Andrew Nickson is Honorary Reader in Public Management and Latin American Studies in IDD, with 30 years’ experience of teaching, research and consultancy on public administration reform, local governance, decentralization and urban water supply. He has particular interests in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Paraguay, countries where he has had long-term work assignments.
The terrible Ebola tragedy has spawned massive coverage in the world’s media of Sierra Leone and Liberia – with harrowing images of victims, relatives, health workers, doctors, and aid agency staff. Yet one key ‘stakeholder’ in the fight against Ebola has been notably missing from this coverage – the government of both countries. Most of us would be hard pressed to name the presidents of either country* as they have been almost invisible, and the same goes for their respective health ministers. For anyone who did not know them, they would think the countries were like Somalia without any central government. Far from it, both are politically stable and have had a series of democratic elections ever since the civil wars that ravaged them in the 1990s.
The politically correct explanation for this “invisibility of the state” is the prejudice of a western media that still views Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as a basket-case that can only be saved by well-meaning outsiders. While it is true that this paternalistic post-colonial mindset still exists (witness BandAid’s resurrection of the insulting “Don’t they know it’s Christmas” song), unfortunately there is something else going on here.
Ebola outbreaks have been occurring intermittently since 1976 in Central Africa (DRC) and East Africa (Sudan, Uganda) and thankfully, until now, they have either been contained or fizzled out. We need to be asking some difficult questions about just why this latest Ebola outbreak has spiralled out of control in these two small countries, when much larger neighbouring countries like Nigeria and Ghana have been able to quickly halt the spread of the disease into their countries. The conventional and trite argument, regurgitated daily in the world’s media, is that these are both poor countries with “weak health systems”. But this simplistic explanation does not tell the whole story. Since the civil wars ended in Sierra Leone and Liberia, both countries have become the darlings of the Western aid effort, receiving inflows of grant aid that are way above the SSA average on a per capita basis, thanks to their “historic ties” with the UK and USA respectively.
So why has the response to Ebola been so weak in both countries? The answer is crystal clear – the appalling governance that has characterised Sierra Leone and Liberia for decades, with governance so weak and corruption so venal that both contributed greatly to the outbreak of their civil wars. Both have hardly improved since then. As numerous ‘political economy’ studies have amply shown, this particularly weak governance is closely connected to the deep ethnic, class and linguistic cleavages in both countries, with small elites (called “creoles” in Sierra Leone and “Libero-Americans” in Liberia) imposing an exclusionary style of development over the mass of the rural population through their control of the political, administrative and economic system. What this means, in practice, is that the public health system for the poor majority is appalling, especially in rural areas. This is why Ebola has spread so quickly.
Historically, a major source of wealth of the elites in both countries has come from their deep involvement as intermediaries in the foreign aid business. They have always displayed a strong desire to deepen the ties of dependency on foreign aid as a way of feathering their own nests, particularly through the rental of land, buildings and vehicles to aid agencies. For this reason, and although it may sound harsh in the current context, in the same way that successive governments lobbied hard for UN peacekeeping missions to stay in both countries long after the civil war had ended, so powerful elite groups in Freetown and Monrovia are today in no hurry whatsoever for the global media obsession with the Ebola crisis to come to an end.
Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. Core areas of interest include decentralisation and governance, conflict analysis, and security sector reform.
Amongst the violent international groups vying for our attention, Boko Haram in Nigeria has been one of the most persistent. Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza, along the Cameroon border, in August 2014, and the group has been raiding several cities across the north.
The group promotes a version of Islam which makes it ‘haram’ (forbidden) for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society and frequently attacks schools and colleges, which it sees as ‘westernisation’. In October alone around 185 churches have been torched in Borno and Adawama states, and seven civilians were beheaded in Ngambu.
The core of the insurgency covers Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, and they have been under a state of emergency since May 2013. Founded in 2002 by a cleric who believed the earth was round, the group has killed more than 5000 civilians, with Human Rights Watch estimating that at least 2,053 civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2014.
