Traditional Administration Revised Essay

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1) Traditional governance: evolution and patterns

Traditional administration in many countries represents an ancient system that peacefully co-exists with the modern governance structures.  In many societies over the past centuries, social life has been functioning on the basis of a social contract. The contract is similar to the one proposed by Rousseau and stipulates that people join their efforts to form a state or nation as they trust that joining their efforts they will achieve their common aspirations for peace and security that are necessary to secure their physical and spiritual welfare and advancement, on an individual basis or as a community.

To attain these goals, the people in the community voluntarily subject their wills to an authority represented by a king or ruler who then acquires the power to control their lives and organize and control social activities within the community. The traditional systems have been organized on a certain set of principles that lay the foundation for various elements of government (Keynote address). These traditional systems existed in a lot of nations in Africa, Asia, Pacific and Latin America and preceded the colonial or post-independence organizational structures.

In Africa, the two basic traditional administration forms were the non-centralized or fragmented traditional state and the centralized state (Keynote address). In a non-centralized state, the administrative systems rotated around the dynamics of clanship, and the normative structures consisted of well-established rules of behaviour, enforced by leaders of fragmented segments, or, in a state of crisis, by community action.

In the centralized states, there existed a political sovereign who was supported by well-functioning law enforcement bodies. The citizens were prone to obey the ruler, otherwise the violation of the legal norms led to quick sanctions imposed by state officials. The traditional governance is characterized by the role played by traditional leaders. One leader was performing numerous social functions embracing religious, military, legislative, executive, judicial, social and cultural affairs of the community. Leadership was therefore following a holistic approach.

This rule was not as authoritarian as it might seem. In many traditional societies, the public administration systems were based on the devolution of power by ascription. Sometimes a person could inherit governmental authority or position as a result of membership in a particular family or clan. In this case, leadership is acquired by birth.  However, in other traditional societies, the leader was often elected by the community in open ballot, a procedure not quite alien to the early stages of democracy (Keynote address).

Leadership was grounded on a set of well-articulated norms and mechanisms. Different functions were ascribed to specially designated authorities such as elders or councillors, or communal groups or judicial institutions or state or drummers. Customary law governed their responsibilities. They could have been members of the same clan, but this was not always the case. One of the primary functions assumed by the leader was that of leading the country in a state of war, a situation often confronted by the pre-colonial communities, which was consequently an acid test of leadership abilities.

Colonialism required the installation of adequate bureaucratic administration structures to facilitate the accomplishment of orderly governance to ensure uninterrupted and organized resource exploitation needed by the colonial rulers. More often than not, colonial rulers were imposing legal, political and administrative institutions and systems that conflicted with the African tradition. However, this change brought little to the colonized areas to help them appreciate the European principles of public administration. The formation of the administrative institutions pursued the aim of facilitating exploitation, and thus the colonizers were constructing simplified structures that were merely sufficient in keeping a semblance of peace among the natives and had little to do with civilizing function.

After independence was proclaimed, the multi-party regime was often overthrown with a military coup establishing a dictator at the helm of the state. The distinction between public and private spheres is blurred, and the formal rules of competition are eliminated. The political system remained relatively unstable and prone to frequent change resulting in power struggles. These struggles frequently caused an establishment of a neo-patrimonial system where the State is not acknowledged as an institution, and the ruling power is ascribed to a person rather than the government authority. This brought about a tendency towards institutional decay rather than development.

The advent of the colonial rule had a drastic impact on chieftainship. In some countries, the colonial system supported chieftaincy through the system of indirect rule. But this enforcement had a negative impact, as the chiefs were no longer perceived as folk leaders, but instead as puppets in the hands of the colonial authorities.

That is why after the breakdown of the colonial system, the traditional chiefs were seen as potentially dangerous and posing a threat to the modern institutions specific areas. Still, today chieftainship continues to attract academics, civil servants, business leaders and teachers in many countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Lesotho, and Swaziland (Keynote address).

2) Contemporary governance: principles and challenges

The public administration sector of today is undergoing profound changes to meet the challenges of the world that increasingly adopts the globalise framework uniting all the nations. Numerous factors such as globalisation, North American competition, free trade, led governments to re-think government operations in general, and public administrations in particular striving for a more sustainable solution. The pressure for the public administration reform is especially vivid in the countries where this system ahs for years been underdeveloped and inadequate (Riggs ; Parliament 2001).

The governance sector needs to retain the skilled and bright servants, cultivate in them the values of dedication and integrity, responsiveness to the needs of people.  A significant bulk of research on public administration focuses on the need to make rule of law a crucial part of the international political and legal discourse on efficient governance. This concept becomes vital in any discussion on human rights and constitutional principles (Sommermann 2001). The political context and definition of this concept is not restricted to the idea of a government of laws, not men. More complex aspects of the rule of law are evolving to add new aspects to this notion.

In the world of today, the rule of law is often contrasted to economic-oriented approaches to societal development, in particular with managerial approaches. These trends can lead to the marginalisation of non-economic aspects, ousting them to the outskirts of the societal life. In many countries, where the rule of law has not been a common concept for a significant period of time, it has to be harmonized with the underlying structures of the respective legal and social systems (Sommermann 2001). This is especially true in regard to the countries that are undergoing periods of social and political transition, where there is a possibility that the rule of law can contrast with the widely accepted beliefs and principles.

There are key factors that make changes absolutely essential (Kudrycka 2001). First, the advent of the information society leads to an increase in knowledge about the way public administration is functioning, which, in turn, leads to the rise in expectations concerning the efficiency of the public administration system. The vast amount of information now available to the public about the way they are governed leads frequently to the lack of trust in political and administrative leadership.

