P202


Taking rules seriously: Between formality and informality in African bureaucracies 
Convenors:
Gerhard Anders (University of Edinburgh)
Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (LASDEL)
Giorgio Blundo (EHESS/IRD)
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Format:
Panels
Location:
KH117
Start time:
30 June, 2017 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
2

Short Abstract:

This panel invites empirical studies of the interplay of formal and informal rules in African bureaucracies. It aims at challenging facile culturalist generalisations about the African state and offering a fresh look at the realities of bureaucratic practice in Africa.

Long Abstract

State bureaucracies and public services are defined by official rules and formal procedures. Bureaucracies in Africa are no exception in this regard and African state officials often adhere to a high degree of formalism. In practice, however, informality is also rife and officials are adept at bricolage: circumventing or subverting the official rules. Official rules and regulations are often seen as impractical, outdated and out of touch with reality. In response, state officials develop informal and practical rules to manage their work and reconcile the discrepancy between lived realities and official regulations. The result is a complex patchwork of formal and informal rules in situations of normative pluralism where the application of official rules often depends on practical norms.

This panel invites empirical studies of the interplay of formal and informal rules in African bureaucracies. How does it shape corruption and the abuse of power? Does informality undermine the operation of bureaucracies? What have been the effects of reform programmes? Are there situations when informality helps to get the job done? Are there domains where only official rules are applied? How does formalism spawn informality? What are the effects on public services and their users? What are the differences between urban, peri-urban and rural settings? The analysis of practices between formality and informality challenges facile culturalist generalisations about the African state and offers a fresh look at the realities of bureaucratic practice in Africa.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Deval Desai (Graduate Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Are donors really "going with the grain" when taking the practices of African bureaucracies seriously? Based on two years' participant-observation in governance reforms in Sierra Leone, I show that by contextualizing reform, reformers transplant a specific administrative law into the African state.

Paper long abstract:

Development funding has its own administrative law. That law was once understood as the procedural law of the donor (e.g. the rules governing conditionality, or procurement rules for contracts), eventually encoded into the administrative law of the African state through indigenous bureaucratic reception or subversion. However, in this paper I argue that certain development reform efforts - on governance and the rule of law - increasingly reject "counter-bureaucratic" proceduralism in favor of flexible and contextually-specific funding vehicles. These vehicles are represented as efforts to avoid analytic preconceptions and take the reality of African bureaucratic practices seriously.

I demonstrate that these reform efforts in fact produce a distinct administrative law. Drawing on two years' participant-observation of experimentalist governance reform in Sierra Leone, as well nine years' experience as a rule of law reformer in West Africa, I show that these reform efforts are enacted by experts for whom it is a legitimate professional position to deny the form and content of their own expertise - i.e. be "ignorant" - while attempting to produce administrative institutions that best fit the context on which they are trying to intervene. This mode of expertise is shared by domestic and international functionaries: a set of procedural sensibilities, embedded in a variety of transnational institutional settings, that favor the ad hoc, discretionary, and responsive administration of power. Furthermore, these sensibilities are encoded into the administrative institutions they produce, generating an administrative law that favors discretion and regulation, and displaces individual accountability for specific decisions.

Authors:

Carine Baxerres (IRD/ Université Paris Descartes/CNE)
Daniel Arhinful (NMIMR, University of Ghana)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic study of a large pharmaceutical wholesale market in Accra, Ghana, we analyse the links between state and market regulation and the influence of transnational actors and how they shape formal and informal practices of the market, its products and its actors.

Paper long abstract:

Pharmaceuticals provide an ideal window into studying contemporary societies and understanding how and why they change. We present data from two years ethnographic study of the pharmaceutical wholesale market at Okaishie "drug lane" in Accra, which hosts a large number of companies involved in the pharmaceutical wholesaling in Ghana. We question the current links between state regulation and market regulation, between formal and informal practices, while taking into account the influence of transnational actors.

We examine sales practices in this market against the background of current national regulation by highlighting informal practices on both pharmaceuticals and actors. Some of them will be analysed as inherent to the way the business is thought in Ghana by key players including authorities. The various dynamics generated by the opening of the market to numerous pharmaceutical firms (mainly from "emergent" countries of Asia, like India and China, and from Western countries), to numerous importers who are also involved in marketing and their competitive financial pitch and the quality of supplied pharmaceuticals, seem to generate logically informal practices. The consideration of global health program proposed by transnational actors will enrich the analysis. Finally, we will highlight the contradiction of focusing regulation on products and quality, whereas minimizing actors.

