The Horn Of Africa States: Governance And Public Administration – OpEd


“A government is generally described as an institution or entity through which a political unit  exercises its authority, controls and administers public policy, and controls and directs the actions of citizens or subjects in a country.” I have taken this definition from Wikipedia.

In Africa, a government is only known as the highest authority in a country, as was left by the colonials. It is not necessarily seen as the institution that is from the people for the people and answerable to the people, which manages the public policy of a country. It often serves only the elite who benefit from most of its resources and services, whether this is tax collections and/or aid from others and borrowings. 

No wonder, the simple man or woman in the street does not see it as an institution that represents him or her. Indeed, in Africa, many governments have come about through military coups and/or elites who impose themselves on the poor populations of their countries, after coming through deceitful processes and tribal/clan rivalries. Indeed, the majority of the clansmen or tribesmen who mistakenly support leaders in the continent on tribal/clan basis do not benefit from those they elect. They, indeed, have been had by the elitist political class that live off the broken backs of their populations.

The political class that inherited governance in the newly independent African countries some six decades ago had no inkling of what they were getting into. They did not have proper tax systems that involved every citizen of a country, nor did they have deep financial resources and capital to invest in the creation of more profit-oriented projects such as manufacturing, mining, trade, ports, rail and road and, indeed, many of the other resources of the continent. No wonder, when colonials left, most of the people who were running the administrations and governance of the many countries of the continent  were simply clerks, ex-drivers, ex-cooks and self-promoted or tribal/clan promoted sergeants not trained in the art of governance and public administration. They, of course, failed, which prompted the military coups that bedeviled the continent for so long.

Most of the Horn of African countries were no different. The populations did not, indeed, participate in the construct of the new governance infrastructures, which required funds to run the hospitals, schools, services and other projects that were managed by the colonial countries. The new liberators who took over were left to fend for themselves as they had no inkling on how to raise funds for the various public institutions that were left by the departed colonials. They had to chase after the colonials and ask for help and assistance. This still continues even after some six decades of so-called independence.

Africa has to be frank with itself and at least the elites who run the shows in the continent, should be able to come up with a different proposition than has hitherto been the case. No one is going to develop the continent, or its component countries. The developed world would continue to take advantage of the weak governance of the continent, be they from the West or the East.  The Horn of Africa States is one of the prime regions of the continent endowed with multiple resources but remains poor and underdeveloped. This state of the region has, indeed, mostly nothing to do with others. It is the governance systems and public administrations in place that need to wake up to the realities of the region and take advantage of its resources. The first such resource, remains to be its population. A population is always the most important asset of any country.

In an article of March 2017 on the East African, Keith Hansen, Vice President, Human Development of the World Bank Group, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Government of Kenya, and Lutz Ziob, Dean of the 4Afrika Academy, Microsoft, explained that “The skills, knowledge, and innovation that people accumulate are the greatest assets of economies on the rise. Recent evidence shows that human capital explains up to two thirds of income differences across the world. This is profoundly important for Africa today.” Human capital is, indeed, the most important asset of any economy and more so the Horn of Africa States, where its human capital appears to being wasted, lost and/or underexploited almost on a daily basis.

The greatest loss related to its populations involves the lack of involvement of the populations of the region in the governance and public administration. Many of the citizens of the region expect and consider that the governments should be providing all the amenities which they appear to be missing such as free healthcare services, education, good roads and rail, good infrastructures and developmental projects employing thousands of people and others. They ignore or do not realize that they are the government themselves and those in authority are simply extensions of them. They contribute little to the resources a government would need to provide all those amenities and facilities which they yearn for. They do not know that they should be contributing their share of resources needed by the governments through an efficient tax system and those who know cheat the small amounts collected for their own personal satisfactions. This results in the governments of the region extending their arms to the international community for help, and even to those colonial countries which they chased away years ago.

A village or a township or cities in Africa and hence in the HAS region would always expect the government to fix the gullies and potholes in their small and dirty streets, without contributing much to the common pie and how is this possible for a government to satisfy the varied and wide needs of a growing population, if they do not contribute each to his/her ability to the common good?

In the Horn of Africa States as in other parts of the continent, one would note that the villages, townships and even cities all lack good road systems, good streets, good front and backyards of houses/huts for kids to play. They indeed, expect the governments to do all these jobs without contributing to the resources needed to carry out all these small yet profoundly important activities. These add to the woes of each government in the region and the continent. It is the region’s and, indeed, Africa’s great misunderstanding of what governance and public administration really are.

My daughter critiquing one my articles once wrote to me that there was a lot of blame and little of solutions. Indeed, one should first identify a problem and the source of the problem to come up with solutions in the expectation that a sensible person in some authority would pick up the message and do something about it. It is therefore our thoughts that the Horn of Africa States citizens should revisit their concept of governance and public administration. They should realize that they are the governments, themselves and if they need to develop their countries, their villages and townships and cities, they should all be contributing to the resource base through payment of their tax obligations each at his/her economic capacity. There may, indeed, be those who would be unable to contribute any. This is natural and every society has its poor and rich, but generally those who are able to help should legally pay their dues. Systems of tax collections are currently rudimentary, and people do not even trust hem, as there was, indeed, so much corruption in the past. There are many ways which enable the general public to trust the systems in place. Communities can, for example, start collecting collections in the mosques and churches of the region every weekend and the funds collected should be administered by local community committees that use the funds to manage the needs of their villages and townships and cities of the region.

This should be on and above the normal tax collections from businesses, trades, residential and commercial buildings, lands and others, which should be managed by a collective state authority and community committees to avoid misappropriations as is the case in many parts of the countries of Africa. The Horn of Africa States and for that matter, Africa at large, is a paradise and Horn Africans should refrain from mass-exiting the region and the continent to not-so-greener pastures elsewhere, where many perish on the way out. Africa is a paradise, and many non-Africans know it, as evidenced by the NGO personnel who come to the region and never leave it again after arrival. They perhaps continue to create disasters to elongate and extend their stay in the region and continent at large.

Governance and public administrations start at local or community levels. If a neighborhood can organize itself to build their road systems, playgrounds for their kids, schools and healthcare systems, it would have a profound impact on the move forward of the region and continent. So far, the main impediment to development and progress in the region and continent has been its governance and public administrations, which appear to have been abused by a few on the top. This need not be the case in the future. Local communities, districts and the citizens at large should participate in the development of where they find themselves in a country. It is how the collective communities can help manage each state and hence the region and continent.

The citizenry of the region may like to see the development of the region in a better picture than it currently represents itself or is presented by others. But changes to the region and each state within can only come from within. They should start by first understanding that the region is theirs and theirs only to develop and then they should embark on paying their fair share of taxes and not misappropriate it but spend it for the common good. There is no perfect world and, therefore, imperfections will always be there. However, these imperfections should be the exception rather than the norm as is currently the case in the region.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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