment (see ch. 1) have undermined to a catastrophic degree morale and capacities of the various state institutions, where absenteeism, laxism, rent-seeking and corruption have become the norm. Not unlike their French counterparts, state officials are also extremely aware of their acquired rights ('acquis social') and very much prone to collective action such as strikes, which can be - as it is in France – an obstacle to reform efforts.
The above caveats limit the number of viable options for in depth reform of the XYZ's state institutions.
Leaving aside options dating back to the Chinese Mandarin Empire, there is an academic consensus on a number of modern times 'ideal types', which include the following: rule by bureaucracy (Weber); rule by ‘scientific management’ (Public Administration - Progressivists); rule by special institutions and regulation (New Deal); rule through entrepreneurial spirit (Reinventing Government); and rule by a combination of markets and managerialism (New Public Management).
Except for the already existing, though dysfunctional, system of rule by bureaucracy (on which more below), these ideal types, if applied in their entirety, do not seem viable because:
--> either the method requires high quality human resources (e.g. monitoring, evaluation, contracting skills) that go far beyond the human and institutional capacities situation in the XYZ’s state institutions; or
-->the method as a whole presupposes a market environment infinitely more functional than is the case in the XYZ, which counts at the moment no more than about 30 registered (and tax paying) commercial enterprises on the whole of its territory.
Instead it seems more useful to take the present situation as a starting point. As a former French colony, the XYZ has a state apparatus very much based on that of its former colonizer. Its organisation is, on the surface, strictly Weberian. However, procedures serve more often than not as mere opportunities for rent-seeking. Senior officials are replaced on a continuous basis, which makes hierachy a fluid concept in most state institutions: many ex-Ministers take up lower ranking posts after a regime change or government shake-up while often informally retaining their previous authority among colleagues and even with the new Ministers they are supposed to serve. Officials close to the President and his circle are most unlikely to be subject to the same disciplinary pressures as their peers.
These elements concur with Peterson, who finds, as did Leonard (1987), that hierarchy is ‘simply not effective’ in African bureaucracies, organizational management being limited to the span of personal rather than procedural control. Instead he proposes, as did Leonard, to turn a weakness into a strength by using the imperfection of Africa’s vertical structures for the promotion of horizontal networks or ‘microhierarchies’. Evidence from Kenya suggests that such horizontal networks, ideally reinforced with appropriate information technology, can help create ‘pockets of productivity’ by uniting motivated and competent individuals from different services.
Whereas purely market-oriented solutions are not easily imaginable in view of the poorly developed commercial sector of the XYZ, some elements of the above-mentioned redesigning options (as opposed to their wholesale application), in particular especially the contracting out of activities such as envisaged under New Public Management, may hold some promise:
--> For the social sectors it would be conceivable to outsource activities (from the provision to the oversight of certain public goods such as health care and education) to non-profit non-state actors. In practice these will often include international non-governmental organisations, but the inclusion of local NGOs in partnerships should be encouraged to build local capacity.
--> Other activities could be contracted out if they are labour-intensive (labour is cheap in the XYZ) and do not require high levels of skill. For these the market situation in the XYZ may actually be sufficiently developed or it will be able to adapt to it relatively quickly. Examples of appropriate activities for contracting out which are now undertaken (or not…) by the state, include rural road maintenance and urban sanitation.
--> Finally, if proper tendering procedures could be guaranteed, one could envisage contracting out certain state activities particularly prone to rent-seeking and corruption, the correction of which would have immediate significant effects on the State's coffers and hence its capacity to honour its internal (salaries and pensions) and external (debt servicing) financial commitments. Examples customs operations in the XYZ, or inspections in the diamond producing and trading sectors.
The most logical approach would seem to be to set out by addressing those sectors and area's where positive results will have an immediate result for the population at large, thus strengthening the government's credibility and hence improving political stability, while at the same time strengthening the state's financial health and thus operational capacities, as well as its international credibility – not least with international financial institutions - in terms of governance. Proper care should however be taken right from the start by government and donors alike to reinforce institutional capacity for the contracting and monitoring of the different activities.
In view of such characteristics as the country's political instability and the perceived need for consensus, it does not seem feasible to introduce radical changes across the board at once. Experiences from countries as different as New Zealand and China suggest that ‘big bang produces change, but, beyond change, results appear unpredictable’, and that far reaching reforms have a better chance of acceptance and hence success even in authoritarian states when introduced incrementally.
4. Conclusions and recommendationsIt seems evident that the XYZ, in the delapidated post-crisis state it is in, does not easily fit any of the historical ideal types of governance and their respective recommendations. Realism, perhaps modesty, as to the possible extent and speed of reforms, and at the same time a firm determination first and foremost to get the basics right, seem of paramount importance. In line with one of the recommendations of the WDR, ambitions as to what the state ought to do, should be adapted to what the state can do.
Given the the country's tumultuous recent past and it present fragility as a nation, the leadership is as yet in no position to jeopardize political stability and social peace. Experience in other countries suggests that one should have no illusions about breaking up neo-patrimonialism and informal networks that go across institutions and hold back the development of the Central African Republic as they do in so many other developing nations.
Nevertheless measures can be taken to contain some of its most detrimental consequences, by applying, in an incremental way, some of the market-oriented solutions propounded by the New Public Management philosophy. These could be applied to certain government services where reforms can be expected to have an immediate impact on the population's wellbeing and the State's financial health (we mentioned the example of customs services and the public health sector).
