It is said that strong and independent institutions are an essential indicator of a democratic society. Institutions that function independently, without being dependent on the mercy of one individual or a small group of individuals with collective interests and agenda. Where no individual or groups of individuals have the power to meddle in and influence institutional functions and affairs.
That cannot be said of institutions in many parts of Africa, and that has been a major challenge to governance in Africa – the lack or the total absence of independent institutions in many African countries.
African institutions, like many African governments, are primarily built on and function around individuals with power – usually a single individual at the top, and such individuals are the institutions.
One of the major challenges to public institutional building and effectiveness in Africa – in many African countries – is the tendency by individuals to confuse themselves with and therefore failure to distinguish themselves, as individuals, from the institutions they have been charged with, on behalf of the public and public interests.
It is this confusion and failure, on the part of such individuals – usually insecure, that makes them think and behave as if they and the public institutions they have been appointed, but not elected, to head supposedly, in public interests, are one and the same.
Such individuals, largely due to their confidence derived from their close personal relationships with those who appoint them to head public institutions, personalise public institutions. They speak of [about] public institutions they represent [head] in personal rather than in impersonal pronouns or in collective terms.
Instead of saying, “this institution“, or “in this institution, we“, they rather, with such arrogance, say, I, this or that. For instance, I, as the employer, suggesting what is a public institution is their private affair – a private institution, although some run them as such. As if it is they who pay the staff wages and salaries of such institutions direct from their own pockets and spend their own money to run the institution and not the public.
They treat institutional staff as their private servants, determine who is paid how much and reduce [cut] staff remuneration arbitrarily, without any due process.
They are so arrogant and completely detached that they simply don’t think, and the thought does not cross their exalted small minds, that, by virtue and nature of public institution, they are part of the staff, and not some isolated, exalted small “god” to whom all is due and must be given without fail.
They lack the simple humility to reflect on the fact that, by nature’s law, what rises [to the top], has only one way to go and that is, down and that they will eventually come down. How? Becomes a question, sometimes a nagging, scary concern to many such small-minded idiots.
Many do, in fact, come crashing down like helpless pigs exalted far high up, deliberately fed with extra fat laced fattening feeds that when they finally fall from that far, it only exposes the nature of their feed and the greed with which they stuffed on it, like all pigs do.
Some, even have the untrammelled temerity to boast, openly and publicly, about their close relationship with and close proximity to “the powers that be“, that is, those who have the power to raise them high up and who indeed, and to whom they are beholden and whose personal interests they serve.
They, indeed, demonstrate and prove who and what they really are, personal [private] servants in suits with high sounding official titles.
What they forget or don’t bother to consider as something of any significance, is that with such arrogance, they do so well to expose how they got into their exalted positions, which explains their arrogant attitude towards the institutions they head and the ‘small‘ people in them – the staff.
They come from and through a “funnel” patronage system that uses favours as, not only a currency for their uncritical and blind loyalty, but also usually as a one way ticket to mental prison. These people are systematically locked into a patronage mental prison they can’t escape, and they hardly think for themselves because it is not a requirement.
In fact, the prerequisite to their positions, is the ability not to think, not to think for themselves, the ability to suspend their critical faculties and simply take orders from above – their masters who exalt them to such high public positions.
This is the major cause of failure to build sustainable, effective and impersonal institutions; that is, institutions that do not depend on the judgement, and certainly without doubt, whims of one individual.
It is this systemic failure that is behind the lack of institutional continuity that we decry yet so common in Africa. Surprisingly, we are too adamant to condemn the process and the attitude and subsequent behaviour that create the environment for it, but passively accept it.
Until we learn to treat public institutions for what they are, and not as personal agencies we run for personal interests and as we decide and according to our whims, without regard to due process, until we learn and understand that everyone from the top to the bottom, is essentially part of the institutional staff, and depending on how people get into such institutions; until we have the courage to stand up to people whose intention is to run public institutions as their own private agencies, people will always and continue to personalise public institutions at public expense while the inevitable consequence of that, is perpetual institutional failure.
This is the challenge of institutional building in Africa, the challenge and lack of effective and rigorous institutional checks and balances on the powers of those who are entrusted with the responsibility of running public institutions on behalf and in the interests of the public.