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The Devils' Annexe  - Ethics and African Public Management

The Devils' Annexe - Ethics and African Public Management

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Fifth in a series of
The Devils' Annexe
Ethics and African Public Management
Sidney & Shirley Robbins
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The South African Mail & Guardian in January 2008 stated that about 33% of the newly elected national executive committee of the ANC have had a brush with the law — or is having a brush with the law as we write this. To set the scene regarding African leadership, and the effects of tribalism on the psyche of the people of Africa, we refer, and quote from an article we wrote in 1972, which appeared in several newspapers and was produced in booklet form as, ‘What are you doing for the African?’ Don't solely blame the Africans - much of the blame rests with former Colonial and Western powers.
Ethics and African Public Management
During the early years of independence, roughly between 1960 and 1975, the major thrust was transforming inherited colonial public management structures into African-controlled bodies.

During that period little attention was given to ethical issues in government at any level. Soon it became evident that corruption had set in, and that in many cases, it had taken on endemic proportions. Two aspects emerged. Firstly, during the Cold War period, corrupt African rulers like Mobutu were tolerated as long as they supported the USA in its battle with the other World Power - the Communist bloc led by the Soviet Union. Secondly, there was the fact that international donors were restrained from expressing views on ethical aspects of government, for fear of being accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the 'new independent' states. The ‘teething problem’ situation was the excuse. ‘They would soon learn by their mistakes’ was a cliché frequently touted.

But this was not confined only to African States. In South Africa at the time, the Nationalists would not tolerate criticism of Apartheid. When South Africa was criticized by Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, he was rounded upon by Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa and arch-architect of Apartheid. He accused Macmillan of interference in his country’s internal affairs. Macmillan’s retort was to the effect that he would tolerate and respect what his neighbour did, for just as long as his neighbour did not threaten the peace and security on his side of the fence. A pity the British government did not apply this ethic to their former colonial territories!

One fact has to be driven home, even to the degree of over-emphasis. The colonial powers were guilty of handing over the reins to the fledgling African governments before adequate training was provided to the inexperienced public officials. Africans had been excluded from the upper echelons of the civil service until the last few years of colonial rule. When the National Party came to power in 1948, they merely dispensed with those who were not politically acceptable to them – and they did it their way. This resulted in a bloated, corrupt and inefficient civil service.

In the present South African administration, the previous exclusion of Africans from positions of influence in government and senior pubic management in particular, has meant that the majority of black and female senior public servants at the levels of Director-General and Deputy Director-General have had little or no prior experience of public administration. And they repeated exactly what the National Party did - threw out the baby with the bathwater, and so they have lost all the expertise and experience of the previous civil servants.

‘What Are You Doing For The African.’

To set the scene regarding African leadership, and the effects of tribalism on the psyche of the people of Africa, we should start with an article we wrote in 1972, which appeared in several newspapers and was produced in booklet form as, ‘What are you doing for the African?’ In the London pubs, in French restaurants, at the Swiss ski resort, wherever the white man from Africa visits overseas, his honour, his prestige, is gauged by what he hands out in charity, regardless of the fact that those recipients of integrity do not accept, nor wish to live on charity. ‘After all,’ the questioning continues, ‘why is he not given a chance? He is being discriminated against.’ And then the parrot-cry is taken up by the African, and he asks, ‘What is being done for me? I don’t have a chance; I’m being discriminated against’.

The guilt complex so prevalent in former colonial countries has been used with devastating effect. It's a play on emotions, often driven by ignorance. Ruminating over its past crimes such as slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and its experiences with fascism, communism, Europe often sees its history as nothing but a long litany of murder and rapine culminating in two world wars. Europe has been haunted by the demons of repentance, always prepared to feel pity for the sufferings of the world and to assume responsibility for them.

Fuelled by the rhetoric at summits, the cry goes out: What can we do for the poverty of Africa? A more pertinent question should be, what is Africa doing for itself? The problem is that most Europeans spontaneously agree with their enemies in the way they judge themselves.

Finding Scapegoats

Where does the buck stop? Everything that goes wrong is met with a torrent of excuses - colonialism, whites, slavery, IMF et al. Let Keith B Richburg, who was Africa bureau chief for the Washington Post in Nairobi from 1991 to 1994, who wrote a best seller ‘Out of Africa. A Black Man Confronts Africa,’ explain what he found in Africa. He wrote: ‘So I am a cold-hearted cynic? A racist, maybe, or perhaps a lost and lonely self-hating black man who has forgotten his African roots? Maybe I am all that and more. But by an accident of birth, I am a black man born in America, and everything I am today – my culture and attitudes, my sensibilities, loves and desires – derives from that one, simple irrefutable truth.’

He went on to write: ‘I don’t hate Africans or Africa. What I hate is the senseless brutality, the waste of human life. I hate the unfairness, the injustice, the way repressive systems strip the decent people of their dignity… and the single biggest problem on a continent searching for democracy and development is tribalism. To blame Africa’s ills on tribalism is a cliché, to be sure. But like many clichés, this one has a basis in truth. I suppose that, if I chose to, I could call myself a Swedish-German-Russian-Scottish-English-American, yet I have never done so. I am an American. Period. And don’t give me any grief about the Native Americans. When they had the continent to themselves it wasn’t America. For America, more than any other nation that has ever existed is bounded not by physical boundaries or a gene pool, but by ideals. Race, ethnicity, situations of birth, religion etc, are al meaningless when it comes to defining who is an American. To be an American, one need do no more than associate him with this simple credo:

'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...' (Extract from the American Constitution)’
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