Boko Haram gained worldwide infamy after it kidnapped 220 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State in April 2014.
Given the sorry record of the Nigerian state in locating the girls, and the inability of the Nigerian military to fight the insurgency, it is therefore welcome that last week the Nigerian Government announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram that included the potential release of these girls.
Discussions held between Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, the Chief of Defence Staff, and a fighter called Danladi Ahmadu, who identified himself as the ‘Secretary-General’ of Boko Haram, have been held in N’Djamena in Chad. The Nigerian government claims it has agreed a ceasefire with the group Boko Haram and is negotiating the release of more than 200 schoolgirls. Boko Haram negotiators assured the Government that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well, controversially contradicting the evidence of four escaped girls who claimed they had been raped every day.
However, this deal raised as many questions as it answers. For a start, this is not the first such announcement by the Government. An earlier deal for 19 Boko Haram commanders stalled and the Government refuses to say what the price for this deal is. A similar deal between the Cameroon Government and Boko Haram last week saw the release of ten Chinese workers and the wife of the Vice–president amongst 27 others, in return for around US$400,000. We await details of this deal, which are to be announced later this week.
There have also been questions raised about Ahmadu, said to be Boko Haram’s representative at the talks and who gave a radio interview broadcast on Friday morning. Many Nigerian analysts cast doubt on Ahmadu’s credibility as a Boko Haram envoy, and question his relationship with the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.
At the same time, no-one really understands the internal command structure of Boko Haram and so determining who is responsible for negotiating and on behalf of whom is difficult. Such groups are usually loose federations of different groups, and it is not clear if Ahmadu represents the group as a whole or a faction.
The timing of the agreement is also interesting, raising suspicions given that the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, is expected to declare his re-election bid, and positive news about the hostages and insurgency could give him a significant political boost. This also comes on the heels of local speculation about close links between some Boko Haram groups and Nigerian politicians. The factionalism argument was also given some credibility since on the same day as the ceasefire, more than 1000 fighters were reported as arrested in Lagos with the aid of local Arewa chiefs.
Continuing violence following the ceasefire where suspected militants killed dozens of people in five attacks on Nigerian villages, has led the Government to label these groups ‘criminals’ taking advantage of the chaos in the north, but they could be part of an ongoing violent convulsion of which Boko Haram is one part and not the whole story.
Boko Haram has grown in to such an amorphous entity that it is difficult to know exactly who is representing whom. This has important implications for both Nigeria and also regionally.
The insurgency has not only affected Nigeria but large parts of the border with Cameroon, where around 400,000 Nigeria refugees have moved across the border followed by the same style of violence. It is likely that Cameroon will become a major area of Boko Haram militancy in the next few months.
Aside from this, the inability of the Nigerian military and the reported demoralisation of Nigerian troops claiming poor equipment and training and unreliable pay, has led to a reduced faith in the security services, bolstered by a general belief across Nigeria that many politicians are somehow involved with either Boko Haram directly, or in undermining the military.
An inability of the state to project meaningful power has effectively lost a large area of the north, where Boko Haram freely controls territory and declared a Caliphate. It is notable that the only announcement the Government made under the ceasefire was that no territory was being handed over. However, the fact that the Government has negotiated and in effect recognised Boko Haram – and indeed differentiated them from criminal elements – has given the group valuable recognition and with it, credibility.
Jonathan Fisher’s research is focused on the relationship between Western aid donors and developing states. He is particularly interested in how donors construct perceptions of foreign governments and key concepts, and the extent to which these knowledge construction processes are influenced by external actors and bureaucratic structures as well as by policy-makers themselves. He is particularly interested in Africa and wrote his doctorate on the Ugandan-donor relationship between 1986-2010.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Largely knocked out of the news by the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and Gaza (to name a few), a civil war has nonetheless devastated South Sudan since December 2013. It has left thousands dead, and more than a million have been internally displaced or forced into refugee camps.
