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Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira

Discussions about the role of the state in steering the development path of countries have post-World War II roots, when the field of public administration was already established. The links between public administration and development processes have emerged from three main traditions: the development administration (mostly from public administration scholars), developmental states (political scientists and economists), and international development (development studies). Those three traditions have tended to merge in the 21st century as the discussions are less about theories and more about practice and themes around the role of public administration to foster the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda. This vibrant field has been reinvigorated by the emergence of the Asian success stories, which are not explained by the existing theories developed in the West. The future looks promising for those interested in developing new paradigms of public administration based on organizational and societal contexts that are not fully understood.


Public administration in Africa has its own specific features for at least two reasons. First, African societies are not organized along the lines of competing interests driven by their grounding in the economic production process. These societies have never been subject to an agrarian revolution, let alone an industrial one, that allows for the evolution of a system of social stratification similar to what is found in economically developed countries. In the latter, society is shaped by the state, much of it in its own image. The second reason, therefore, is that the African state—the locus of public administration—is a foreign creation imposed on society without roots in the economy or society. This tends to make its governance capricious and shaped foremost by political battles over how rents and privileges are shared among groups that come together for reasons of consumption rather than production. This is a general feature of the African scene, but it is qualified by a variable colonial legacy and a postindependence development experience. Former British and French colonies differ because of the legal systems they inherited—the former the common law tradition, the latter the Napoleonic civil law apparatus. This difference is important in shaping not only public administration but also the wider political outlook—a factor that affects inter-African cooperation. Since independence, public administration in these countries has been influenced by international and domestic pressures to accelerate development and promote democratic governance. This postindependence experience has been variable, some having managed to steer clear of violence, others having suffered political breakdowns. The African story of public administration since independence is diverse and representative of both successes and failures. Three countries—Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda—are of special interest because they indicate different pathways that other countries in the region may follow to improve their governance and public administration.