Problem Solving

Making Sierra Leone’s Capacity Building Work

Kenday S. Kamara asked:

The World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (U.N.D.P., the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.), the United States Agency for International Aid (U.S.A.I.D.), the Department for International Development (D.F.I.D.).  Capacity building with its emphasis on “capacities to be developed” has always been fundamental to technical cooperation. However, “promoting long-term self-management practices, local knowledge and participation, and the dynamics and interrelationships among the various actors and levels of national programs, groups and organizations [shifts the focus of these international donors] from a traditional donor-driven, input-oriented, cost-benefit and expert-led practices”.  Also, the goals of the various local actors, national programs, groups and organizations have always been internally consistent in their need to build capacities. They include:

· healthcare workers concerned about improving health delivery practices through building the necessary human resources and training infrastructure for training healthcare professionals, and for building capacity to provide healthcare services;

· innovative public media organizations concerned about perfecting their reporting standards to meet the need for diverse and analytic perspectives on development information;

· the judicial system concerned about improving the efficiency of the judicial and legal system to provide improved access to justice;

· environmentalists concerned about ecological degradation;

· and good governance activists who at all times object to the chronic incompetence of governments.

Some of Sierra Leone’s good governance advocates are anticorruption government watchdog groups that promote an anticorruption and capacity building agenda. The Campaign for Good Governance (C.G.G.), for instance, “exists to increase citizen participation in governance through advocacy, capacity building and civic education in order to build a more informed civil populace and a democratic State”.  The C.G.G. organizes anti-corruption training for leaders in various sectors of civil society, lobbies for good governance practices in both national and local government, tracks governance problems, and publishes findings on government in order to educate civil society. Capacity building is what they believe is key for government to improve governance. Other capacity building voices such as the World Bank attributed half the success of democratic institutions to the notion that institutions that do not build their capacity are neither relevant nor creative. In its “World Bank Assistance Strategy” for Sierra Leone put forward early in 2007, the Bank has sought to “facilitate good governance through public financial management reforms; supporting capacity building for Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) implementation in selected sector ministries and local governments and continuing to promote private sector development”. For good governance advocates, therefore, finding some ways to address the challenges of capacity building has always being a high priority.

The existing capacity building programs in Sierra Leone are quite weak and hardly yielding any results. The Decentralization Secretariat (DecSec) of the Government of Sierra Leone that was established under the Institutional Reform and Capacity Building Project (I.R.C.B.P.), funded by the World Bank has its problems and does not seem to claim any real and direct impact on improving governance capacity. DecSec facilitates the instruction of citizens about the major components of the Local Government Act of 2004 which was “passed as a response to the widely-held belief that corruption and government ineptitude were major factors in the lead-up to the bloody civil war. The Act decentralizes the national government and passes many powers once exclusively held by the national government over to local governments comprised of local councils”. However, when national institutions are weak, their rules and resources can have negative and unproductive effects regardless of the good intentions of public administration reforms and policy support to democratic governance. Major General Jonathon P. Riley, Senior British Military Adviser who served in Sierra Leone in the late summer of 2000 once made some valid points along these lines. The General talked about the three essential elements of governance, security, and essential services (electricity, clean water, basic health and sanitation, communications) which must be put in place to allow post-conflict reconstruc­tion to take place. Major General Riley was serving in Sierra Leone and saw for himself Sierra Leone’s potential wealth, “its enormous natural resources: rice, timber, gold, iron, rutile, diamonds, fish, offshore oil, and hydroelectric power. [The General believes] not only should Sierra Leone be self-supporting in these things, it should, as was once the case, be exporting many of them and earning foreign currency; [also been a country with a] well-educated population [considering, for example,] the fact that it is home to sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest university. But it is not building up its natural wealth, and we have a half-done job to thank for it. It is not too late—but things are still fragile. [The General also made the observation that] the real danger is having fixed security and not the other essentials, we have simply created the conditions for the next military coup”. Increasing the perceived legitimacy of national governance is, therefore, an important objective and requires three things: greater clarity about development programs, a richer understanding of strong and assertive leadership, and a willingness to address corruption. When discipline is not enforced in a society by strong leadership and corruption tolerated, crime and negligence become systemic. 