Author:

Jose-Maria Munoz (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Cameroon's freight bureau plays a key role in governing freight transport along the Douala-N'Djamena and Douala-Bangui corridors. This paper explores the bureau's interactions with its clients and the ways in which formalities (and their circumvention) shape those interactions

Paper long abstract:

Created in 1993 in a period of political uncertainty and economic downturn, Cameroon's Bureau de Gestion du Fret Terrestre (Road Freight Management Bureau, BGFT) is entrusted with monitoring the observance of freight sharing agreements between Cameroon and its landlocked neighbours Chad and Central African Republic. Today, the BGFT presides over a sector that handled the more than 11 million tonnes that went through the port of Douala in 2015. The bureau advertises and approves the allocation of all available international freight, keeps comprehensive statistics on transport flows, fixes minimum and indicative transport rates, and issues documents such as the international waybill and the safe-conduct that are required for trucks and goods to circulate. It thus plays a key role in governing freight transport alongside what is commonly known as the Central African transport corridor. Building on long-term ethnographic research, this paper focuses on the interactions that take place at different nodes of the BGFT's dense network of offices and checkpoints between its agents and the different actors who make a living from freight transport. It explores the interplay between bureaucratic formalities and their circumvention. It argues that such tactical engagements with rules have to be framed within the broader assemblages on which international trade and transport are premised. This paper aims to further our understanding of the complexities and ambiguities that characterise emerging modes of economic governance

Author:

Stylianos Moshonas (University of Antwerp)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses wage payment management in the DRC. Pace narratives of neopatrimonialism, it shows the importance of formal rules and regulations in the highly technical work undertaken by the payroll directorate, and argues their interplay with informal practices should be studied seriously.

Paper long abstract:

The Congolese administration is often depicted as a basket case of administrative corruption and malpractice. Surprisingly, however, not much has been written from an empirical perspective on the underlying practices of bureaucratic governance. Building on research conducted in 2010-2011 and in 2016-2017 in the central government dynamics surrounding payroll management, wage payment and ongoing HR reforms, this paper aims to help fill this gap, while challenging dominant interpretations of the Congolese 'state' which too frequently reduce its modus operandi to neopatrimonialism. The focus of this contribution will be two ministries active in the administrative segment of the expenditure chain with regards to remuneration: the ministry of civil service and the ministry of budget, and especially the payroll department in the latter. If the existence of corrupt practices is widely acknowledged - not least by civil servants themselves -, an in-depth look at how state personnel and civil servants undertake highly technical tasks under difficult working conditions at the payroll department suggests it would be misleading to dismiss official rules and formal procedures: indeed, these are pragmatically approached, often abided by, sometimes circumvented, and almost always (strategically) invoked - albeit in a context of profound legal and regulatory pluralism, surrounded by uncertainty, political interference, and donor influence. As such, it is argued, recourse to informal and practical rules is an inevitable necessity, in a context where the civil service is best understood as a conflictual arena, for the analysis of which over-determining concepts such as neopatrimonialism are singularly ill-suited.

Author:

Marc Poncelet (Université de Liège)

Paper short abstract:

Based on long-term field research, this contribution aims to pinpoint the modes of production, functioning and legitimization of the norms de facto underlying the educational and institutional practices in DRC’s public universities.

Paper long abstract:

Based on long-term field research, this contribution aims to pinpoint the modes of production, functioning and legitimization of the norms de facto underlying the educational and institutional practices in DRC's public universities.

Three main issues have been raised regarding the distinction between official norms and practical norms:

- How are the official norms produced by largely independent players (professors) inside institutions due to their negotiated membership of the Congolese public sphere, but also simultaneously of the global (academic) normative universe and of a knowledgeable corporatist identity? The key element being the strictly corporatist-academic (and not public) control of the access to the profession.

- Can the methods to issue a 'price' be described as 'privatization' or do they provide a key to understand and justify the provision of a non-universal service (higher education only concern a minority of young people, requires the equivalent of the baccalaureate and is not compulsory)?

- How does the official-legal recognition of the practical arrangements supply the 'need for state' in a swarming higher education sector? How does institutions remain 'public' in a widely liberalized sector where the state does not have any real independent control (regarding academic corporations) over the quality or the certification?

Author:

Guillaume Nicaise

Paper short abstract:

The analysis of civil servants’ practices and speeches as well as the balance of power within local government show how petty corruption is accomplished and maintained, to finally becoming a practical norm within the management of communal resources.

Paper long abstract:

This case study explores the fiscal management of the local governance in Burundi, following a methodological interactionism perspective. Based on a 3 months' field research in the commune of Bukeye, this case study firstly analyzed practices and speeches used by tax collectors during their interactions with citizens. The analysis emphasizes the patrimonial conception of the state, in its everyday "bargain" between local agents and populations.

The analysis then goes to the heart of local governance, to better understand how those practices are accepted, legitimized and even supported by local authorities. Field observations pinpoint balance of powers, constrains and margins of maneuver used by local agents. The variety of action's frameworks, pervasiveness of the ruling party, and the lack of control are likely to favor impunity for local petty corruption.

Finally, a parallel with the anti-corruption programme provides a basis to measure the discrepancy between formal good governance norms and standards for behavior as well as strategic orientations followed by local civil servants and elected officials. Moreover, this parallel enables reflections on the role of these forms of "solidarity" and clientelism, within a perspective of public service delivery.

Author:

Toke Møldrup Wolff (Copenhagen University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the formal and informal practices negotiated in the daily encounters between the ‘traditional’ clan-based legal system and the state’s police institutions in Somaliland. These practices exemplify institutional bricolage, the amalgamation of seemingly competing visions of justice.

