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Unbundling the dynamics of transition in Africa – Part 3


Peace-building efforts in Africa
The imperative for peace-building, especially in post-conflict societies, is another major preoccupation of the book. In fact, with the author’s expansive experience with the United Nations Peace-building Commission, one is treated to a rear privilege of learning about strategies deployed in global peacebuilding efforts from close quarters.

In the book, efforts at peacebuilding are treated from the framework of priority setting, promoting partnerships in support of peacebuilding and providing financial support for these efforts. In Africa, these are anchored by programmes, policy documents and plans developed by the United Nations (UN) Peace-building Commission (PBC) and the Peace-building Fund (PBF); the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Reflecting on the nature of peace-building efforts, Otobo notes the roles of different arms of these institutions in getting countries out of conflicts and managing expectations of the countries such that they avoid relapsing into conflict, or that post-conflict reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation works for the upliftment of the people and assuring sustainable development in the long run.

However, Otobo notes that there have been shortcomings in some of these efforts, some of which include the over-centralization of efforts at the headquarters of these institutions; need for a robust, far-reaching partnerships that explicitly defines roles of the key partnering institutions; need to address issues at the sub-regional levels; need for comprehensive peer review of strategies and interventions at the country level and the lack of synergy on post-conflict resource mobilization.

Otobo takes the issues headlong and as earnest and constructive as they come. Hence after analying the causes and symptoms of conflict and efforts at peace-building in the Niger Delta and the North East region, he bares his mind on Nigeria’s precarious situation thus: “It [Nigeria] will not achieve its full economic and political potentials, if it is wracked by violent, intractable conflicts that Nigeria is seen as unable to manage. Intelligent and creative management of the conflicts that afflict the country is key to overcoming the strand of fragility that haunts Nigeria. Ensuring a significant majority of the citizens reap the dividends of revived growth will be important for generating and sustaining a sense of economic inclusivity that has been lacking in many of the conflict-affected parts of the country.”

Public sector issues
One of the things that stands the book out is its expert handling of analysis of the public sector and how inferences are drawn from different African countries to enrich the discourse. In so doing, a continental overview sees the reader learning of the overarching reach of the programmes of the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) in moving the earlier tactical approaches to public reforms to strategic, targeted ones. The argument in the book as regards the public service is that not only is the civil service an agent of development, it also serves as a key tool to democratization.

Some of the key issues touched on include funding of the public service, pay for public servants, recruitment into the civil service, capacity building and the process of policymaking and coordination.

Otobo compares the experiences of various African countries with the task of public service reforms, showing that much as the experiences are different, certain attributes of effectiveness and efficiency have been eroded over time. Also, he showed that a lack of senior civil servant with requisite skills to provide guidance to guide key decision-making has led to the recruitment of donor-financed technical assistance.

A couple of paragraphs in the book strike close to home, especially with recruitment racketeering into various government parastatal in Nigeria in recent times. In one instance, Otobo writes, “the first essential step to building a competent civil service is to re-articulate meritocracy in hiring and managing civil services in the region. Indeed, there may be a need to blend the concern for meritocracy with representativeness on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender, but this must never be at the expense of merit, in terms of demonstrable ability to contribute to the mission of each ministry or department.”

Otobo argues that the public service must be retooled to meet the challenges of globalization and serve certain key functions, which include need to exert greater effort in respect of economic diversification; improved governance environment and developing an effective capacity to support the private sector.

Private sector growth
The recent surge of the private sector in Africa and the growth of African companies are testaments to the continents entrepreneurial drive, showcasing how Africans can truly build Africa, going by Tony Elumelu’s philosophy of Africapitalism. In the broader sense of how privatization is treated in Africa in Transition, Otobo notes that the transition of state-dominated enterprise to private concerns runs through a spectrum on the continent that spans agriculture, banking, electricity, steel and mineral resources.

The scope of privatisaltion, according to Otobo, has expanded from just whether there should be privatization to how to address objections to privatization and make it more acceptable to the public and other stakeholders and how best to design regulatory framework for privatized enterprises.

These issues are all too familiar to the Nigerian polity. From the various debates to privatizing oil refineries still raging to the unsavory deals from privatizing the power sector to the mixed experiences surrounding sale of other public assets or liberalizing the telecommunications sector, the peculiarities of these issues stare Nigerians in the face.

For Otobo, the key issue in handling the privatization process is the challenge of regulation and how efforts to regulate enterprises fit the national context, the need to safeguard the public interest, regulatory capture, among others.

On regulatory capture, Otobo makes observations would be very familiar to Nigerians as regards the recent intrigues surrounding the privatized electricity distribution firms in Nigeria and the troubles with regulating their excesses.

According to him, “regulatory capture refers to the tendency for the regulated firm or industry, or its allies, to overwhelm the regulatory agency with superior knowledge of industry, political power, and familiarity with the regulatory process. A closely related concern is that regulators are known to go through a life cycle: beginning with great assertiveness and zeal in executing their task, followed by a sympathetic disposition to the regulated firm or industry, and finally becoming advocates of the regulated firm, a phenomena known as ‘regulatory capture.’

Another case made in the book is that of corporate governance in Africa, which, together with economic and political governance seeks to entrench accountability, predictability and transparency and participation. He acknowledges external influence as one of the drivers of corporate governance in Africa as a result of globalization, but also cautions rule-making and standard setting agencies of government on proper coordination so that self-interested characters do not hijack the process.

As a book written by an expert in the subject matter, there are a few flaws one can pick out from this publication. However, it is important to note that much as the presentations and chapters were judiciously treated, the field of public policy is dynamic, and in a few years’ time, some of the postulations in the book may have been overtaken by events. This submission is made in the light of the uncertainties that characterize the increasing agitations by different groups in Nigeria, as well as the raging conflicts on the African continent. Hence, much as the book serves a veritable reference material on matters on peacebuilding and economic reform, it needs continuous updates that would help keep the issues raised in focus and attempt an evaluation of some of the predictions made herein.

It bears repeating that this book is published at an auspicious time, when agitations are rife in different parts of the country. This book presents a canvass with which state actors and other stakeholders in nation building would assess the experience of not just Nigeria, but other African countries in managing conflict. It would provide a lens to examine how best to engage with the agitators, and a template of how to de-escalate the symptoms of agitation and conflict. A must-read!

Book to be launched at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos on Monday August 28, 2017. Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku and P-resident of the African Roundtable/Chairman of NEPAD Business Group, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur will ‘host’ the book launch.

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AFDBauNEPADTony Elumelu
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