Government Salaries in Africa

On Wednesday this week fighting broke out in Army barracks in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.  This fighting, however, was somewhat different than other the other forms of violence that has recently engulfed the young country.  This battle was over pay, as the soldiers in the barracks claimed that they were fighting for their salaries.  This story actually highlights two major issues that have been problematic for many African states, as they seek to consolidate their power.

The first issue is that of ghost payrolls.  Earlier this year, Cameroon sought to eliminate payments for non-existent workers, which cost the state up to $12 million each month.  These ghost payrolls are just one indicator of government corruption that plagues nations worldwide, including in Africa.  This can happen in a number of ways, from individuals claiming false benefits from the state, boosting their own incomes while depleting state resources to the actual insertion of names onto government payrolls to receive the salary for the imagined worker.  This creates immense problems in seeking to consolidate democratic processes, as it enhances corruption and drains state coffers leaving states less able to help meet the basic needs of their citizens.

The second issue the South Sudan story raises is the reality that government salaries in Africa are often insufficient or too inconsistent for employees to live on.   Multiple studies have demonstrated that one of the common contributing factors to coups in a state are low pay for the military.  When security forces are not paid adequate salaries, they are often forced to seek funding from other sources, often turning to illicit means.  One clear example of this is in the DRC, as the country’s poorly paid and trained troops have frequently been noted for human rights abuses, including preying on local populations for resources.  This is also clearly problematic for consolidating states as it will increase alienation from the state apparatus and enhance internal violence and dissension.

These problems are clearly overlapping, and both must ultimately be confronted by African states if they hope to fully consolidate to democracy.  Part of a functioning state is the ability to have adequate pay structures leading to a less corrupt governmental system. Not only will this improve government effectiveness, but it should also lead to a reduction in violence as security forces no longer need to find alternative ways to make ends meet. What is less clear, however, is how African states will confront these issues.  Facing debt and limited funds already, it is unclear exactly how these problems could be solved.

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2 Responses to Government Salaries in Africa

  1. kyleedigregorio says:

    Your points concerning insufficient pay for national armed forces are extremely compelling, and appear to complicate the widely accepted assumption that the military often enjoys a myriad of privileges within the neopatrimonial order that has come to characterize the “African state.” This assumption, I would argue, is premised on the theory that state power is bifurcated into dichotomous subdivisions, which essentially embody the respective mechanism through which the state exerts and/or maintains its control: (1) authority, also referred to as “legitimate power,” whereby citizens, deeming the governance by the state to be valid and justified, consent to the national laws and mandates implemented; and (2) coercion, whereby the state demonstrates its power through the threat or use of physical force. Many scholars have asserted that African states, disincentivized to maintain accountability to their respective citizenry, fail to exhibit domestically legitimized authority, and therefore choose instead to wield their power through the use of the coercive means offered through the mobilization of military forces. Following this logic, then, it is in the political interest of the state to ensure that such armed forces are properly incentivized—i.e., remunerated—to carry out the coercive mandate of the government.

    Yet, as the fighting in South Sudan illustrates, the story is far more complex. Political elites must be aware that the insufficient pay of armed forces has the potential to lead to the predation of civilians and, more politically consequential to their own personal objectives, to military coups. So why is this such a persistent and pervasive problem throughout African nations? Could lower pay among national armed forces, in fact, be an indicator that African governments are taking steps to reduce their reliance on coercive power, to revise their authoritarian approach, and, perhaps, to pursue democratization? Do you think that the extent of military privileges—or even the level and frequency of pay—varies in direct proportion to the salience of the armed forces vis-à-vis the power maintained by the state? Or is insufficient pay merely a symptom or reflection of weak institutional capacity? It would be interesting to know what empirical evidence may suggest regarding the correlation between military pay, regime type, and level of liberalization and/or democratization pursued and attained.

  2. maisiepigeon says:

    Great piece. Many of the Asian tigers have enjoyed increase in the quality of their public service when they increase pay and thus make positions competitive. I wonder if this could be replicated (gradually) by resource-poor countries in Africa? Will it ever be a priority in conflict zones like South Sudan? Should it be a priority?

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