In Africa, as everywhere else, Covid-19 has tested government’s capacity to deliver for its people – to the limit.
The challenges facing Africa’s leaders in the coming years – managing ongoing crises such as the pandemic, driving the recovery and accelerating socioeconomic transformation as well as development aspirations for their people – are equally immense. Improving the scope of governments to deliver on these priorities has never been more important.
Fortunately, delivery – the practice of how political leaders drive government implementation of projects, programmes and reforms to honour their political promises – is now a rising priority throughout Africa, auguring well for recovery and transformation.
Delivery, based on the principles of prioritisation, policy, planning and performance management (the four Ps), was first developed in a formal sense by Tony Blair as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When the Tony Blair Institute (TBI) started working in Africa in 2008, there were no delivery units in presidential or prime ministerial offices on the continent. Today, half of African governments have established delivery units at the heart of their governments, with small teams of high-calibre staff working directly for the leader to support him or her to ensure timely implementation of their priorities.
Over the past five years alone, 14 countries including Togo, Burkina Faso and Angola have adopted delivery mechanisms at the core of government, and today there are at least 25 such mechanisms at the national level plus various others at sub-national level.
Many countries are also applying delivery principles in other ways, for example, by dispersing these functions across departments and agencies, in the hub of government as well as in sectoral line ministries and agencies. Governments such as Kenya and Rwanda have been promoting the adoption of a delivery culture across the breadth of government to drive post-Covid recovery and to implement development agendas such as Kenya’s “Big Four” – food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and universal health care.
Why Delivery Is Vital
This focus on delivery is already bearing fruit in a variety of ways across Africa.
First, through improved performance management, as seen in Rwanda’s effort to roll out such contracts within the government, thereby strengthening delivery culture across the civil service. Its performance contract system, IMIHIGO, formally reintroduced in 2006, is based upon a pre-colonial tradition where warriors or leaders would publicly vow to accomplish certain deeds with failure to fulfil these promises resulting in shame and embarrassment. The current IMIHIGO system provides incentives based upon outcome-level targets for civil servants across government.
Delivery can help co-ordinate different levels of government as in the case of Kenya’s pioneering “One-Government Approach” being employed to achieve the Big Four agenda. Through its Presidential Delivery Unit, the Kenyan government has established a co-ordination system for implementing key initiatives with decision-making bodies devolved to different levels of government. This proved particularly useful at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic with the system facilitating a rapid response to the crisis.
Delivery can also provide a basis for generating consensus. Senegal has been using a delivery lab approach to engage a range of stakeholders in defining, designing, quality assuring and building consensus around the government’s priorities and plans. Its delivery unit – the Bureau Operational de Suivi du Plan Senegal Emergent (BOS) – strengthened the country’s planning functions, among others, by using the approach to generate a robust roadmap for how it can produce 50 per cent of its pharmaceutical drug needs locally by 2035.
Lessons from Africa on adoption of delivery culture to date:
Heads of state need to embrace their leadership role as change agents, promoting a delivery culture in an active and visible manner.
Delivery should be centred around problem-solving, rather than mere monitoring, with related processes built-in to enable this.
The experience of governments with a well-established delivery culture, including via an established unit in the president’s office, suggests that adopting a hub and spoke approach where delivery professionals are embedded across the breadth of government can be effective.
Delivery processes can be streamlined by integrating data technology solutions.
The Role of Development Partners
The growing appeal of delivery was seen in November 2020 when government representatives from 22 African countries – as diverse as Mali and The Gambia through to Ethiopia and Morocco – attended the second Africa Delivery Exchange (ADX 2020) event, co-hosted by the Government of Kenya, African Development Bank (AfDB) and TBI. Such a large, pan-African event would not have been possible ten or, even, five years ago.
Development partners have a big role to play in further embedding this trend. Some, such as the AfDB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, already support delivery mechanisms in African countries. They have done well to keep governments in the driving seat to own their delivery agenda. More such support is needed, though, as various countries and sub-national governments still lack proper assistance in this area: additional partners are needed to bolster existing delivery mechanisms and establish new ones.
Development partners also provide an external voice to advocate for the continuity of delivery mechanisms throughout political transitions and can promote international learning of delivery best practices through structures such as the newly established Africa Delivery Units Network.
As countries transition from Covid-19 response towards a transformational socioeconomic recovery, delivery mechanisms are increasingly well-placed to help turn political promises into reality for the benefit of citizens. This momentum must be supported.