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Capacity building is key to Africa's development

As several African countries see their economic fortunes falter, the debate on adjustment continues to sidestep the challenge of capacity. The lack of capacity in key government entities has not just held back development, it hinders the resolution of current economic challenges. 

African-American meat inspectors perform their duties at a warehouse

In many African countries, civil service pay is too low to attract talent, leaving the government struggling with lack of capacity. This leaves a strong head atop a weak body. (Yhomo Hutchinson/JIS)


Strengthening capacity, or better known as capacity building, is a core challenge. Capacity building is the process by which governments put into place the requisite skills needed to support the process of economic development. It requires acquiring, or strengthening key skill sets and abilities, and developing organizations that can adapt to changing economic conditions. 


Yet, many African governments facing dire economic challenges are not addressing their capacity problems. Nor are MDBs, or the IMF, strongly encouraging reforms in this area. 


Capacity building is hindered for several reasons. One of them is civil service pay. In many countries civil service pay is too low to attract the best and brightest. This leaves key government organizations riddled with lack of capacity, and a phenomenon where by Ministers, and their front offices, are usually very strong, but they sit atop an organization that has limited implementation capacity. 


Capacity building requires that not only the issue of civil service pay be addressed, but for some organizations this suggests the need to build something new from the ground up. Ministries of Finance, Investment, Planning, and Central Banks, not only need to have the right leader at the helm, they need the right staff, and a modern organization that is built on advanced skills and knowledge. Essentially, what has been forgotten is the absolute need to revamp key government economic entities that can make them effective agents of change. This includes departments of statistics which are key to diagnosing economic problems before they fester. 


Key economic government entities need to review what is working and what is not. This requires a rethink of structure; competencies; management systems; staffing and renumeration; knowledge and learning and, lastly, leadership across key economic departments. 


Capacity building must also go hand in hand with developing a culture of discipline. An example of this is the failure of ports authorities all over Africa to clear containers quickly from customs to customers. Just in time inventory as a concept doesn’t seem to work in several African countries because the culture of Port Authorities does not prioritize speed. This leaves Africa’s industry forced to have large warehouses for key supplies, or constantly facing shutdowns for lack of parts and intermediate inputs. 


The ability of African economies to succeed is directly linked to the need for capacity building enhancements. Without this, many key government economic agencies will continue to falter as new economic challenges arise. 

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