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4 things I learned about delivery from African leaders

Dan Hymowitz's picture
How do you teach an elephant to dance? How do you eat an elephant in 15 months? Where is all the elephant meat? The first Africa Delivery Exchange (ADEx), a recent workshop convened by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in Nairobi with the heads of “delivery teams” from seven African countries, was full of pachyderm-inspired metaphors. Not because we met near Nairobi’s famous wildlife park, but because of the weightiness of the issue that we’d gathered to discuss: how can teams in African Presidencies and Prime Minister’s offices drive their governments to deliver results for citizens whether that’s inclusive economic growth and job creation or an effective education system.
This was a rare opportunity for these exceptionally busy government leaders from countries including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Ethiopia to swap experience around the craft of their work. Here are four things that stood out to me from the event: 

1. Delivery is about changing the way government works Critics say delivery units step on civil servants’ toes and usurp the proper role of government ministries. But what I heard from delivery unit heads in Nairobi was a focus on enabling the rest of government to function better – more orchestra conductor than security guard. “We’re not a replacement,” said of one of these government leaders. “The ministries need to own this.”
Ray Shostak, former head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit in the UK, reflected that delivery teams across the globe often find they need to gradually convince wary ministry colleagues that they’re there to support, not just hold to account. One delivery unit director at the ADEx described initially being perceived as “the police” and only over time winning people over by stepping in as a problem solver.

2. Top down meets bottom up
I thought this group of presidential advisors might focus mainly on the power of the bully pulpit. But there was plenty of talk about how to harness citizen and public pressure to improve government performance. 
One delivery leader described handing out disaggregated delivery plans to over one thousand local chiefs so that these traditional leaders could hold government responsible for meeting its commitments in each of their communities. We learned about how 98.1 FM in Sierra Leone hosts a weekly radio program discussing the successes and pitfalls of delivery. The Presidential Delivery Team there pressures ministries to submit their data and progress reports on time – or else their successes won’t make it on air. And we heard about how an innovative school-feeding program in one country was saved by the voices of a group of women who advocated for keeping that nascent but effective program in place.
So which is it: top down or bottom up? The verdict at the Africa Delivery Exchange was “both”.

3. Political leaders need to engage – and to empower their delivery unit heads
I visited the new railway that will connect Mombasa to Nairobi and is forecast to spur two percent of extra annual economic growth in Kenya. The railway will open in June, a remarkable 18 months ahead of its original five-year timetable. A big reason for this? President Uhuru Kenyatta’s direct engagement on the project including regularly visiting the construction site.
But Presidents can’t do everything themselves. I heard about the importance of political leaders backing their delivery unit heads. President Kenyatta empowered his Delivery Unit to intervene to solve a number of thorny implementation challenges such as whether the railway could pass through a national park. Another ADEx delivery unit head said their boss has repeatedly instructed ministers to take the delivery unit head’s words “as if they’re mine”. Gradually, these ministers have come to accept and even embrace the role of the delivery team.
Government Delivery
4. Leaders are under increasing pressure to deliver
At development conferences these days I hear a lot about “out of touch” government elites. So it was striking, in contrast, to hear the government leaders at ADEx describe feeling major pressure from the public to deliver results.
One leader pointed out that the Africa’s population youth bulge has a byproduct: millennials are impatient and expect government to get things done quickly. And when you don’t? In this leader’s words, “the next thing you know there’s a trending hashtag on Twitter criticizing you”.
I left Nairobi sobered by the elephant-sized challenges resting on the shoulders of these essential government leaders. But also inspired by their determination to catalyze their governments to do better for citizens.

Photo credit: Jennifer Huxta

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Submitted by Ade Fashade on

Interesting article. I do think, though, that what is being expressed here in terms of learning about service delivery is not rocket science! What should be of paramount importance is the approach and attitudes of those responsible for service delivery within govt ministries, departments and parastatals. There needs to be high and consistent standards of probity, equity, fairness and ethics. These should be the building blocks. Majority of African citizens, especially our youths, have been badly let down for decades. Change is urgent, so one can't blame people for being 'impatient'! Structure of governance also need to change, in terms of making them leaner and fit for purpose. Our governments are too large and too expensive to run, hence the slowness and inefficiency in service delivery.

Submitted by George Krhoda on

I agree totally on the pivotal role of the political leadership. Additionally, there is need for relevance for programmes that touch citizens lives otherwise there will be little interest. For example, the outage of water supply in most Kenya's cities and towns is critical. Ne may want to see concerted efforts in delivering the most pressing anerelevant issues to many lives.

Submitted by Paschal Mahinyila on

I love the article as it is real interesting! Currently, am doing a PhD in Monitoring and Evaluation at OUT-Tanzania on Delivery Systems. I am trying to study the impacts of delivery systems (Big Results Now) on the livelihoods of farmers on Rice Irrigation Schemes.
In my view, i can say that, most African Leaders they think that when they provide instructions, those charged with the duty to implement will automatically respond and deliver to the expectations and benefits of the citizens. This is not practical, and always they become surprised when things fail at the end of the day. Instead their push, follow up and monitoring is very important to realize real delivery to their citizens.
On the other hand, the concept of delivery for the citizens in most African civil servants is not understood as you can easily notice this from the way the civil servants speak with their clients/citizen in need of their service. Civil servants they produce fake delivery to satisfy their leaders especially political leaders but not real for the citizens meant to be served. Their commitment towards delivery is questionable as some Local Authorities like District Council dare sometimes to use Community Health Funds contributed by the normal citizens retained in their accounts for expenditure other than Health Services resulting to lack of health services even to those citizens who contributed their money to cater for their health services.
I propose for African Countries to realize Delivery to the citizens, they have first of all to change their mindset towards work, working style, passions for their fellow citizens and aspirations for change!

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