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Building Institutional Capacity in Africa: Results and Trends from Ethiopia and Mozambique

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Carmen R. Apaza

apaza mayIn recent years, Ethiopia and Mozambique have embarked on comprehensive public sector reforms to improve their inadequate and deficient operational capacity. In spite of critical limitations and challenges, they are moving forward with their public service agenda.  

The Context

Ethiopia and Mozambique are among the poorest countries in the world. Their per capita yearly incomes of US$ 410 and US$ 666 respectively are substantially lower than their regional average. Likewise, Ethiopia and Mozambique’s 2012 Human Development Index value of 0.396 and 0.366 respectively are also below the average of 0.466 for countries in the low human development group.

The operational capacities of public institutions in Ethiopia and Mozambique suffer because of their insufficient, inadequate and poor quality as well as incompetent and poorly trained civil servants. The situation is even more critical at the local level, where the lack of a skilled cadre is a severe limitation to the action of municipalities, especially in the areas of urban planning, mobilization of resources and formulation of development policies. Other problems are inadequate compensation, the practice of nepotism, regionalism, tribalism and corruption.

Comprehensive Civil Service Reform Programs 


Ethiopia embarked on a comprehensive Civil Service Reform Program (CSRP) in 1996. It aimed at building a fair, transparent, efficient, effective and ethical civil service. Results included the issue of a legal framework for the civil service. In 2002, the Capacity Building for Decentralized Service Delivery Project was approved aiming at improving civil servants’ competency. It was implemented during 2002-2009 and resulted in the adoption of human resources guidelines and training programs in urban development. However, the lack of competent and trained personnel persists.

In Ethiopia, local governments hire civil servants such as teachers, sector heads, health workers and development agents. However, this may vary from region to region. For instance, in Amhara and Oromiya, local governments (i.e., woredas) play a central role in recruiting and hiring civil servants. Yet in Afar, the woredas send their needs to the regional government. Salary scales and promotions are handled by the region. Although woredas have discretion to set salaries, in practice they often adopt the scales and guidelines of the regions and federal government.

For this purpose, woredas’ administrations largely rely on block grants from regional governments. For instance, in 2004-05 about 51 percent of the budget of Oromiya region was allocated to woredas. But about 90 percent of it was spent on salaries and/or operational costs, leaving little for investment in service delivery.

Many woredas face a critical lack of competent and trained personnel. For instance, in Kelet Awlalo woreda (Tigray region) there are no clear planning guidelines. Most sector heads are not trained as planners. Other areas, such as the health sector, suffer from high rates of turnover due to poor working conditions and weak enforcement of staff policies.

Regional governments have been attempting innovations for recruiting and retaining employees. In Oromiya, salary and non-salary incentives are offered in remote woredas. The region has introduced new incentives for teachers and health professionals where staff turnover is high. In Tigray, staff incentives such as capacity building programs, distance and regular education at the diploma, bachelor and master’s levels were introduced. The Amhara region provides allowances for teachers, health professionals and construction workers. Incentive mechanisms for climatically harsh woredas were also introduced.


In Mozambique, Civil Service and Public Sector reforms include two main programs: the Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty 2006-2009 (PARPA II) and the Global Strategy for the Public Sector Reform (2001-2011). They resulted in the creation of an integrated database allowing strategic management of human resources, the implementation of a new salary scale in 2009 and the provision of a national policy for HIV and AIDS and disabilities in the workplace. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of clear reform priorities and little attention is paid to sequencing reform.

At the local government level, the lack of a skilled cadre is also a critical limitation to the action of municipalities, especially in the areas of urban planning, mobilization of resources and formulation of development policies. Most of the staff have low technical qualifications and are of an advanced age. In 2005, only 1.5 percent of the City Council of Maputo (CCM) staff had attended university and only 7 percent had benefited from technical training. The financial unit had filled only 54 of the 102 staff positions. Of the 54 employees, only 18 had the required qualifications. Some 26 of the remaining 36 staff had only primary education. Notwithstanding this unit was better staffed than the others were.

In 2007, the Maputo Municipal Development Program (MMDP) was approved. It was implemented in two phases from 2007 to 2011. According to the World Bank, through the MMDP, the staff of CCM was restructured and trained to acquire the necessary skills to perform their functions adequately. Key units restructured included the departments of finance, human resources management and procurement. The project also facilitated the creation of public-private partnerships to maintain municipal parks and gardens, parking lots and public sanitary facilities. Overall, the public private partnerships have enhanced the capacity of the Maputo Municipality to deliver a variety of services.

The MMDP was also effective in improving citizen participation through Citizen Report Cards. Before the project, there was no systematic assessment of the quality and coverage of municipal services from the perspective of citizens. This mechanism helped in the identification of the main priorities for the municipality’s service improvement plans and in measuring progress in the satisfaction of citizen priorities. 

Limitations and Challenges 

Ethiopia and Mozambique experience similar problems such as ethnic issues, severe natural disasters and corruption. In addition, ineffective accountability mechanisms, lack of a skilled cadre and non-existent or inadequate financial management processes remain major challenges in both countries. 

Moving the Public Service Agenda Forward

In both countries, the civil service function is still a long way from fulfilling the objectives of an adequate and efficient operation. In particular, in Ethiopia the lack of skilled human resources and inadequate planning at the local government level limit the capacity to administrate block grants. The unconditional nature of the grants gives local governments (i.e., woredas) significant discretion to pursue local priorities in budget allocation. In this regard, woredas’ authorities and staff should be trained in strategic planning, budgeting, financial disbursement and management, as well as monitoring, reporting, evaluation and accountability mechanisms. In Mozambique, implementation of civil service norms and policies should be strengthened. Reform priorities should be clarified and more attention should be paid to sequencing reform.


Author: Carmen R. Apaza, Ph.D. is an international public service consultant with the United Nations Development Program. She can be reached at [email protected].

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