Across Africa, Building a Future-Focused Public Sector
Thierry Hoza Ngoga | Published by New America
May 10, 2023
According to the 2018 Ibrahim Forum Report, public employees in Africa are on average better educated than in the private sector, but they are also twice as old on average than the population they serve.
Across Africa, civil service and public sector institutions are facing a succession crisis. As a generation of aging public sector personnel prepares to retire, a lack of succession planning raises the prospect of institutional memory loss on a pan-African level. Without an interface between outgoing civil servants and younger professionals to harness the knowledge and experience built over years of service–and integrate it with new ideas and technological competencies–Africa’s future institutional delivery capacity will no doubt be diminished.
This situation is compounded by talent pipeline constraints. Across a range of sectors, there is a dearth of young Africans equipped with the knowledge and skills required to take the reins. According to PwC, 75 percent of African CEOs surveyed say the availability of key skills (such as technology, people management and leadership, and strategy and planning) is a threat to growth. Young professionals and youth organizations focus largely on advocacy rather than implementation, meaning Africa’s future leaders are not equipped to take their place at the decision-making table.
The challenge isn’t just that young professionals are blocked from government service by the immobility of existing incumbents. The adoption of new technologies (think geographical information systems relaying land use data to guide relevant policy development) and processes that would improve services have also been overlooked. As a result, program delivery, particularly in the natural resource sectors, remains constrained by inefficiencies.
What’s more, for want of home-grown expertise, African institutions remain reliant on external, short-term consultant support. While non-African consultants provide valuable technical assistance, their work can result in ill-fitting solutions that lack local context or cultural nuance. The capacity-building initiatives that exist are also often project–based, meaning trained staff tend to leave their positions, deterred by a lack of retention policies and long-term prospects.
Clearly, the current situation is unsustainable. But there is hope.
Unlocking Young Potential
Africa currently has the youngest population in the world. Over 60 percent of the continent’s population today is under the age of 25, and young Africans will account for 42 percent of youth globally by 2030. This growing and dynamic young population offers huge workforce potential. The World Economic Forum observes that, “African youths are increasingly taking an active role in shaping their future,” driving start-up economies that are disrupting agriculture, IT, and industry in many African countries.
With the right training and support, Africa’s youth can fill capacity gaps and reverse the delivery deficits that are currently hampering development. In agriculture, environment and land sectors, demand for local expertise is strong, while available datasets and technology platforms provide an opportunity for young, tech-savvy professionals to transform public service. Technology is beginning to revolutionize government service delivery, with the potential to drive huge efficiencies and improvements. The application of AI to available data, for example, could save governments up to 1.2 billion hours of work annually.
In order to realize the full transformative impacts of technology and innovation, public institutions must hold traditional methods and models with an open hand, embracing new ideas and new ways of working. Above all, they must welcome a new generation of public service professionals and ensure transfer of the knowledge base and experience held. This symbiosis will unlock exactly the kind of enabling environment which will underpin the evolution of dynamic economies across the continent.
This is the premise on which I founded and now lead GanzAfrica; an organisation that supports and capacitates talented African youth to tackle the major land, agricultural, and environmental challenges facing the continent today. With a core focus on capacity building, GanzAfrica provides training, apprenticeships, mentoring and work experience, preparing young African professionals for deployment into both public and private sectors.
We believe that Africa’s youth are uniquely positioned to develop locally driven, context-specific interventions which harness local know-how, are attractive to local communities and will transform and improve public services. Taking an integrated, systems-focused approach, we aim to leverage local knowledge and experience to devise data-driven guidance for policy and program implementation, whilst shaping future-focused public sector institutions.
Crucially, young people are often familiar with the key challenges of the day; after all, these are the sons and daughters of the 70 percent of Africans who are dependent on agriculture for a livelihood. With first-hand experience in rural communities, they are pivotally positioned to design interventions that will be understood, acceptable to and adopted by local people. Utilizing their knowledge of key issues relating to land, agriculture, climate, and the environment, combined with their intuitive use of technology and entrepreneurial aptitude, Africa’s growing population of young professionals can be a force for positive change. And in the process, today’s apprentices will become tomorrow’s leaders.