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close this bookThe Courier N 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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Capacity building for management and development

by Franklyn Lisk

The development experience of much of sub-Saharan Africa in past decades provides ample illustration of the importance of capacity building in the development process. The importance is related to the ability to manage economic and social processes, including the analysis and formulation of policy options, for attaining development objectives such as employment generation and poverty reduction. The consequences of failures in domestic economic management, compounded by the effects of a prolonged economic crisis in the region have, inter alla, contributed to high and rising levels of open unemployment and underemployment, declining per Capita incomes and real wages, and an increase in the incidence and intensity of poverty in a number of African countries. The persistence of these adverse consequences, which represent a serious threat to economic growth and sustainable development, are somehow linked-either as a cause or an effect -to weaknesses and instability in the institutional framework for management and public administration.

The problem of weak institutional and general capacity for management in Africa today can be traced to the colonial legacy. This left many countries in the region, at the time of independence, with insufficient institutional and human capacity to cope with the transition from colony to independent sovereign state, particularly with respect to the responsibility for economic management. More specifically, this related to the unequal and disadvantageous manner of Africa's incorporation into the international economic system in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Lack of technological know-how, inadequate infrastructure and limited investment resources compounded the immediate post-independence problem of weak institutional capacity, and left many African countries highly vulnerable to external shocks.

It was extremely difficult for the majority of African countries to break out of the old 'protected' colonial production and trade systems and rapidly to diversify their economies in line with the requirements of participating effectively in a competitive world economy. Since independence, institutional and human capacity for management in many African countries has not grown fast enough to keep up with the requirements of changing socioeconomic circumstances at the national level and to face the challenge of increasing globalisation. Critical skill shortages in public administration and private sector management in Africa can hardly be addressed in the context of the current economic crisis. The consequences of this crisis can be seen, for example, in underfunded and poorly equipped training and management development institutions, and in low-paid and demoralised civil services. At the same time, the 'brain drain' from the continent, partly as a consequence of poor pay and career prospects, has further undermined capacity in Africa. The interaction of foreign donors and African governments has not always served the interest of capacity building. It has been admitted, even by the World Bank that 'aid has done much less than one might have hoped to reduce poverty (in Africa)'. There is now more or less a consensus in the international donor community that expatriate technical assistance does not and cannot solve all kinds of development problems in the region. Far from solving problems, the imposition of foreign technical assistance has, in some cases, become a destructive force which undermines the development of domestic capacity that is critical to solving local development problems. Where donor assistance is inappropriate in terms of project concept and design, or there is a mismatch between design and domestic implementation and management capacity, technical assistance could end up becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.

Conceptual issues

Before examining the requirements for institutional capacity building in developing countries, and particularly African countries, it is necessary to clarify salient issues pertaining to the concept. Broadly speaking, capacity building in a development context refers to a comprehensive process which includes the ability to identify constraints and to plan and manage development. The process usually involves the development of human resources and institutions, and a supportive policy environment. Ideally, it aims at improving on existing capabilities and resources and using them efficiently to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

Narrowing the concept to focus on institution-building, the emphasis will be on the development of particular institutions, their human and material resources, their organisational management and their administrative capacities. More specifically, the aim of institutional capacity building is to improve significantly the outputs and impacts of institutions concerned with economic management, public administration (including project management), enterprise development and so on-in both the public and private sectors.

It is obvious that relevant development-oriented institutions within an economy can exert a decisive influence on economic growth and employment prospects, and indeed on the attainment of sustainable economic and social development. From a macro standpoint,planning and similar development institutions are required for better management of the economy including, more crucially, the ability to mobilise, allocate and utilise human and material resources in an efficient and productive manner. At the micro level, human and institutional capacity is critical to sound project management and public administration.

The framework

The general situation in Africa today suggests that capacity building is required in relation to the following priority areas:

- good governance, to ensure stability;

-economic management, to maximise resource mobilisation and promote sustainable development;

- human resource development, to support employment creation and income generation, and reduce poverty;

- science and technology, to increase the efficiency of the population and facilitate infrastructural development;

-enterprise development, to enhance the critical role of the private sector in overall development.

The degree of emphasis given to each of the above in a given context would vary according to the level and complexity of existing human and institutional capacities, the economic and financial means to support capacity, the relative roles of the public and private sectors, and the degree of involvement of civil society in the decision-making process.

The policy context for institutional capacity building should be multi-sectoral and flexible, but coherent in relation to the desired objectives of development. This is to ensure that the process of capacity building is adaptable to changing circumstances-an issue that is particularly relevant in the context of countries undertaking structural adjustment and economic reform programmes when there is a need effectively to nurture and utilise local skills and to mobilise investment resources efficiently.

In the light of the development challenge facing African countries, the process of capacity building in the region requires, above all, appropriate and adequate human and institutional capabilities to plan and manage economic and social development processes. These capabilities should include the means of assessing the achievements and impact of capacity building on poverty reduction, employment creation, etc. Existing public sector institutions for development planning and management could provide the operational framework for national capacity building, but the process should also include the participation of diverse social forces, the private sector and non-governmental institutions.

