In a recent op-ed for the Mail & Guardian, “Civil servants are the foundation of any good democracy,” Amujae Leader and Emerging Public Leaders (EPL) Executive Director Yawa Hansen-Quao reflected on the importance of an effective civil service, and how it is integral to “good governance, economic development, and executing the social contract between government and the governed.”
In the context of the recent Ghanaian general elections, which took place in December 2020, Yawa described the key role that the civil service plays in sustaining a strong democracy and ensuring elected officials are responsive to the needs of their constituents.
“The civil service is ultimately responsible for translating campaign promises made by politicians into concrete policies and programmes. The civil service is uniquely positioned to be the anchor institution that serves the country at all times… and it is time for voters and leaders alike to take note.”
Yawa pointed to the 2018 Mo Ibrahim Foundation Forum Report, “Public Service in Africa,” which argues that “without a strong public service and committed public servants” there can be “no efficient delivery of expected public goods and services.” One of the most important sources of competent civil service comes in the form of recruiting young cohorts of talented individuals. For many young people in Africa, however, Yawa wrote that:
“hoosing to become part of the government workforce is not yet seen as a compelling path because of a variety of reasons, from lack of awareness to low pay and lack of prestige. Until a new generation breaks this mould, government institutions in Africa are at risk of lagging behind their more robust social and private sector counterparts.”
Noting that governments’ reliance on expertise provided by international institutions and foreign development agencies is not a sustainable approach, and one that fails to create opportunities for the growth of in-country talent, Yawa advocated instead for the the creation of “a clear, merit-based pathway to bring the best and brightest…into the civil service.”
Investing in the recruitment of recent university graduates pays off, Yawa argued, as a sustainable, long-term approach to strengthening government services and their quality while developing a dedicated cadre of civil servants. In her capacity as Executive Director, Yawa leads EPL’s Public Service Fellowship program, which recruits some of Africa’s most promising future leaders and places them into civil service positions. Fellows commit to serve two years in the public service, during which time they receive leadership training and mentorship.
Yawa went on to cite the 86% retention rate of participants in The President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP) in Liberia. Launched in 2009 during the tenure of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, PYPP is EPL’s sister organization and is a long-standing program which recruits and trains young talent for the civil service. Yawa wrote that EPL’s similar model attracts talent, and fellows often choose to remain in the public service after the completion of their fellowship, through which they have been given “access to serving the country in a way they would not otherwise have considered or have had access to.”
Yawa concluded the article by emphasizing that investment in young civil servants will pay dividends over time, ultimately leading to better services for citizens and a strengthened democracy overall.