Neopatrimonialism Human Resource Management and Organizational Performance

Start date: 5 February, 2013 End date: 9 March, 2013 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A22134 Countries: Uganda Institutions: Aarhus University (AU), Denmark Grant recipient: Jacob Stensdal Hansen Total grant: 11,000 DKK



Neopatrimonialism is often used to explain poor service delivery performance in Africa, but the concept has some significant analytical limitations and the explanatory force is rarely tested in empirical studies.
This study takes the neopatrimonial propositions seriously and develops an analytical model, where neopatrimonialism theoretically can explain variation in organizational performance through its effect on the management, merit and motivation of human resources in public administrations. That is, I integrate neopatrimonial theory with insights from public management, which recognizes that human resource management and organizational performance depends on contextual factors. Importantly, the model also posits that independent agency by heads of the civil service can modify the effect of neopatrimonialism on human resource management opening for an actor-centered explanation of government performance and downplaying the negative and deterministic effects of neopatrimonial practices.
In an analysis at the cross-district level in Uganda using survey data from the Afrobarometer I find that intra-organizational factors like the integrity and experience of local politicians as well as the management of the local governments are the main determinants of the considerable variation in local government performance. This corresponds well with my analytical model.
Responding to the call for studying the effects of neopatrimonialism in specific governance settings I proceed by conducting a comprehensive field study of two typical Ugandan local governments differing significantly on various performance measures despite being comparable on structural and societal parameters. Hence, I open the black box and investigate the causal mechanisms in detail.
The results of the field study show that neopatrimonialism is prevalent in both districts, but that its effect on human resource management practices varies due to a significant difference in the reactions of the civil service managers of the local governments. In the better performing district the Chief Administrative Officer and his deputy have made ‘an agreement of sanity’ with politicians and are able to resist neopatrimonial pressure, while the same actors in the district with low performance have less leverage vis-á-vis the politicians resulting in lower employee motivation and ‘passive resistance strategies’. Thus, neopatrimonialism is a relevant analytical concept when explaining variation in governance performance, but its effect is less deterministic than generally assumed as independent actors can modify its effect on human resource management practices and thereby improve organizational performance and public service delivery.
Based on the findings it is recommended that the Ugandan government builds stronger firewalls between civil servants and local councilors in local governments. Hence, it is crucial to revise the recruitment process of civil servants as it is indirectly controlled by local politicians. The solution might be to let an independent commission at central level appoint the District Service Commissions. In that way the recruited civil servants are less likely to owe allegiance to politicians and less vulnerable to neopatrimonial demands. Another move would be to strengthen the power of civil service managers vis-á-vis local politicians by restricting their transferability and thereby reduce the thwarting by politicians who are dissatisfied with their interventions in neopatrimonial practices.