DESA News Vol. 11, No. 2 February 2007

Technical cooperation

The role of leaders in governance and development in Africa

Capacity-building mission. Abuja, 5-16 February

Does the environment engender leadership or do leaders shape their environment? The Division for Public Administration and Development Management is undertaking a mission to Abuja, Nigeria on 5 February to try to disentangle this and other questions surrounding the role of leadership in sub-Saharan Africa. Sponsored by the African Capacity-building Foundation, the purpose of the mission is to interview Nigerian Government and civilian leaders to find out how they perceive their roles, and how they are responding to the major governance challenges of Western Africa.

The inquiry is part of a wider study on the role of leadership in governance and development in Africa. For the purposes of the analysis, the sub-Saharan region has been divided into four sub-regions, namely Southern, Eastern, Western and Central Africa. Segmentation is intended to control for a variety of environments and avoid falling into one-size-fits-all patterns, explains Jide Balogun, the DESA official involved in organizing the Western Africa component.

The data collected from primary and secondary sources will be analyzed and then used to prepare a paper with recommendations on the leadership and development experience of the Western African sub-region. Papers addressing the other sub-Saharan regions will be prepared by other teams, and integrated into a full-length position paper of the African Capacity-building Foundation, which will in turn form the basis of a project proposal to enhance leadership capacity on the African continent.

Balogun makes it clear though that before moving to the stage of training for capacity-building, there must be “disciplined commitment to core values and rules.” That is to say, leaders must “ensure that democratic institutions operate as expected, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” In the past, this has been, Balogun says, an Achilles heel for African governance.

Fellowships, one of the best coordinating activities in the UN system

The path towards one United Nations is shorter thanks to the coordinating machinery for training and fellowships provided by DESA and its predecessors for more than thirty years. Since 1976, the Department has served as secretary and focal point for inter-agency fellowship coordination, playing a central role in harmonizing fellowship practices among UN agencies so effectively that the ACC Consultative Committee on Substantive Questions (Operational Activities) considered it, in 1991, to be one of the best coordinated areas in the UN system. Since then, further steps have been taken to continue to advance inter-agency coordination.

Thirty years ago before the Department was given its coordination mandate, “every agency used to give different – sometimes completely different – treatment and entitlements to fellows”, acknowledges Tom Rudi, a fellowship officer in DESA. “There was a complete lack of coordination.” The main achievement throughout this three-decade span is arguably the fact the rules of the game among UN agencies have become unified and consistent.

The sixteenth meeting of senior fellowships officers of the UN system which took place recently at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, from 6 to 8 November, was strongly influenced by the idea of their being a single United Nations. The meeting made a recommendation on common standards for fellowship evaluation in line with the report of the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence.

Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is Speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia and former President of the 54th session of the General Assembly, delivered a speech recognizing the positive effect fellowships have in developing countries. As a former UN fellow himself, Mr Gurirab speaks from experience. UN fellowships are intended for Government officials in developing countries and meant to provide them with short- or long-term specialized training. The training can take place either within the fellow’s own country or abroad. The impact is far-reaching: while officials upgrade their skills in areas of high priority to their Governments, prospects for raising national capacities for development in these countries multiply.

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