Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in The Economist: How young technocrats can replace Africa’s kleptocrats

In an article for The Economist, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf makes a strong argument for how young people can shape the future of the African continent. If governments can develop a new model for civil service—one that is effective and an enticing career choice—they can capitalize on young Africans’ energy and desire for political engagement.

“Young people, who make up the majority of the population, want more political participation. One of the best things government leaders can do is to open the door to them—by way of the civil service.”

Countries around the world rely on their civil servants for the strength of their public institutions. However, many young Africans perceive public sector work to be “corrupt and uninspired,” Madam Sirleaf writes, and are repelled by the low salaries and slow promotions. But it’s possible to change this perception—with “good policy, sufficient funding, bold ideas and creative partnerships.”

Investing in Africa’s talent will require strong partnerships and funding to improve education and training, and it is worth every effort. For example, the President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP) of Liberia is a competitive two-year program that recruits and places recent university graduates in civil service, which is supported by foreign aid, charities, and the national budget. Thanks to the merit-based promotion system, good supervision, mentorships, and peer networks to hold the recruits accountable, 86% of the fellows remained in the civil service after the transition to a new administration in 2018, Madam Sirleaf writes.

“Professionalising the civil service and protecting it from the corruption and autocracy that have doomed it in the past has paid off. It has been a critical factor in Liberia’s progress on debt reform, health care, education, and peace and security.”

Madam Sirleaf also highlights the impact of the organization Emerging Public Leaders, which brought the Liberian fellowship model to Ghana and is set to expand to Kenya. The goal is “to create a pan-African network of young, public-service leaders and enable greater regional cooperation,” she writes.

In addition to creating opportunities for young Africans to make their marks in civil service, Madam Sirleaf also stresses the importance of including women:

“The vision of governments needs to be broad and inclusive, to create opportunities for those who are usually excluded, notably young women. Promoting and appointing women to positions of authority will address the gender imbalance that exists among elected leaders.” 

Madam Sirleaf points to the EJS Center’s Amujae Initiative as an example of how to encourage women to take up roles in the highest echelons of public leadership and improve women’s representation in public institutions: “True democracy requires true representation.” 

By making public service an accessible and prestigious career option for young people, African leaders can ensure the protection of democratic institutions and strengthen public leadership, paving the way for lasting, meaningful change. 

Read the full article here.

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