The recent shooting down of a UN helicopter briefly restored the country to the international headlines – but this isolated incident is just the latest outrage in the short history of the world’s youngest country, which still faces a deeply uncertain future.
Journalistic accounts of the conflict’s origins, where they exist, usually highlight historical rivalries between president Salva Kiir and his former vice president – now rebel leader – Riek Machar, and ethnic warfare between the Dinka and Nuer people.
This narrative is a highly simplistic way of explaining what’s been happening in South Sudan. But it does at least point to the ultimate source of the problems: the interplay of complex historical identity politics and shameless, short-term elite politicking. This toxic blend is what makes South Sudan’s current crisis so difficult to explain.
The helicopter incident, which killed three crew members and seriously injured another, nonetheless demonstrated just how inadequate most current analysis of the South Sudanese situation really is.
The received wisdom is that South Sudan’s independence was won by a single, united movement, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), whose protracted war against the government in Khartoum over several decades led to a peace agreement in 2005, and then the 2011 independence referendum.
The violence that broke out in December 2013 was an internal SPLA conflict between factions loyal to Kiir and Machar. This echoed an old and traumatic rift in the movement in the early 1990s, which took a decade to undo and which has left deep scars on the Juba elite.
But the faction apparently responsible for the downing of the UN helicopter is formally independent of both Kiir and Machar (though at present pragmatically aligned with the latter), and consists of the remnants of a separate rebel movement, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA).
Its leader, Peter Gadet, was originally a member of another rebel group, the South Sudan Defence Force. He joined the SPLA in 2006 but left to found the SSLA in 2011, claiming to be dissatisfied with the Juba administration’s narrow division of the spoils of war along ethnic lines, and its favouring of powerful allies.
Gadet’s SSLA was re-integrated into the SPLA (by then the South Sudanese military) later in 2011 – but last December, it mutinied, and in alignment with Riek Machar’s rebel soldiers, its members seized the town of Bor in oil-rich Jonglei state.
Gadet is not the only rebel leader to control a swathe of South Sudan without being a formal part of either warring faction. Nor are his troops the only active militia to have grown up outside the SPLA during the civil war, been integrated into the movement, and then left it in disgust at their meagre rewards.
The truth is that the SPLA was, and remains, just one of many military organisations in South Sudan; it is simply the largest and best resourced. Most of the country’s political difficulties stem from the Juba administration’s failure to bring these other myriad groups to the negotiating table.
That failure, in turn, reflects the regime’s abysmal record of cronyism. Keeping the short-term support of key allies by doling out state resources and offices to them, at the expense of outsiders, has been Kiir’s modus operandi ever since he took charge of the SPLA in 2005.
That has turned the nascent South Sudanese state into little more than a slush fund for rewarding and paying off particularist groups. Three years after winning independence, it is as far as ever from unity, peace and prosperity.
So much for the government, then, but Machar’s rebels, the principal opposition in the ongoing conflict, are doing little better.
I spent some time in the presence of the rebel delegation to the Addis Ababa peace talks in March-May this year. What was disquieting was not so much the disproportionate time spent by its members in swanky hotel bars and restaurants rather than the mostly empty conference rooms, but the rate at which splits visibly opened up both within the delegation and between it and the rebel leadership it represented.
Over the course of several weeks, I could see the rebel cause steadily fragmenting into ever-smaller pieces, with each faction becoming absorbed in grievances ever more removed from those of the people they claimed to represent.
The violence of recent months and the stagnant peace deliberations should not be seen as merely the birth pangs of a new nation. What is happening in South Sudan today is not inevitable; nor is it a painful-but-necessary part of the nation-building process. It is what happens when rebels fight for – and win – power without a post-victory plan.
