The Weak Link in African Reforms

The Weak Link in African Reforms

[I admire those working in the public sector across Africa. Yet, let us have a big conversation, purely on averages, not individuals. Of course the smartest people like professors are in the public sector. Let that guide as you read].

I was in University of Nairobi Engineering. I had gone to discuss building sensors for capturing emissions in cities. In the middle of the talk, I wanted to find out those that would even support the project from the government side. I asked two questions to the students. First, “Who are in the top 10% of their classes?”Some hands went up. Secondly – “To the 10%, who would work in the public sector after graduation?” All hands went down.

That is the African problem. You can accuse me for choosing private sector over a public sector career. Nonetheless, we have a problem in the continent. On average, our generation’s best are not interested in public sector, going for private sector [oil & gas, banking, telecoms and foreign-funded startups] or leaving the continent. As this trajectory continues, the quality in the public sector would deteriorate.

While we work on policies, Africa must work to find how to make public sector more attractive to its generation’s best. If the bottom of the class becomes the person making decisions on our roads in the Ministry of Works, we may not necessarily have good roads.

I have seen this problem in primary education in Nigeria: brilliant kids move on to universities. College of Education is not necessarily the domain for the brightest graduating secondary school kids. Yet, that is the place government would select those that would teach the next generation. If government does not make teachers’ wages attractive, college of education would never become a first-choice for any secondary school graduate.

The state government, had in September 2017 conducted similar test for the over 30,000 primary school teachers in the state, following which 21,780 who failed to obtain 70% pass mark were sacked and replaced with newly recruited 25,000 teachers.

Writing on Sunday via his Twitter handle, @GovKaduna, el-Rufai noted that the state is committed to restoring the integrity of the teaching profession.

“We are doing our best to restore the integrity of the teaching profession. We have finished tests for primary school teachers and we are going to administer competency tests for secondary school teachers.”

The competency test for primary school teachers and subsequent sack of those that failed the test caused verbal war between the governor, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the umbrella body for workers, Nigeria Labour Congress.

The summary is this: unless Africa invests to fix the public sector workforce, most of the reforms may struggle. The golden age of public service employment was also the time government was the best employer. That happened many decades ago, before 1990. Governments across Africa must revisit that formula if we ever hope to get out of the stasis we are now today.

All Together

It is a big challenge: you ran away from govt but the bottom in your class will teach your child! Then we rant, teachers are not doing good jobs. Ask Governor El-Rufai for the outcome. Unless he can pay the oil/ telecom/bankers’ wages, he would struggle in finding great teachers.


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2 thoughts on “The Weak Link in African Reforms

  1. I joined the public sector after working in the private sector for 16 years but I left after 3 years to re-join the private sector. The challenges are many and I doubt if heads of governments in Africa are bold enough to embrace and tackle the challenges. So many examples to share but one sad example was when we were trying to renew the organisation by attracting and recruiting intelligent people. We were lucky to get a talent who made 1st class in law from an old generation Uni in Nigeria + distinction at Masters level in Harvard. He was super hot but you know what, some senior guys (director, assistant directors) told him …’this is not the place for brilliant people like you, better to go look elsewhere …’ Of course he left after two years and joined a global bank outside the continent.


    1. “He was super hot but you know what, some senior guys (director, assistant directors) told him …’this is not the place for brilliant people like you, better to go look elsewhere …’ Of course he left after two years and joined a global bank outside the continent.” That is the typical thing that happens in Nigeria. Even the government does not want the brilliant people around. As Bill Gates noted, we cannot really do much without human capital development.


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