Civil Service Under Pressure in Francophone Africa

Civil servants in Francophone Africa are coming under increasing pressure to improve efficiency and to do more with less. In February 2001, the Charter for the Public Service in Africa (PDF) was adopted during the Third Pan-African Conference of Public Service Ministers. Forty years after independence, the Windhoek Declaration revealed the overdue recognition of the crucial impact of the public administration on growth and redistribution of wealth in Africa.

The structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s led to a reduction in the number of civil servants in African public administration, which has led to the current strained situation for students still vying to serve in public offices.

Civil service training objectives

Listed below are just a few of the objectives of their mission (PDF):

  • To preserve the peace and stability of the state. The peaceful resolution of ethnic or border conflicts by qualified negotiators, trained in the art of diplomacy and dialogue.
  • To manage public finances. Civil service experts in public finances and tax legislation enable programmes for economic relaunch, debt-clearing and modernisation of production apparatus for economies still marginalised by world trade.
  • To assure essential social services. Future managers of the nation must go to a National School of Administration (ENA) to learn to develop plans for social protection or education services, difficult to put in place in most countries in Francophone Africa.
  • To guarantee the neutrality and integrity of the state apparatus. In short, civil servants at an ENA will deepen their knowledge of ethics and public service during debates on state corruption, cornerstone of citizens confidence in governing bodies.
Conference on Culture, Gender and Society at Benin ENA, 2007. Photo from Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Conference on Culture, Gender and Society at Benin ENA, 2007. Photo from Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Where are the National Schools of Administration (abbreviated as ENA in French) in Francophone Africa? Unlike the Anglophone system, the training of civil servants in Francophone Africa is the state's responsibility, following the model of the former colonial power France.

Some schools, such as the ENAs of Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania and Togo, the Gabon Institute of Economics and Finance and the National School of Administration and Judiciary of Madagascar, are members of the dynamic International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA). The founding body of this association is the International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS).

Ten other schools, including those of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger appear on the website of African Civil Services Observatory (OFPA), which states its aim as “sharing of experiences restructuring the Africa civil service”.

The site specified [fr] the nature of these aims:

Collecte des informations, appréciation des problèmes communs, identification des programmes régionaux et implication dans les activités d'études et de recherche sont nos principales missions..

Information gathering, understanding shared problems, identification of regional programmes and involvement in studies and research are our principal missions..

Some people believe this sharing of experiences to be essential. Wise Doh, a Ghanian student at the ENA explained [fr]:

 Je dois aider mon pays avec des méthodes françaises pour qu’il soit moins isolé au sein de la Cedeao [Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest].  Nous sommes entourés d’anciennes colonies françaises, le Burkina, la Côte d’Ivoire, le Togo. Mais, du fait de notre identité anglo-saxonne, nous ne pesons pas assez.

I must help my country using the French methods to make it less isolated within the Cedeao (Economic Community of West African States). We are surrounded by ex French colonies: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo. But, because of our Anglo Saxon identity, we don't have enough influence [in the region].

Difficulties encountered during public administration training

Each class has an average of 100 graduates, with all levels lumped together. At the start of the 2012 school year, there were only 82 admissions out of 10,262 candidates [fr], as highlighted by the ENA in Mali. However, these figures mask the general decline in the number of civil servants, with many having left the service over the past few decades. A decline reinforced by liberal movements who have criticised the invasive role of the state and the expenses linked to its activities.

Following successive budgetary cuts, civil service jobs have lost their shine in contrast with the professions, engineering or business management, jobs which are more conducive to staff fulfilment. In an instructive exposé on the challenges for public administration training institutions in Africa, Professor Jacques Mariel Nzouankeu of Senegal underlined that [fr]:

Le déclin n’est pas uniquement dû à un contexte économique hostile (chocs pétroliers de 71 et 79, programme d’ajustement structurels des années 80), mais également un manque de vision et d’agilité des autorités nationales face aux nouveaux besoins d’un monde moins pyramidal, plus rapide et plus intégré.  Ainsi, l’enseignement de culture générale destiné à renforcer la vision politique et la faculté d’encadrement des hauts fonctionnaires fut délaissé au profit de l’enseignement économique, jugé plus adapté aux défis posés par les récessions. On forme alors des agents économiques, plus que des acteurs de développement.

The decline is not solely due to a hostile economic climate (the oil crises of '71 and '79, the structural adjustment programme of the 1980's), but also to a lack of vision and agility of the national authorities when faced with the new requirements of a world with a less pyramidal structure, speedier and better integrated. Regarding this, the general training designed to strengthen political vision and the training of senior civil servants was neglected in favour of economic training, considered better adapted to the challenges posed by recession. Therefore school ended up training economic experts instead of   development professionals.

According to him, another error was that [fr]:

les autorités n’ont pas prêté grand intérêt aux nouvelles structures des « Bureau Organisation Méthodes » (BOM), dont les méthodes héritées du management public américain auraient été plus adaptées aux réformes administratives à venir.

the authorities have not shown much interest in the new structures of the “Office Organisation Methods”, the methods inherited from American public management should have been better adapted to the administrative reforms to come.

The dominant model of today remains that of the French ENA and many of the most ambitious Francophone African students apply for the annual entry examination at the Strasbourg based institute. However, this option is only available for a limited number of African students. From 1949 to 2008, 747 African students from 32 pays were accepted by the ENA [fr], which works out at just under 13 students per year.

The representation of Sub-Saharan countries is even worse, with 56 students from Cameroon and about thirty for Senegal and Mauritania over the same period. The French ENAs, training the elite, benefit from special means compared with their African counterparts. In 2011, the French ENAs had an operational budget of 423 million Euros [fr], 85% subsidized by the state.

The challenge for the African ENAs is considerable. They must teach efficiency by example and merge schools by speciality to achieve better economies of scale at inter-regional level. They must introduce strategic management tools in the programmes, linking to theory by training in a real environment. They must do all of this with reduced means of financing.

The difficulties do not stop there. The quality of public administration training is a necessary for development but is not enough to guarantee a successful one. Other factors must be in play: peer pressure, reaching critical mass for well trained civil servants, a dynamic dialogue with citizens and, most of all, an unwavering political will at the highest reaches of government. All of these are requirements for development that cannot just be taught at any ENA courses.


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