Regarding the role of external donors and technical assistance agencies, the approach should be based on the concept of 'partners in development', which implies consultation and dialogue between donor and recipient on all aspects of project planning, design and implementation- with project 'ownership' resting with national authorities. Technical assistance from foreign donors should therefore go mainly towards developing the necessary domestic capacity, rather than contributing to the undermining of existing or potential capacity. Furthermore, assistance provided by external donors should be directed towards the building of capacity for promoting regional economic cooperation and integration through support for the development of viable African regional and sub-regional development organisations.

Support initiatives

The issue of domestic capacity building in Africa has more recently been the focus of attention by the international community as a whole. Indeed, the former World Bank vice-president for Africa, Edward Jaycox, has described 'capacity building' es the 'missing link in African development' which is 'critical to the development effort (of the region) and the chances of success'. UN agencies, spearheaded by the UNDP, have been active in promoting capacity building as a major requirement for attaining sustainable development.

In 1991, the UNDP Governing Council took a decision which resulted in the development of guidelines covering assistance to governments in the formulation and implementation of national capacity building strategies relating to all stages of the project cycle in the developing countries. The decision coincided with the introduction of the 'programme approach' by the UNDP which emphasised the centrality of national development programmes as the hub for the integration of UN technical assistance activities with national efforts. Emphasis on the use of national skills in the development process was consolidated within the general operational framework for 'national execution', which implied that overall responsibility for management of UN operational activities and accountability remained with the government and other national institutions and beneficiaries who 'owned' these activities. Under these new arrangements, a high priority was thus placed on the strengthening and sustaining of development management and administrative capacities on a long-term basis as an integral part of UNDP technical assistance.

The World Bank's interest in capacity building in Africa has been more closely linked to the need for administrative and technical capacity at the national level to carry out policy analysis and economic management in the context of on-going structural adjustment and economic reform programmes. In a trailblazing address to the African American Institute Conference in 1993, Mr Jaycox came out strongly in favour of a new approach to lending to African countries which gave top priority to the development of critical human and institutional capacity. He admitted that the Bank's $4 billion a year lending programme in sub-Saharan Africa had not had the desired impact on development in the region because not enough attention had been paid to national capacity in the past. He went on to criticise the international donor community and financial institutions, including the World Bank itself, for designing and carrying out technical assistance activities which not only fail to solve problems but end up undermining the development of capacity in Africa. Mr Jaycox accordingly pledged to give direct support to capacity building in the Bank's lending programmes, mainly through human resource development and the creation of a 'demand for professionalism in Africa.'

The UNDP, the African Development Bank and the World Bank, collaborated in the early 1990s to set up the 'African Capacity Building Foundation' (ACBF), based in Harare, Zimbabwe, with initial seed money of about $30 million and another $70 million attracted from bilateral donors and African governments themselves. The fund is to be used by the Foundation to support capacity building in Africa through training and institution building. Particular attention will be paid to the rehabilitation and strengthening of selected research and training institutions to meet the challenge of indigenous capacity building. Another initiative set up with foreign donors and African support, the Africa Research Consortium in Nairobi, is a good example of collaboration at regional level that is contributing to capacity building in the critical area of economic policy analysis and management. Similarly, the African Development Bank helped establish the African Business Round table which promotes entrepreneurship and enterprise development based on African ownership and control.

Role of the ILO

For well over three decades the ILO, as part of its technical cooperation programme in Africa, has been involved in a wide range of management development, productivity and institution building initiatives at both national and regional levels. This is consistent with the need to strengthen African training institutions to play a crucial role in providing development managers with the necessary skills to analyse and formulate policy options and manage public and private enterprises efficiently.

One of the most successful initiatives undertaken by the ILO, in collaboration with the UNDP and the Economic Development Institute (EDI) of the World Bank, is the UNEDIL programme for strengthening management training in Africa. Since its inception in 1987, the UNEDIL programme has proven to be a worthwhile initiative in institutional capacity building in the management field. Support for the programme has also come from national and regional management development institutes (MDIs) in Africa, regional and sub-regional organisations such as SADC and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and major bilateral donors such as USAID, CIDA, NORAD, the Netherlands and France.

Apart from aiming at strengthening institutional capacity, the UNEDIL programme has been instrumental in fostering networking among African development institutes and promoting professional contacts and the exchange of experience. One outcome of the programme has been the revival of three subregional MDI associations which enjoy the direct support of UNEDIL and serve as focal points for UNEDIL's subregional networking arrangements.

Networking on a subregional basis has made it possible to optimise the use of scarce resources and talents, and this has helped to increase managerial capacity in the region as a whole. Collaboration has also permitted an exchange of experience among African institutions, and has brought together expertise both from within Africa and from outside to assist in the development of managerial capacity across the continent. This fits in with the goals of technical cooperation in general, and of South-South cooperation in particular.