Culture, Development, and Public Administration in Africa

Culture, Development, and Public Administration in Africa

Culture, Development, and Public Administration in Africa

Culture, Development, and Public Administration in Africa


• The first text that integrates a cultural context into the study of public administration programs
• Covers the whole of southern Africa: South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
• Written jointly by an African professor of public administration and an American political scientist

Despite extensive theoretical consideration over the past several decades, the discipline of public administration still suffers from an inability to meet on-the-ground administrative challenges in developing countries. In the past, public administrators have relied upon Western organizational models considered rational and efficient. But in neglecting various social and cultural aspects of any non-Western country, development proceeds in fits and starts.

Using southern African nations as an example, the authors argue that emerging societies are poor today thanks to the overreliance on non-local models. Practitioners must consider local cultures--languages, symbols, customs, and rituals--in developing effective administrative practices. They must absorb the experiences of people who know first-hand the dynamics and conditions in these countries. Otherwise, neither citizens nor leaders will manage their affairs and development processes effectively.

Written particularly for undergraduate and graduate students in public administration, political science, and comparative and development public administration, but also for policymakers, managers, administrators, and individuals who seek to understand the challenges of organizing and managing development, this book helps foster a culturally sensitive understanding of public administration in a global context.


In the past, comparative public administration focused on the exploration of similarities and differences in structure, functions, and processes among countries, using Western theories and approaches. The tacit assumption underlying comparative study was that public administration in Western countries was rational, functionally efficient, and professionally competent, and hence could be used as a model for cross-cultural comparison. When a Western framework was used in comparative research, however, various social and cultural elements unique to any non-Western country were left out. Realizing this limitation in recent years, scholars have employed an interpretive approach, seeking the hidden dimensions of political and administrative contexts. To truly understand the problems and uniqueness of a country, comparative research needs to reflect the changing conditions of society, including its political, cultural, and socioeconomic aspects. When these dynamic aspects are neglected, development policies inevitably produce various unintended consequences in their implementation.

Because southern African countries strive for modernization and development, it is important that they develop an efficient and effective institutional capability in order to improve their projects. Public administration practitioners assert that non-Western countries should learn Western methods in order to improve their administration. This assertion, however, is true only up to a point. Western ways of managing public institutions and their role in social change and development are superior to those of less industrialized countries in many ways. But development policies and administration in African countries are value laden, and the cultural norms of each country are constituted by its historical, cultural, and social traditions. Values and cultural norms in different administrative settings are numerous, flexible, hidden, changing, and intersecting. Because they are influenced by various factors, they cannot easily be understood through the scientific research method by applying Western theories and concepts. Language and symbols . . .

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