Failure to launch
The SPLA is only the latest insurgency to become a government in this part of the world; Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Eritrea, for instance, are all ruled by former guerrilla movements. What distinguishes those groups from the SPLA, though, is that they all had a vision for government while “in the bush”.
That meant that once in power, each movement aimed to use its new-found authority to tackle the political, religious and especially ethnic divisions that had driven them to rebel in the first place. Though these regimes have since reneged on many of their founding principles – particularly regarding democracy – they at least remain theoretically committed to building new societies and states rather than just preserving themselves and their allies.
Their counterparts in Juba, however, failed to agree on their vision for the country during much of the war against Khartoum. Eventually, they were able to unite around the most basic one: independence. Now the country has it, South Sudan’s elite needs to look beyond itself to the people it seeks to govern for a sense of what the country wants – and needs.
And as this year’s negotiations have shown, that cannot be done from luxury hotels in Addis Ababa or mansions in Nairobi.
Jonathan Fisher has previously received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. He also held an Honorary Research Fellowship in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Africa Directorate between 2013-2014. He has participated in several rounds of regional workshops on Eastern African security relationships funded and facilitated by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)’s Addis Ababa Office since October 2013 and part of this article’s analysis is based on insights garnered during a trip to Ethiopia partly-financed by FES.
Originally posted on Dr Heather Marquette:
My colleague, Laurence Cooley, and I have just finished a book chapter on ‘Corruption and Post-Conflict Reconstruction’ for a forthcoming collection, and we wanted to compare three cases to see if any specific lessons can be drawn about what worked, what didn’t and why. We chose Bad, Worse and Rock Bottom as our cases – Liberia, Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because we thought they’d be of interest to the most readers, but also because if lessons on corruption can’t be drawn from these, well, heaven help us…
The literature on the relationship between corruption and conflict is pretty contradictory, as anyone who’s waded through it can tell you. While corruption may very often be a driver of conflict, there is evidence to suggest that, in certain circumstances, it may also have conflict-mitigating properties. Post-conflict reconstruction efforts can inadvertently present new opportunities for corrupt practices, leaving international attempts to fight…
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Freyja Oddsdottir is Research and Communications Support Officer in the GSDRC. She is responsible for communicating research outputs to partner organisations, implementing professional development activities, and maintaining the GSDRC’s online library.
For the past couple of years, the IDD has organised a field research trip to assist IDD Masters students with the logistics of field research, which is an optional component of their MSc degree. Last year, the destination was Kerala in South India. In June this year, a group of 16 students travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, along with Dr Jonathan Fisher and Freyja Oddsdottir, where they stayed for three weeks to conduct field research for their dissertation.
The research topics were as different as they were many, ranging from affordable housing to police corruption and the LGBT community in Nairobi. Each student organised their own agenda depending on their research interests, and their interviewees included NGO staff, politicians, university professors and human rights activists. The research took the students to different parts of the widespread city of Nairobi, and one of them even travelled to the town of Kitengela outside Nairobi to spend a few days with the project staff of a women’s empowerment programme.
As a group, the students got to meet the Horn of Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group to receive input from him about current events in Kenya as well as their research topics. We also visited UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), where we learnt about the refugees that have come to Kenya from nearby countries such as Somalia and South Sudan, the options they have when they are unable to return to their country, and the challenges they face.
The IDD is fortunate enough to have a strong alumni community in Kenya, from which we received a warm welcome at our IDD alumni reception. One of them had even boarded a two hour flight to be at the event to meet the ‘IDD family’, as we often describe it. During our stay, the alumni were also very helpful in connecting the students with appropriate people to interview and collect their data. IDD alumnus Kenneth Okwaroh has been particularly generous with his time and contacts, for which we are very grateful.
Field research aside, Kenya had plenty of extracurricular activities to offer to the students such as patting baby elephants at the Elephant Orphanage, bargaining for local handicrafts at the Maasai Market, a boat trip amongst hippos and a safari in the Maasai Mara.