Paper long abstract:

This paper investigates how competing ideas of law and order are negotiated in a context of legal pluralism. Specifically, the paper explores the formal and informal practices negotiated in the daily encounters between the 'traditional' clan-based legal system, the Xeer, and the state's police institutions in Somaliland. The case study illuminates how social order is created and enforced as the state's uniformed personnel seeks to establish a power base in a small village in Somaliland, which has traditionally been governed by clan authorities. In this interface, opposing approaches to ideas of power, governance, the state and order are amalgamated and incorporated into a dynamic legal framework.

Within academia as well as in common parlance, the act of policing is habitually described in the context of formal police institutions, implying an intimate relationship between policing and the state. Based on doctoral research in rural Somaliland, this paper suggests a much more complex reality; the act of policing is a contested social activity performed by multiple actors and at several institutional levels within - as well as outside - the auspices of the state. The paper considers the act of policing as institutional bricolage; the marriage of formal and informal institutional practices coming together to 'get the job done' in far-away places beyond the realm of formal state institutions. Essentially, this paper broadens the discourse on policing by discussing how order is being shaped in 'sites of contestation' where competing actors claiming legal authority seek to implement opposing normative ideas.

Author:

Fortunata Makene (Economic and Social Research Foundation)

Paper short abstract:

Formal rules are replaced by practical norms due to working conditions, resource management, implementation of policies and service delivery, resulting into modification of the formal norms into practical norms. Sector-specific practical norms (education or health) were observed.

Paper long abstract:

Official or explicit norms set out legal regulations governing institutions and the services they deliver, but especially in contexts of loose government control and underfunding, these official norms are often replaced by practical norms that are informal, but no less binding. This paper compares rural and urban settings in Tanzania in an attempt to catalogue the actual practices of civil servants in education and health sectors and how they negotiate official norms in order to perform their duties. Findings reveal that that efforts to ensure conformity to professional and legal norms have proved difficult in some instances in Tanzania, with deviations (practical norms) to allow functionality with evidence from civil servants themselves. Based on evidence from the ground, the study shows that civil servants in Tanzania replace formal rules due to challenging working conditions, management of financial and human resources, actual implementation of formal policies and service provision leading to informality or modification of the formal norms. There were also sector-specific practical norms (education or health) that were observed.

Author:

Sarah Meny-Gibert (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will present empirical work on a regional education bureaucracy in South Africa, focusing on the way in which formal and informal systems of bureaucratic practice are (mutually) shaped in the administration in the context of the transition to democracy.

Paper long abstract:

The formal hierarchy of the Eastern Cape education bureaucracy in South Africa is undercut by competing informal networks: linked at first to regional networks of the apartheid-era Bantustans, these have been overlain to reflect the fragmented networks of the ruling party and its alliance partners in the region. Some of these networks are organised around the dispensing of state patronage, in which formal rules are manipulated for illegal activity. Rules may also be ignored to provide a service to a school: administrative processes are fairly broken (weak processes and corrupt practice are reinforcing), and designed with a better-resourced department in mind - ignoring them can get things done.

These informal practices don't constitute a clearly defined normative and practical system adhered to or understood by all actors. The transition to democracy brought new normative practices for evaluating the appropriateness of bureaucratic action that have been adopted by many officials and which stand in contrast to the norms shaping involvement in illegal activity. Further, these informal networks are highly unstable, linked to unstable politics in the region unleashed by the process of transition to democracy. Informal institutions can appear opaque to officials outside of these networks: acting informally can be an uncertain business. Acting within the rules can mark one as obstructive to illegal interests. Lower level officials take refuge in performing bureaucratic formality: for example, staff meetings are scheduled through elaborate rituals of agenda setting. For some, these rituals become not just survival strategies, but markers of ethical practice.

Authors:

Claudia Baez Camargo (Basel Institute on Governance)
Lucy Koechlin (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper we present evidence from four East African countries on how informal practices of cooptation, control and camouflage shape attitudes and behaviours of local government officials and public service providers.

Paper long abstract:

In our ongoing research (http://www.britac.ac.uk/node/4660), we have developed a novel conceptual framework to characterize and assess informal governance norms. We have argued (Baez Camargo and Ledeneva, 2017) that informal practices of co-optation, control and camouflage are instrumentally used by informal networks of political and business elites to redistribute power and access to resources. Co-optation involves recruitment into the network and access to resources, often through appointments to positions of power. Control is about ensuring discipline amongst network members, frequently involving selective enforcement of the law against undisciplined members of the group. Camouflage refers to the formal facades behind which informality hides and is about protecting and legitimizing the network.

Emerging findings from our comparative research in four East African countries suggest that similar informal practices are also relevant to understand the choices and attitudes of government officials and public service providers at the local level. We highlight the ambivalent character of informality as a critical step towards unraveling its complexity. Thus, local officials co-opt grassroots constituencies but are also co-opted by their social networks; local government agents apply informal controls to demobilize local opposition during elections but are also controlled by the perspective of shame and social condemnation should they not fulfill obligations towards their groups; bribery and influence peddling are camouflaged as honouring traditional values.

We use evidence from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to illustrate common patterns as well as distinct national and sub-national practices through which informality impacts performance of state institutions at the subnational level.