President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta urged African governments to put their citizens at the centre of delivering service during Africa Delivery Exchange 2020, a virtual event that opened Tuesday.
In remarks to open the two-day workshop, Kenyatta noted that on a continent of around 1.3 billion Africans with a median age of around 20 years, there is a very tangible underlying sense of urgency when it comes to expectations of government.
“Our people know and understand what development ought to look like and what benefits it should bring to their social-economic wellbeing. Therefore, any failure to quickly address the missing middle within the development paradigm could create a deficiency of trust between the electorate and those in positions of leadership,” Kenyatta said.
The event was jointly hosted by Kenya President’s Delivery Unit, the African Development Bank and the Tony Blair Institute (TBI) for Global Change.
Kenyatta recognized the Bank and the TBI’s support in advancing Kenya’s development, thanking African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina and Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who joined him on a panel.
“Without the lessons from TBI, we would have had to reinvent the wheel, but instead, we started with a tried and tested model, and we have improved on it to reflect our unique circumstances here in Kenya.”
In his remarks, Blair observed that leadership demands have changed and that governments are expected to do far more than they ever were traditionally. “They’ve got to deliver services for their people; they’ve got to put in place the right environment for their economy, they’ve got to deal with all sorts of huge crises, of which COVID-19 is just the latest example. All of these require extraordinary focus, clarity and decisionmaking.”
To meet these delivery expectations, governments must focus on prioritization, policy, personnel and performance management. “Performance management is the most critical one. What’s difficult is that each of these systems you’re trying to change will have interests that often will obstruct. They’ll need areas that need you to go across the whole of government, to get something done in one area of government, they’ll have complicated politics around them.”
Adesina commended Kenyatta for focusing on ordinary citizens and praised the Kenyan government’s ‘Big Four’ agenda, which prioritizes food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare for all, and noting a fifth area in which the country had made great strides. “Mr. President, you’re doing exceptional work on energy. You’re connecting your people all over the country in an amazing way with last mile delivery. If you add in energy, you’d actually have a big five.”
The Bank president set out some delivery lessons: A clear vision; publish delivery expectations to create accountability; establish a culture of accountability; rigorous results measurement; ensure sustainability.
“The Bank is currently developing a new Africa public service delivery index, that will help to rate African countries including sub nationals on the delivery of public services,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic formed a backdrop to the event.
This is not the first pandemic we’ve faced, Adesina said, but it must never happen again that the continent is caught unprepared. “Africa has underinvested massively on healthcare. We need to change and give Africa a quality health care defense system to make sure we have excellent primary health care.”
“One question is, how do you keep the sense of urgency that you had when dealing with the disease and carry that same sense of urgency and focus into building back better afterward?”
The African Development Bank has formed strategic partnerships with Government Delivery Units in Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, and is working toward approval of a fourth in Senegal. In January 2019, the Bank led the launch of the African Delivery Units Network to provide a platform for sharing knowledge, experience and expertise among African governments’ delivery units.
The two-day event includes technical sessions and presentations by specialists, including representatives of national and city government, multilateral development institutions and other development partners.