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Re-engineering management in Africa
Dr Olivier Nzépa
Published: 28-SEP-04

Different forms of post-colonial management systems persist in the public and parastatal sectors in Africa. Unfortunately, they are prone to both inefficiencies and a lack of legitimacy in the way that people are managed.

The post-colonial systems tend to be control oriented with an emphasis on process and hierarchy. The post-instrumental systems tend to be result-focused.

The African renaissance systems are humanistic, focusing on people and the community. Africa is culturally complex. On what is called Human Goodness, African countries score lower generally than Western countries. Yet on Rules and Hierarchy as well as on the importance of religion, the African countries score highly compared with the Western countries.

It is difficult to make a comparison of Traditional Wisdom. Africa scores highly on Sharing, has one of the higher scores for Jealousy, but for social responsibility, the Continent is near the bottom.

The degree of political influence and a tendency of political polarisations by ethnicity has many implications, amongst them, the exclusion of talents not belonging to appropriate political parties. The public service also experiences a relatively high turnover of managers, as people fall out of favour and others fall into favour. Again, being seen to be actively campaigning and indeed returning the ruling party back to power is a means of safe-guarding one’s job.

Yet this situation may also give rise to inequity, frustrations and low motivation at managerial levels It also provides evidence of what another study pointed out to be a dual system: a formal system left in place by the colonizing power; and, an informal system.

The informal system, generally established and used in preference to the formal system, has as its main function the formal selection, appraisal and promotion procedures is weak.

This ‘tribalisation’ of the managerial workforce appears not to relate to any inherent ethnic antagonisms, but simply to political polarisation along apparent ethnic lines.

These aspects of politicisation and tribalisation affect the way people are managed in public sector organisations.

This results in a lack of formal rules of recruitment and career progression. The real decision makers are not the leaders or managers of the formal system, but rather the king makers of the informal system who appear to be motivated along political and ethnic lines.

Short sight directorship, lack of anticipation and proactivity have taken their toll in Africa management. It’s been said that for every single dollar lent to Africa, 80 cents is eaten up by ill management.

This might be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, it shows the managerial gap Africa has to overcome to abide by the standards of the New Economy, powered by information and knowledge. It also reflects the tremendous burden placed on African leadership and management.

In his article titled Re-engineering Management: Awakening the Leadership Genius within yourself and your followers, Charles Cotter asks African leaders to cultivate a leadership culture in this era of organisational intelligence. Performance development is no longer adequate – performance improvement is essentially what is required. Value adding is now the accepted norm - value creation is what African leaders need to generate.

They have to innovate not imitate – ‘outside the box’ thinking is imperative. African leaders cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s outdated solutions.

Africa has produced leaders like Nelson Mandela; Desmond Tutu; Kwame Nkrumah; Patrice Lumumba. They have demonstrated that most importantly that the long lasting effect derives not from what you do to people, but what you achieve with people.

African management is in search of visionaries who can shape the future, point the direction and unleash the power of over a billion Africans.

Dr Olivier Nana Nzépa is a Professor and Consultant in Public Management at the University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon.





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