By Tunji Olaopa
Recently, the news broke that the Nigerian civil service, under the leadership of Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), is partnering with the Rwandan Civil Service. The essence of the partnership, according to the news, is to understudy this resilient and progressive country in order to take away adequate insights on its modernizing initiative that has raised service delivery to a significant level. This is a welcome development that sits right within the framework of global administrative collaborations that enable one country to learn from another, especially if the historical and administrative conditions of the two collaborating countries are similar. What is also particularly enlightening is the decision of the HCSF to particularly focus on jumpstarting the modernisation of the northeastern civil service in the light of the institutional ravages suffered in the hands of domestic and regional terrorists. My intention in this piece is simply a seminar one, in furthering the possibility of this partnership by outlining broad dynamics and frameworks that would enhance the insights and lessons to be learnt from the Rwandan institutional reform efforts. I intend this to serve as a benchmark of issues, best practices and ideas that could guide the relationship.
In Managing Complex Reforms, my 2011 book outlining the complex trajectory of reform implementation and management, I celebrated what I called “emerging pockets of reform effectiveness” in Africa. My argument in that book was that, in spite of the many challenges of the civil service system in Africa, we cannot make a case for looking at the reform agenda as one of unmitigated failure. This is because given the attempts by the African public sectors to adopt and adapt emerging trends in global dynamics to the peculiar social, political, cultural and economic environment prevalent in African states, public sector reforms in Africa have led to the development of a vibrant and evolving adaptive efficiency by public institutions to handle the problem of governance and service delivery tasks. The reform experience of Mauritius, Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Senegal and many others—those that Adamolekun (2005) considered as “advanced reformers”—represent the paradigm of the emerging paradigm of innovativeness in Africa. These countries were able to successfully manage the inherited administrative apparatus based on merit and political neutrality. It was this that gave them the edge in adapting to the NPM-style reforms of the 80s and 90s.
The case of Rwandan is unique, and out of all the other African countries that share similar historical and administrative similarities with Nigeria, Rwanda is mostly instructive because of its spectacular administrative transformation which portends many insights and lessons for the reform effort of the Nigerian public service. The case of Rwandan is a very curious one. As at 2011 when my book on managing reform complexity was released, Rwandan was largely absent in most global economic indices. For instance, it was missing on the 2008 Transparency League table of top African top performers featuring South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Swaziland, and so on. It was also absent on the top echelon of the 2009 Global Competitive Index that has African countries like Kenya, Botswana, Nigeria, Morocco, Mauritius, Tunisia, South Africa, Gambia and Egypt.
Rwanda’s absence is justified. And this is because as at 1994, it was a country that exhibited one of the worst indices of postcolonial realities in Africa. It was torn apart by an ethnicity-motivated genocidal incidence that pitted the Hutus and the Tutsi together in a conflict that tore at the very heart of the state. In 100 days of intense violence, horror and hatred, over 800’000 Rwandans, formerly friends, colleagues and neighbours, were slaughtered brutally by their fellow citizens. Similar to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, the Rwandan civil service entirely collapsed under the weight of this tragic administrative challenge, especially with those millions of Rwandans who were forced to flee the scenes of horrors. Wars and other major conflicts constitute one of the most fundamental challenges that any public service ever has to face. The aftermath of the civil war in Nigeria, for instance, threw up an enormous administrative burden on the public service that was only remedied by the anomalous emergence of the “super-permanent secretaries” who wrestled the country from administrative anarchy.
By 1996 when the crisis was already abating, Africa itself was already coming to terms with the continental realities that led countries like Rwanda to genocide. For instance, the 1994 Pan African Conference was convened to further the AU’s NEPAD initiative and its objective of finding home-grown administrative and political solutions to Africa’s multiple and complex postcolonial realities and challenges. Between 2000 and 2010, there were seven fundamental public sector reform priority areas that derive from the general recognition that an African developmental state could only emerge to the extent that African leaders invest tremendously in public service reforms. These fundamental areas are (a) fundamental basic reform including rationalization of ministries and public agencies and the reform of policy making processes; (b) service delivery improvement including the privatization of public enterprises; (c) reform to enhance good governance including anti-corruption processes; (d) decentralization, especially with regards to local government matters; (e) information technology; (f) reform of incentives and pay; and (g) the reduction of waste.
Specifically, and between 2001 and 2005, most African countries were driven by the imperatives of democracy and democratic governance blowing across the globe to invest heavily in outstanding modernisation of their public services. These reform focus involves good governance, pay and incentives, human resource development, computerization and information management, records management, public-private partnership, legal and judicial sector reform, performance management, rationalization, and so many others. The most surprising of all these innovative transformations is that of Rwanda. By 2005, and precisely eleven years after the devastation of the genocide and war conflict, Rwanda was already back in contention for good and democratic governance. By the time Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun conducted his groundbreaking study of public service reform of 29 sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda was characterized as a “committed reformer” alongside Benin, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania and Mauretania. Together with the major public service reforms of Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria, I highlighted in Managing Complex Reforms Rwanda’s critical investment in ICT as the crucial dynamics that could transform its pubic service system.
Unfortunately, within the same context of the study of the 29 African countries, Nigeria only managed the status of a hesitant reformer, even though consecutive governments have made tremendous input into transforming the performance and efficiency dynamics of the Nigerian public service. Fast forward to the present, and the Nigerian state had made some significant leaps forward that should have transformed her into a committed reformer. Two examples of this will suffice. The first is the SERVICOM reform initiative. This is a service delivery framework that is meant to undergird Nigeria’s commitment to democratic governance. SERVICOM is a fundamental commitment to holding public servants accountable for service rendered to the public, the development of a data culture which could backstop the appraisal of the performance of the service charter, and essentially the building of a citizen-centric public service.
However, the business of reform is a constantly unfolding one that requires continuous innovative oiling and commitment. There is no one country anywhere in the world that would ever think it has arrived at the end of modernizing and reforming its public service if it ever hoped to keep its democratic aspiration alive. It is recognition of this that the Nigerian government itself has crafted the irreducible blueprint for a total revamping of its public service system. This is the National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR). The beauty of this blueprint is that it combines historical awareness of Nigeria’s reform efforts to date, as well as a future aspiration of making the public service “a world-class public service delivering government policies and programmes with professionalism, excellence and passion.” The motive behind the NSPSR is to achieve the modernizing imperative that must keep a public service system always capacity ready to overcome every challenge that a modern world may throw at the public service. This is even more urgent in the case of a third world state like Nigeria whose administrative environment is very difficult.
Yet, it is within this difficult context that a state like Rwanda has made a significant and commendable headway in transforming its public service into an administrative and democratic reference point. This is why it is a very solid decision by the leadership of the Nigerian civil service to understudy the Rwandan public service system and how it has overcome its crippling national challenge to become an example of an evolving commitment to democratic governance in a continent where leadership has become a serious challenge to democracy and development. However, even a commendable collaborative effort like this is not something that could be taken for granted. On the contrary, there must be some significant points of interaction and engagement which the understudying country must take as its action strategies. Rwanda’s administrative transformation was a systematic one that evolved from its historical experience and its sense of its responsibility to its citizens and to posterity of unborn Rwandans. What then can we learn or even unlearn from the Rwandan administrative experience since 1998? This will be my reflection in another piece.