In the meantime, government and donors should strenuously work on the second of the WDR recommendations: increase the number of things the state can do by reinvigorating public institutions through investment in human resources and institutional infrastructure. In this context, it is suggested to seek the creation of productive horizontal networks involving known competent and motivated individuals within the existing bureaucratic structures.
Chabal, Patrick (2002) ‘The quest for good government and development in Africa: is NEPAD the answer?’ in: International Affairs, Vol.78, No.3, pp. 447-454
Cohen, Theodore (1987) ‘‘Defeudalizing’ the Civil Service’, chapter 20 in Remaking Japan: The American Occupation as New Deal, New York, The Free Press, pp. 378-397
Flynn, Norman (2002) Explaining New Public Management: the Importance of context, Chapter 4 from New Public Management: current trends and future prospects, edited by Kate McLaughlin, Stephen Osborne and Ewan Ferlie, London, Routledge, pp. 57-76
Flynn, Norman (2004) ‘Public Policy & Management - Perspectives and Issues’, course reader for the MSc programme Public Policy and Management, London: The Centre for Financial and Management Studies (CeFiMS), University of London
Gauld, Robin (2000) ‘Big Bang and the Policy Prescription: Health Care Meets the Market in New Zealand’, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Vol. 25, No. 5, 2000, pp. 815-844
Larbi, George A. (1999) ‘The New Public Management Approach and Crisis States’, UNRISD Discussion Paper No. 112, September 1999
Leonard, David K. (1987) ‘The Political Realities of African Management’, in: World Development, Vol. 15, No. 15, pp. 899-910
Peterson, Stephen (1997) ‘Hierarchy Versus Networks: Alternative Strategies for Building Organizational Capacity in Public Bureaucracies in Africa’, chapter 6 from Mirilee Grindle (ed.), Getting Good Government: Capacity Building in the Public Sectors of Developing Countries, Harvard Institute for International Development, Harvard University, pp. 157-176
Schick, Alan (1998) “Why Most Developing Countries Should Not Try New Zealand’s Reforms.” World Bank Research Observer 13(1):123-131
N.N. ‘The Evolving Role of the State’, Chapter 1 of the World Development Report 1997, Washington D.C: World Bank (referred to as ‘WDR (1997)’)
Weber, Max (1922, translated 1968) Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78
Wei, Shang-Jin (1995) ‘From Marx to Markets: China’s Economic Reforms as a Megapolicy’, Chapter 9 of Great Policies: Strategic Innovations in Asia and the Pacific Basin, edited by John M Montgomery and Dennis Rondinelli, Westport, Praeger, 1995, pp. 151-159
Human Development Index for the [XYZ] (2003 figures): http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/cty/cty_f_CAF.html
 See UNDP Human Development Index figures (Sources).
 in his treatise Leviathan (1651), quoted in WDR 1997, p.19.
 WDR (1997) pp. 25-28
 The other state functions formulated in the WDR (1997) pp. 26-27 such as environmental protection, regulating monopolies, financial regulation and consumer protection (all classed as 'intermediate functions’) as well as coordinating private activity (an 'activist state function') seem for the moment less relevant, or at any rate unfeasible in the context of the XYZ (apart from some isolated cases such as a recent successful initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture to revive parts of the cotton sector). They should however be retained as objectives in middle and long term planning and programming by government and donors.
 To name but a few: Flynn (2002); Leonard (1987), Peterson (1997) and Chabal (2002) for Africa; Larbi (1999) for NPM in crisis states in general; Schick (1998) for NPM (in particular in a health sector reform context) for development countries,; and Cohen (1987) for the transposition of Progressivist Public Administration to the post-WW-II Japanese context.
 Leonard (1987), pp. 900-1.
 The same point, ‘social pressures’, is made by Peterson (1997) p. 159, who quotes Robert Price’s work on Ghana. But in fact, the phenomenon can be testified to by almost anybody working on African public sector reform, including the present author.
 Chabal (2000) pp. 453-4.
 Confucius’ virtue and trust based rule as opposed to Han Fei Tzu's rule by incentives and punishments according to measurable criteria, cf. source texts in Flynn (2004), Unit 3, pp. 4-8. The reason why these ancient types are left aside is the lack of documentary evidence as to their precise application and effectiveness, rather than for a supposed lack of usefulness. In fact, several elements in Han Fei Tzu’s philosphy, in particular the measurability of performance, can also be found in more modern practices, in particular the Progressivist Public Administration of the 1920s, and more recently, in the managerialist elements of the New Public Management philosophy.
 As summarized by Flynn (2004) Unit 8, p. 10.
 As expounded in Weber (1922) pp. 650-78.
 Peterson (1997) pp. 165-169.
 In fact, this practice can also be witnessed in the XYZ, where such informal networks are at the basis of the few ministerial initiatives that do produce results. Examples include the Ministry of Agriculture’s recent successful efforts to breathe new life into the XYZ’s ailing cotton sector; and the informal working group preparing monitoring missions of the WB and the IMF. The examples are not many, though.
 But see Larbi (1999) pp. 27-31 for a clear view of the risks involved in contracting out in developing and transitional economies.
 This coincides with Leonard's advice (1987, p. 904) to donors not to ignore African leaders' need to honour commitments to their constituencies but to put it to good use instead.
 Gauld (2000) p.836 on the New Zealand health sector reform experience.
 Wei (1995)