Capacity Building is about Fostering Civic Engagement

Capacity building, defined as “the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt and thrive in the fast changing world” is not new. Nor is it just about institutions. Institutions have existed and have always had people who run them; but management efficiency, promoting human and civil society development, and community participation have also been the ultimate purpose of capacity building. If strong communities are not built; i.e. communities with a shared sense of belonging or solidarity and able to efficiently utilize resources and skills needed to respond effectively to crises, embrace change, and resolve issues it might adversely affect the usefulness of the framework that social capital concepts give to the meaning of capacity building—concepts grounded on relationships, trust and networks that bolster development of all the other types of capital essential to nurturing sustainable, safe and unified communities.

Capacity building is about the ‘ultimate purpose’ of people willing to learn, to grow and to work together for social change, and the social change produced can support the development of a more democratic and just society. And there is more to the cliché that capacity building is about skills building within individual departments or private sector entities.  The complexities of capacity building processes have kept the Sierra Leone government with the support of international organizations seeking for more capacity building strategies that work. Although a total community participation effort is neither feasible nor desirable, many forms of fostering civic engagement and methods of managing common affairs can be expanded. Fostering civic engagement in development programs ena
bles citizens to become deeply involved in substantive citizenship issues. The University of Sierra Leone, vocational institutes and secondary schools in t
he country, including the many capacity building seminars and conferences held nationally and internationally, for instance, should support their faculty and staff, and facilitators, to know what engaged learning really is—engaging in the identifying and solving of problems for the nation’s development programs. Opportunities for all professional programs, like teacher education, healthcare and sanitation, and small- and medium-sized enterprises (S.M.E.s) education, should be developed to address and examine social issues in the nation through the use of curricular models that challenge students and practitioners and provide opportunities to apply curriculum with national development programs. Modeling good civic virtue is essential in a participatory democracy. Sierra Leoneans should be taught the value of service and requiring that students and practitioners demonstrate knowledge of what constitutes service. It is a fact that creating good citizens is a way to define patriotism, and it is that connectedness to the community that makes people true Sierra Leoneans. Development educators can be instrumental in introducing new ideas for discourse, providing knowledge on development strategies that have worked elsewhere, as well as reaching out to a multitude of freelance consultants at home and abroad who can provide expert advice on legal, financial, management, health and safety and other aspects of social change. 

In the area of skills transfer, the business sector in developed countries has much to offer the developing world. The $100 million five year Secure the Future program launched by Bristol-Myers Squibb through its corporate foundation, for example, offers a model that utilizes the experience of people in corporate America who understand distribution, management and infrastructure to harness the indigenous business capacity in developing countries. The initial suspicions and lack of trust that characterized the Secure the Future model were overcome by the architects of the program reaching out to essential partners on the ground in southern Africa to foster civic trust for the program. When a sense of wellbeing is therefore felt by citizens and roles and responsibilities of those in government are well defined; when standards are set and degrees of pride people have in the nation of which they are a part are not compromised; and when rewards people get for what they do are clearly determined; capacity building programs’ outcomes become clear. These outcomes become even clearer when feelings of trust by citizens exist for their head of state—reinforcing that true sense of pride people have as Sierra Leoneans.

Capacity Building, therefore, Means Good Governance

Capacity building requires government by officials who are accountable and answerable to the people they serve. But how can “capacity building” mean “good governance” in a nation where leadership at the national level is so weak?  A “weak” leader and a “negligent” president is not leadership. By that formula, citizens do not view the state as legitimate or deserving of respect. They easily collaborate in “rent seeking” activities, for instance, as part of an organized search for private gain by a large number of low level bureaucrats and private individuals.

The basic point is that a lack of strong leadership may simply be unable to control the levers of state power for national progress and to create the enabling environment needed for a burgeoning honest bureaucracy. Corruption at the top produces expectations among low level officials that they should have their share of the national cake. Corruption entails not just the acceptance of bribes as incentive payments by public and private officials, but may also affect the way officials do their jobs. In this regard, the role of the nation’s chief executive cannot be overstated.

Presidential leadership is thus critical to affecting change. It is the president, far more than any other departmental heads who has the stature to enunciate expectations and to enlist participation of his ministers, civil servants, and citizens beyond his government to foster the practice of capacity building and ensure the realization of genuine development outcomes. Tied to Freud’s earlier observations about leadership ascertaining that the leader must represent the group ideally and strongly, and must express the central ideas of the group in a forceful if not particularly reasoned way, the political scientist and presidential scholar James David Barber once wrote, “the President is a symbolic leader, the one figure who draws together the people’s hopes and fears for the political future.” Like how United States President Franklin Roosevelt excelled at providing the kind of inspirational motivation for Americans that marked his very successful leadership, so does the President of Sierra Leone should “articulate an appealing vision of the future, challenge [all Sierra Leoneans] with high standards, talk optimistically with enthusiasm, and provide encouragement and meaning for what needs to be done.” If the President can behave in these ways he will have the ability to influence Sierra Leoneans toward a wide range of behaviors. In the best instances, the behaviors will promote universal values. These behaviors define the true ideals of good governance that are congruent with the values that under gird the peaceful development of a nation.

