Friday, April 11, 2008


There is a great report by Mamadou Dia called Africa's Management in 1990s and Beyond 'Reconciling Indigenous and Transplanted Institutions' for the World Bank. It is one of those seminal pieces of work that captures a powerful dynamic but imprisoned by a sponsoring institution which is incapable of grasping its transformative qualities so it is mothballed. Its forward was very revealing  in its purpose saying " The overarching theme of the research is that the institutional crisis affecting economic management in Africa is a crisis of structural disconnect between formal institutions transplanted from outside and indigenous institutions born of traditional African culture." 

This battle between the formal and informal , western versus indigenous, structured versus adaptive is at the heart of the seeming disorganisation that pervades the Nigerian Society. It is at the heart of the daily challenges that is faced by everyone who travels these lands with desire, commitment and passion for results as well as value. I am here in Lagos so far two weeks gone in pursuit of a project that will leave a legacy of a more efficient and effective administration of justice. As we embark on our journey the pattern is already clear. The formal systems are introduced with oodles and oodles of procedural compliance regulations which are expressed with detachment, inflexibility and irrational timescale. The approach represents the local official view of 'westernised ' due process. This is then left on the table whilst the hopelessness of such request sinks into the person at the receiving end . Inevitably one seeks an alternative. So you seek the goodwill, understanding, humanity and discretion of the official an approach which often means you use any connection, incentive and at worst inducements for them to resolve the 'problem' raised by the formal approach. It is this paradox that plays out everyday not just in the public sector but in businesses across the country. 

I was at a Bank to review their arrangement for my company account. I wanted an ATM card so we could reduce amount of cheques and bank visits. It became apparent that this was not allowed for accounts with more than one signatory. As we discussed the inconvenience of such a policy it finally dawned that the primary focus of all the banks we had visited that day was security rather than customer service. Whilst this appears rational, it is the same inflexibility and detachment the very opposite of the indigenous approach with which it is presented. Then we engage in the dance to find the officials grounding or how embedded they are into indigenous system or it is just about money. It meant things like family ties, ethnic identity, name recognition even power distance come into play. As a systemic paradox it is inefficient, incoherent and increases corruption since at all times the indigenous approach is treated as a sort of perversion of due process not as a under utilised alternative. In fact there is no place in the country where the informal system that works in transactions in markets, mechanic shops, bukkas are ever openly explored as part of a developmental approach to managing and organising. 

So as I watch the probe of the $16 billion dollars play out in the House of Representative and the decision of the Ex - President to bypass due process becomes a subject of national discussion it seems we have an opportunity to explore Dia's report and proposition no matter what is the final finding or evidence. Unlike most people I have not concluded corruption but await the full facts. The background is the ever present power failure in the country the basis of many commentaries and complaints. The last Government awarded contracts totalled over $16 billion without following its own due process agenda and in fact giving advance payment of nearly the full value of the contracts. Most of the contracts have not been executed and the advance payment guarantees given to Government seem to have expired. As the facts emerge, premature conclusions have been drawn that this is solely about corruption. There is very little attempt by any commentators to explore any institutional or systemic explanation it seems the only conclusion is that ex-President Obasanjo must have been at what people here call the 'Nigerian factor' . 

Let me give Dia the last word on this posting. " Thus neither a totally transplanted institutional structure nor a traditional fundamentalism suggest a viable action. What is essential is a convergent synergy of both:  not formalising (or getting rid of) informal institutions nor informalising formal institutions, but reconciling and encouraging  convergence between adaptive formal institutions and renovated indigenous institutions. This is what is meant by 'the reconciliation paradigm'.

I sincerely hope we move beyond the personal polemics to a more powerful review of why there is so much dysfunction. Until we can organise in a sustainable and fit for purpose manner  so called corruption will remain an efficient alternative used by everyone who wants to get things done quickly and effectively. It is time for a more intelligent review of things .


Anonymous said...

Avatar.....if I understand your posting correctly then I agree with the argument that foisting foreign systems on to indigenous systems, stunts their growth and their organic evolution. Such an interruption causes a schism between what is intended and what is realised.
The stated purpose of creating order out of chaos when many new organisational structures adopt the western models carelessly and wholeheatedly is not realised because the structures themselves become new fuel for the chaotic and the parasitic.
We all need to think about how to do things differently because corruption is the most pernicious of many societal evils because it strips away the humanity of our exchanges as Africans and reduces the relational to the merely transactional.
When systems fail us as Africans, we naturally tend to revert back the familar ties that formed the basis of our previous exchanges. Where I take serious issue with this, is from the standpoint of a Nigerian woman from a minority tribe, so either way, in most arbitary negotitions my status is very weak on the outset and therefore likely to get screwed by the powerful either way.
Corruption must end. Let's start there. What has worked well before? What is working well now? How can we do more of what works to help more people build and maintain relationships that empower their communities through every exchange?.
You tell me.......

Peace.............Sheila X.

creating order

Onibudo said...

Your point is powerful even though there are two points of departure that a complexity purist like me can gorge upon. They are :

1) Chaos is a impossibility and at best a mathematical equation as all systems have an inherent and innate disposition to seek order. There is never total an absolute instability there is at worst a range of instability or bounded instability to give it its name.

2) Corruption is itself the way in which new order can and does emerge as an initial deviation from a transaction process that is either ineffecient or losing credibility.

On the latter this is a totally controversial position . It suggest that where these two systems co-exist there is a process of evolution going on . A dynamic but powerful use of the competition and co-operation matrix. At the most holistic scale the challenge is how does one facilitate an eclectic convergence that helps differentiate, select and amplify the result for a new system that is more fit for purpose? Huh

I hope this does not sound certifiable