All in all, it has been a great opportunity for the students to experience the rewards and challenges of field research, and what it might be like to work in the development sector.
Richard Batley is Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department. His research focuses on state/non-state relations in service provision, and on the politics of public services in developing countries. He has researched particularly in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Mozambique, and the UK.
In governance circles, service delivery is often discussed as if it raised common issues across service sectors as diverse as health, education, water and sanitation. Yet within sectors, debates about governance issues are quite distinct.
Is this just a matter of perspective or do different sectors really present different political problems and opportunities?
There are indeed common policy problems that run across services. For example, it is much more difficult to improve their quality than to extend access to them (by building schools, clinics, and water networks). Reviews of the political economy literature have found that services face common conditions for good performance. These include political commitment, good monitoring, effective sanctions, systems of local accountability, and strong political incentives to provide services.
But the profound diversity of issues between services is very striking.
In drinking water supply, for instance, a major policy concern is that badly directed subsidies lead to over-consumption by the least needy and to under-investment in water supply for the poorest.
By contrast, it is difficult to mobilise policy-makers and providers to address sanitation at all, although it is well known to be the most important contributor to personal and public health.
In health care, high cost treatments for some diseases are often prioritised while other diseases and more cost-effective measures are neglected.
In most countries education is a policy priority. Yet the quality of much public education remains poor and potential learners continue to be excluded.
Together with Claire Mcloughlin at the University of Birmingham and colleagues at ODI, I have been involved in research on why services perform differently even in the same political and economic context.
The outcome? That services themselves shape the incentives, power and accountability of the main actors, whether they be politicians, policy-makers, delivery organisations, or users.
The idea that services themselves have a political character may seem far-fetched. But consider how a service such as hospital health care raises different issues of politics and accountability compared to urban water supply. Patients place themselves individually into the care of doctors and nurses, often knowing little about their treatment, and unlikely to feel empowered to dispute it. On the other hand, water-users have a good idea of what they should expect from the supplier; they share their daily experience of the service with other users, and can represent their opinions at a neighbourhood level.
These differences are political in the sense that they affect relations of power between politicians, providers and users: patients are likely to feel less empowered than water-users.
Our research has developed a framework for comparison by piecing together the available evidence on the political effects of what we describe as ‘service characteristics’ – that is, the features that can be used to distinguish between services.
For example, services that are privately consumed (such as household water connections as against mains sewerage) will tend to enhance opportunities for political patronage. More visible aspects of services (such as the construction of clinics rather than staff training) are likely to attract greater political prioritisation.
Monopoly (as in piped water supply), inequalities of information and professional discretion (as in health care) can all strengthen providers’ dominance over users. On the other hand, the frequent and predictable use of a service (like schools) operating in a limited territory gives communities the opportunity to organise and make demands.
Such characteristics help to explain why some services for some people receive more attention. They also suggest possible policy responses and organisational reforms.
We put the service characteristics approach to the test in a series of consultations with sector specialists in education, health, water and sanitation. The broad conclusion was that the approach could help specialists both to make sense of sectoral debates and to discover opportunities for learning between sectors. For example, ways of enabling community participation can be shared between strongly client-oriented services like health centres and schools.
Start by recognising the experience of practitioners in health, education, water and sanitation. Our final assessment suggests that doing it this way round can help lever political economy analysis out of its ‘governance silo’.
It will encourage dialogue between governance and sector specialists, helping them to understand why different services present quite different opportunities and constraints.
And, by giving us a better-grounded diagnosis, it will also give us a fuller picture of the policy responses and organisational reforms that are likely to work in any particular service.
This blog post is an expanded version of the author’s opinion piece for ODI (28 May 2014).
Sumedh Rao is a Research Fellow in the GSDRC, working on governance in situations of conflict and fragility, statebuilding and state fragility, political economy analysis, aid architecture, anti-corruption reforms, and civil service reform.
