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United Nations Public Service Forum 2018: five takeaways for Africa

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The United Nations Public Service Forum (UNPSA 2018), organised on 21-23 June in Marrakech, Morocco, by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Kingdom of Morocco to celebrate UN Public Service Day, was themed ‘Transforming governance to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’.

Besides being an opportunity to highlight the critical role of public services in the implementation of the SDGs globally, several initiatives and events were dedicated to Africa. There are five main takeaways worth highlighting, which are relevant for the discussion on public service in Africa initiated by the 2018 Ibrahim Forum and for the overall debate around achieving the SDGs and the African Union Agenda 2063.


1. Governance and leadership are key, but ownership is pivotal

There is a general agreement on the fact that sound governance and leadership are pillars of sustainable development. SDG 16 calls for accountable institutions based on transformational leadership. To achieve these, according to the UNPSA participants, a mentality shift is needed for public trust, integrity and impartiality to become the standard norm. In parallel, as Africa is not a country, national home-grown solutions and initiatives should be encouraged to ensure that these global standards are owned at country level and reflect cultural and historical specificities.


2. Innovation and technology should be inclusive to leave no one behind by 2030

Every goal and target in the 2030 Agenda can only be considered as achieved if met for every group within societies. Leaving no one behind means that specific actions must be taken to reach the poorest and the most vulnerable. UNPSA panel sessions recognised that innovation and technology prove critical to improve the delivery of public services, as in the case of Rwanda where drones are used to deliver medical and blood supplies. These are also critical to strengthen trust between citizens and public services, for instance by enabling bottom-up participation processes, such as local participatory budgeting or e-government initiatives. The challenge for Africa is to make these processes inclusive, as the digital divide remains substantial, with 75% of the continent’s population still being offline.


3. The local level is core, but coordination should happen at all levels

Various discussions highlighted the crucial role of local actors towards the achievement of the SDGs. Around 65% of the SDGs is to be implemented at the level of cities and territories: local and regional authorities are already acting to this end, and mayors from Africa and beyond shared at the UNPSA their local visions and capacity needs.

However, the ambitious and long-term 2030 agenda cannot be implemented without a strong coordination and efforts at all levels, namely through ‘whole of government approaches’ and decentralisation.


4. Prompt action is needed to fight corruption and embed integrity

In line with the African Union 2018 theme ‘Winning the fight against corruption: a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation’, the UN Public Service Forum hosted a side event on ‘Transparency, integrity and the fight against corruption: a key requirement for achieving sustainable development’ in partnership and cooperation with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the African Union Specialized Technical Committee No. 8 on Public Service, Local Authorities, Urban Development and Decentralization, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Ministry in charge of the Reform of the Administration and Public Service of the Kingdom of Morocco, United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa) and its African Academy Territorial Communities (ALGA). Participants addressed a series of recommendations to local, regional and national governments and to the international community to take prompt action to promote integrity, transparency and ensure a sound contract between citizens and public service providers.


5. Africa should build on its success stories

Every year the UN Public Service Awards reward initiatives for public service innovation and excellence that are contributing towards the SDGs. This year, Kenya was among the eight winner countries with an initiative to promote gender responsive public service by helping women and youth develop skills in agriculture to bridge the employment gender gap. Africa, as shown by the findings of the 2018 Ibrahim Forum Report, has showcased many success stories in public service. Examples such as the Kenyan one should encourage the continent to build on these success stories, continue encouraging owned solutions and invest in continental cross-fertilisation.


To learn more about the status and challenges of public service in Africa, and access the most recent facts and figures on this topic, download the 2018 Ibrahim Forum Report here.