Still, the Sierra Leone government can do several things to respond to the concerns about a capacity building deficit. The government and its international friends can try to improve stocktaking of capacity building initiatives by establishing mechanisms that permit the comprehensive reporting of people’s participation, persistence, and programs completion, and by taking into account programs’ missions. Further, the government can enable a more robust evaluation of capacity building programs by connecting the improved community outcomes data with program participation data collected by the implementing agencies.

Clearer Connections

Better accountability can and should start at the leadership level. If people believe that capacity building programs are not adequately supported by clear leadership standards, it produces a “corruption trap” where the corruption at the top encourages the corruption of others causing additional inefficiencies. The sustainability of good governance strategies will depend on developing strategies to ensure continuity of effective leadership and management needs. In the facilitation of citizens’ understanding of the major components of the Local Government Act of 2004, for instance, DecSec should be kept accountable by professional norms and standards based on provable performance benchmarks. There is no reason that keeping capacity building programs accountable cannot be consistent with fostering civic engagement.

Also, the work of Statistics Sierra Leone (S.S.L.) as “the central statistical authority for the Government of Sierra Leone [which provides] detailed national income and expenditure survey, a national census, and numerous surveys covering health, education, H.I.V./A.I.D.S. and experiences” should be strengthened in ways that its research can be translated to actionable programs. All capacity building activities should focus on increasing Sierra Leoneans’ knowledge, expectations of and need for good governance, as well as improving the responsiveness, transparency, political will and capacity of government institutions at all levels to deliver services.

Further, aspects of national character and leadership strategies have to be understood as contributing aspects to community programs’ success. The attitude by citizens and government actors that all community programs can succeed, reinforced by a belief that
the nation must always strive for greater success, goes a long way to align people and programs, and making a collective commitment to continually strive t
o improve. There has to be a real solid work ethic. Citizens and government actors ought to know they have to work hard and that knowledge contributes to their success. The Sierra Leone president is responsible for shaping a national character that is defined by Sierra Leoneans’ undaunted commitment to help build their country. The Sierra Leone presidency forms the building blocks of democracy in Sierra Leone, and the functioning of the presidency heavily depends upon the president’s leadership ability. Therefore, the president of Sierra Leone is charged with creating a shared vision for the nation, and he is responsible for developing a climate conducive to motivating Sierra Leoneans and encouraging patriotism.  The national climate exudes excitement when national leadership is strong, and it is the president who creates the climate. Creation of a positive climate is critical to fostering patriotism. Overall commitment to the nation should increase when an open and transparent environment is present and Sierra Leoneans believe their leader is making meaningful contributions to the nation’s development.

 In the End, there is no Single Answer

To address the question of how to reconcile the necessary public and private institutions with capacity building effectiveness, civic engagement programs need to be reinforced. Opportunities for personal growth can be considerably beneficial when actions by citizens are making a difference and what can be harnessed to support local problem solving and self-help action is being adequately harnessed. In the end, there is no single design for strengthening capacity in communities—the ‘bottom-up’ approach is being suggested in many forums, but with a bottom limited in understanding causes, especially a bottom with low educational achievement and restricted exposure to modern ideas and development experiences, the best and viable solutions won’t necessarily be generated. An ‘inside-out’ and ‘outside-in’ approach is also considered necessary, where social associations, connections or affiliations cultivate innovative ideas, knowledge and deliberations, and open up learning opportunities from others’ experiences. ‘Top-down’ support is even more relevant from a leadership willing to work decisively and responsively with the citizens of his nation.  Keeping social change concepts as key to any capacity building action plans advances the goal of active citizenship and civic engagement thus capturing the essence of nationhood. The context that social capital concepts give to capacity building programs are useful, as the focal point of these concepts center around relationships, trust and networks that bolster development of all the other types of capital essential to the advancement of a sustainable, safe and cohesive nation.

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