Ask what motivates workers, and the common response is a list of carrots and sticks. But offer a worker one of these carrots and they may just be insulted. When the Boston Fire Department replaced its policy of unlimited sick days with a 15-day sick day limit, ten times more firefighters called in sick on the following Christmas and New Years’ Day than the year before. When the Fire Department decided to cancel the firefighters’ holiday bonuses in retaliation, the firemen went on to claim almost twice as many sick days as before, apparently angered by the new system.
Samuel Bowles, who looked at this case study, argues that the result of the new system was that firefighters abused it and abandoned their previous ethic of serving the public even when injured or not feeling well.
Carrots and sticks are messages and they can signal distrust in employees and encourage them to ‘game the system’ – to be more selfish instead of being altruistic or public-minded. Humans are not donkeys and need much more nuanced motivators. To achieve the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, delivering health, education and other life-sustaining public services, we need to find these motivators. This is why the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence and the GSDRC are running an e-discussion to find evidence and experiences on what does and doesn’t work for public service motivation.
Well, what about money as a motivator? Surprisingly, money doesn’t seem to be what attracts people to public sector jobs or what keeps them there. One study found that people are attracted to these jobs because of greater opportunities to help people. Higher earnings, better job security and working hours aren’t the appeal, and can actually put off some health and education workers.
This is good news, both for developing countries with tight resources but also richer countries having to cut budgets following the global recession.
So what are the key non-financial factors that motivate? Different studies and authors have different findings but there are common themes.
Three nonfinancial motivators emerged from a global staff survey across a range of sectors: praise and commendation from an immediate manager, attention from leaders, and opportunities to lead projects or task forces. These were found to be even more effective motivators than the highest-rated financial incentives.
Dan Ariely argues that what’s important is seeing the fruits of our labour; feeling appreciated; knowing that we are helping others, even unconsciously; and positive reinforcement about our abilities.
Dan Pink argues that for simple, repetitive tasks, money can be a motivator. But with more complex jobs, you need to pay enough for people to forget about compensation and focus on the work, and then allow autonomy, mastery and purpose. The work should satisfy the desire to direct one’s own life (autonomy), the urge to get better and better at something (mastery) and the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (purpose).
It seems the key to maintaining public service motivation would be, in fact, letting people do public service – visible, appreciated work that helps others, and which they get better at over time. How do we best enable them to successfully carry out public service work?
Civil services can face very challenging conditions. In some countries public sector jobs are sinecures – paid positions with little or no work – given as patronage. In other countries the public sector has to compete against other employers such as ‘project implementation units’ paid for by foreign donors who can offer better conditions.
While better-resourced countries struggle to maintain morale within their public sectors, how are developing countries to maintain theirs? And how do we ensure we cater to different people within different contexts, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach?
I’d like to ask you, the reader, to share your thoughts on what works. With the reminder, of course, that you are free to do so, it’s always good to improve your discussion skills, and that your comments will be helpful and very much appreciated.
Is that motivating enough?
 Bowles, S. (2012). Machiavelli’s Mistake: Why Good Laws Are No Substitute for Good Citizens. Draft for UCLA Legal Theory Workshop. http://www.law.ucla.edu/workshops-colloquia/Documents/Samuel%20Bowles.Machiavelli’s%20Mistake.pdf
 Georgellis, Y., Iossa, E., & Tabvuma, V. (2011). Crowding out intrinsic motivation in the public sector. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(3), 473-493. http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/16577/1/Crowding_Out_Intrinsic_Motivation__Georgellis_final.pdf
 Dewhurst, M., Guthridge, M. & Mohr, E. (2009). Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money. McKinsey Quarterly, November 2009. http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Motivating_people_Getting_beyond_money_2460
 Gross, J. (2013, April 10). What motivates us at work? 7 fascinating studies that give insights. TED Blog. Retrieved 13 March 2014. http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/10/what-motivates-us-at-work-7-fascinating-studies-that-give-insights/