By Falilou Mbacké Cissé (The Alliance for Rebuilding Governance in Africa, September 2009)
The efficiency of public action has always been a primordial theme for the Alliance. As far back as July 2002, when it launched a process to create an African Charter for Legitimate Governance, the Alliance pointed out the need to think about and come up with proposals for more suitable and efficient means of providing basic public services to improve the living conditions of each and every citizen. Painstaking work on the issue led to the conclusion that, in order to anchor State institutions in society, one requirement was a wider offering of public services based on proximity.
In fact, over and above the somewhat reductive theses linking public services and the fight against poverty, the Alliance places the issue of public services provision in a much wider perspective of rebuilding governance. Because they provide a real and efficient response to populations’ concerns, public services are seen as a strategy for renewing the rules that govern the national public space and links between actors, as well as a means to revitalise the post-colonial African State.
So the Alliance set up and conducted a specific project on the provision of public services within the framework of the ‘Governance, decentralisation and local development’ group. This initiative group responds to the need to make use of the local level–still and always in the perspective of rebuilding governance in Africa–because of its potential capacity for linking actors, modes and systems of governance. Its goal is to help consolidate and spread decentralisation and local development processes initiated on the African continent.
The initiative on basic public services, an outgrowth of work done for the African Charter for Legitimate Governance, aimed to make a more in-depth study of public services and governance to produce, in the end, concrete proposals for change likely to influence the logic behind services and their current modes of provision to populations.
In keeping with the tri-fold ‘action-reflection-action’ process underpinning the Alliance’s work, the initiative organised the collection of experiences in four local African communities: Commune VI in the Bamako district of Mali, the city of Lomé in Togo, the city of Port Novo in Benin and the Nioro community in Senegal.
Experiences were collected in large cities—agglomerations even—that were dynamic in terms of decentralisation and urban governance. The cities chosen were mainly capitals and thus presented all the complexity intrinsic to the management of public services
Information gathering then focused, in each city, on one public service from a list of ten. This public service had to be ‘in movement’ – currently under construction for the city or agglomeration – and thus correspond to a true challenge, i.e., it should represent the profound reality of the city or agglomeration at this particular stage in its history.
Finally, through the collection of experiences, the Alliance was able to focus on and include all actors involved in the public service chosen: informing them, making them aware of the importance of the initiative, how it would be implemented and future perspectives. Information days on launching the initiative on the provision of basic public services took place in each city, providing an opportunity for dialogue between actors, on the public service in question and, of course, on the initiative itself.
Each country collected an average of fifty experiences; their transversal analysis was used as the basis for a reference document on the public service chosen. The reference documents thus created also included proposals for change. In each country, workshops were organised for the restitution of reports. In parallel the various actors agreed on ‘local’ projects to improve public services and made a commitment to implement these projects with the advice and methodological support of the Alliance.
Thus, on the regional level, one hundred fifty (150) experiences and four analytical reports served as a basis for a proposals booklet, which once again looks at the link between ‘public service’ and ‘governance’. In the final analysis, the booklet posits—and confirms the position of the Alliance—that the management of assets and services for the common good, and control of the relationship between man and his environment, must be based on shared rules, the statement, control and respect of which are a major field of governance on the local, national and worldwide level.