Studying Ghana’s civil service

Bureaucrats appointed based on merit are not necessarily more professional or autonomous than those who have been, for instance, ‘politically installed’. Furthermore, patronage does not only have negative effects. These are two conclusions reached by Abdul-Nasir Abubakar, PhD candidate at Leiden University’s Institute of Political Science. He has conducted an in-depth study of the civil service in Ghana and will defend his dissertation on 18 May 2021.

Abubakar works within Ghana’s public administration and became fascinated with how principals appoint civil servants: ‘How does the type of appointment affect their performance, their productivity?’ This question is not only relevant for public administration studies and political scientists. ‘By extension, this bears on national development’, explains Abubakar.

Dissertation Abdul-Nasir Abubakar
Abdul-Nasir Abubakar’s dissertation

‘First, I turned to the literature. Theoretically, there are many assumptions about the nexus between appointment types and their consequences on bureaucrats’ attitudes and behaviour.’ Ghana, however, is a neopatrimonial setting, and thus far has hardly been studied. Abubakar: ‘This prompted me to move beyond extant literature and to obtain new data myself’.

Through a mixed-method approach Abubakar investigated the autonomy, loyalty and responsiveness of Ghanese civil servants. ‘Despite their a-political cloak, they demonstrate varied attitudes and behaviour in contravention with their professionalism.’ The way in which bureaucrats are appointmented affects their loyalty and responsiveness, as one would expect. But, as Abubakar found, ‘civil servants in Ghana have little autonomy, regardless of appointment type.’ And while patronage, as expected, plays a role, the correlation is not absolute: ‘Regulatory mechanisms and competing interests play an important role, too.’

Abdul-Nasir Abubakar
Abdul-Nasir Abubakar

In his dissertation, Bureaucratic Politics in Neopatrimonial Settings: Types of Appointment and Their Implications in Ghana, Abubakar reaches another interesting conclusion: patronage is not always a bad thing. ‘I found that patronage has positive consequences, too. That is why I propose several legal-constitutional and policy reforms that go beyond the merit-principle to embrace patronage and hybrid appointment considerations where necessary.

Banner photo: ‘Meeting with President Nana Addo’, Ghana National Chamber of Pharmacy.

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