The governance landscape of a nation is inevitably shaped by the interplay of multifarious actors, influencing policy formulation, implementation, and, ultimately, the overall welfare of the populace. Within the realm of governance and public administration, Africa stands as a continent of diverse nations, each navigating a seemingly similar socio-political landscape. In this dynamic context, with the growing rate of unemployment among educated citizens, the accumulation of public service positions emerges as a critical and widespread phenomenon, wielding profound implications for both individuals and societies at large. Although common sense suggests that the accumulation of positions in the public service has direct consequences on the levels of transparency, accountability, and integrity within the public sector, the credibility of institutions and the trust bestowed upon them by citizens seem to be of no concern. This article aims to offer a comprehensive analysis of the strategies and implications surrounding the accumulation of public service positions in Africa. It is crucial to illuminate these intricate dynamics that shape the public sector in many African countries, providing insights that can inform policy reforms, foster more inclusive and accountable governance, and ultimately contribute to the advancement of African societies as they forge ahead into an ever-evolving future.
Governance refers to the process and system by which a society, organization, or institution is directed, controlled, and managed Hufty (2011). It encompasses the structures, mechanisms, and practices through which decisions are made, authority is distributed, and actions are implemented for the welfare of the country. In other words, effective governance ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, laws and policies are followed, and the interests and needs of citizens are considered and addressed. It is often characterized by transparency, accountability, fairness, and overall, the promotion of the common good. There is no doubt that achieving and maintaining effective governance must be a continuous and intricate endeavor, susceptible to various challenges and complexities that can impede its smooth operation and hinder the realization of its intended benefits. However, one prominent challenge facing governance in many African countries lies in the realm of corruption, which can be exacerbated by the accumulation of public service positions, despite the growing rate of unemployment. This insidious phenomenon undermines the very foundations of effective governance by diverting resources from their intended purposes and eroding public trust in institutions. When corruption festers, it corrodes the mechanisms meant to allocate resources efficiently and undermines the fairness and integrity of decision-making processes.
Strategies Behind Accumulation of Positions: Undermining Trust, Expertise, and Equitable Resource Allocation in Governance
Effective governance suggests that the voices and concerns of all segments of society are heard and taken into account for policies to be equitable and just. However, the effectiveness of a leader holding more than one public service position raises some serious ethical and legal concerns. It is common to see a politician simultaneously holding the position of an elected mayor, serving as a representative in a legislative body, and holding a ministerial position. As if holding more than one public service position were not enough, it is often compounded by the proliferation of hiring family and friends in public service. The perfect mechanism for corruption and nepotism to thrive unchecked. This intertwining of personal relationships with public service further erodes the integrity of governance systems (Ivanyna & Salerno, 2021). It creates an environment where loyalty to individuals takes precedence over loyalty to the public interest. This not only undermines the trust citizens place in their government but also hampers the ability of institutions to make decisions based on the best available expertise and evidence. It also distorts the allocation of resources and opportunities, as they may be directed towards those with personal connections rather than individuals with the most relevant qualifications and experience.
Eroding Meritocracy, Deepening Inequalities, and Diminishing Public Trust
The perpetuation of the system of patronage not only stifles development, and progress, but also perpetuates social and economic inequalities and limiting the avenues to break free from cycles of poverty within the society. In addition, this practice raises serious ethical concerns and undermines the principles of meritocracy and fair competition within the public sector. Furthermore, it erodes public trust in institutions, as citizens may perceive these appointments as driven by favoritism rather than qualifications or competence. This perception can lead to a loss of faith in the government’s ability to serve the best interests of the populace. Moreover, the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals or families can stifle diversity of thought and impede progress. It limits the potential for fresh perspectives and innovative solutions that arise from a more inclusive and diverse pool of talent. Indeed, holding multiple public service positions allows an individual to centralize power, making it harder for opposition or differing voices to challenge the established order.
To foster a transparent and accountable public service, it is imperative to implement robust mechanisms for oversight, accountability, and merit-based recruitment. Additionally, there must be a commitment to enforcing and upholding ethical standards, as well as a dedication to building institutions that are resilient to undue political influence and doesn’t serve as a buffer against checks and balances, allowing individuals to escape scrutiny (James et al., 2023). While effective governance is indispensable for the well-being of a society, the proliferation of such practices not only jeopardizes effective governance but also hinders the social and economic development of nations. Overcoming these hurdles requires a concerted and sustained effort from all leaders, with a steadfast commitment to transparency, accountability, and the collective good. To truly serve the interests of the public, it is crucial that public service positions are filled based on qualifications, experience, and a genuine commitment to the betterment of society, rather than personal connections or political considerations. Only then can a nation’s governance truly be in the service of its people.