The growing globalisation of all the national processes, that is based on the four key elements such as the state, regional structures, independent global financial markets and large-scale international corporations, and the development of the units like the European Union where nations are striving for regional integration poses new challenges to the public servants. They now need to ensure that nation orientated economic policies exhibit sufficient efficiency in preparing the economy for tougher competition in the world markets. This in turn necessitates a better evaluation and conceptualisation of the governance systems in the surrounding world. The administration system can no longer be circumscribed in a local setting, but rather needs an increasing international and global focus (Kudrycka 2001).

Within the nations, there is a growing tendency towards decentralization of public administration and the need for tighter control for better control of state funds that is also applied to public expenditures. This demand precipitates the need to reform the public sector so as to provide better accountability of its actions, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfall of overburdening the administrative system with extra reporting requirements.

Decentralization holds another potential danger: technical complexity, economic and organizational specialization can make the mode of thinking in certain areas departmentalised as narrow scope of interests prevent the citizens responsible for the public service from visualising a broader picture of national aspirations. Thus, the general, national level has to be adequately combined with specific local interests (Kudrycka 2001).

Serious social and economic changes experienced by many societies demand the ability of the public servants to think clearly and have some potential for independent action that will allow for effective decisions in cases of conflicts or other contingencies. The public servant then has to be able to act as a mediator of conflicts and be proficient in conflict resolution.

The above-mentioned challenges to the contemporary administration system allow the conclusion that the public administration offers a lot of requirements for the people who are working for the benefit of the society in the public governance structures. Research has shown that only 20% of efficiency improvement in the public service comes from advances in technology, the other 80% are a function of the increased qualification or dedication of the people (Kendrick 2001).

This is not to say that the technological progress and changes in the organizational structure are not important. Especially in the developing nations, where the framework for the efficient system has not yet been fully articulated, the shuffles in the structure can be indeed beneficial, if they lead to the abolition of the older and inefficient patterns to replace them with breakthrough management techniques.

The public administration system of today aims at the democratisation of its processes that can be achieved through the empowerment of the population groups that were previously removed from the governing processes, such as women, or less affluent groups of the population. This empowerment needs to come through the change in the institution structure as well as the alteration in the staffing policies in the human resource management area of the public service. The feeling that population has a greater say in the governing process will help to create a more supportive atmosphere for the projects undertaken by the public servants and increase the efficiency of the administrative institutions.

In many nations, the effectiveness of government service delivery is largely interwoven with the compatibility of governance structures with traditional administrative systems that in turn ensure the adequate degree of the community participation in the regulating process. In developing nations, by and large, traditional governance systems co-exist with the modern institutions, and the smooth cooperation between the two is yet to be achieved.

For example, the Constitution of the Fiji Islands recognizes the traditional chiefs, but the role ascribed to the Great Council of Chiefs in the Fiji Islands is in fact devoid of normal administrative functions and largely symbolic and ceremonial under normal circumstances. As a result, the local communities cannot participate in the allocation of financial resources that are made through the Ministry of Fijian Affairs at the national level (Responding to the challenges).

This distance causes the difficulty in transition from the traditionally interdependent community structure into modern government structures supported by independent public service and independent institutions. In this case, rural and island communities get accustomed to living with little interaction with the national government and civic institutions. Lack of connection between the two layers of power prevents the administrative functioning in translating development efforts into reality. Thus, it is necessary to install participatory processes that will help create local awareness of governance concepts so that local communities can ascertain that their voices are heard by the national and regional level institutions.

This interaction framework is essential as it helps to create prerequisites for effective resolution of conflicts between the traditional and the modern government structures. These conflicts may arise, for instance, due to the discrepancy between the traditional role of women in many societies in contrast to the contemporary concept of gender equality.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that the way of life and social patterns do not stay unchanged in the local communities as more and more changes and reforms seep through to the local level from the global and national processes. These changes can only be addressed through capacity building and education.

Joint efforts of all levels and braches of administrative power can help to overcome the instability and pave the way for stability and welfare. Many nations are still struggling with poverty, disease epidemics and political turmoil, which necessitate for them in the first place the construction of an environment that will provide for the realization of basic human rights. It is the function of the governance system to assist in the creation of a peaceful and stabilized society that will allow for social as well as individual development.

3) Ways of integrating traditional public administration in the modern governance system

A lot of countries have now been through a pro4of Westernisation of their public administration systems, and invariably they adopt some concepts as they exist in the West and later indigenise them, thus changing and adapting the common principles to suit the local realities. On the one hand, we lie in the epoch of globalisation where administration practices are often changed to adapt them to the requirements set by the world organizations like the International Monetary Fund or World Bank. When they implement programs in emerging economies and lend money to these nations, they stipulate that the administration functions be performed by professional public servants and in compliance with the global standards.

On the other hand, globalisation however is always interlinked with localization that translates into the adaptation of the global patterns to fit into the local realia, and this is exhibited in the way world organizations are trying to function in emerging countries. Professor Cheung who engaged in research of the public administration reforms in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, reported that political scientists who planned the reforms often applied models they borrowed from the Anglo-Saxon world, turning a blind eye to the ancient indigenous Asian tradition.

As a result, however, the local peculiarities were always reflected in the proposed governance structures. Professor Cheung argues that while public sector reforms have become almost a global fashion, the actual reforms adopted by national and sub-national governments are mostly determined by the domestic agenda that is shaped and driven by local politics, culture and economic conditions (Asian Development Bank 2002). In Asia countries that had extensive governance structures typically followed a paternalistic, ruler-subject, top-down hierarchy. Sometimes, as was the case with Hong Kong under the British rule, this system of values coincided with the approach in the public administration of the colonizers, and resulted in less conflict.

Many countries that once were colonized by the Western world can look back with pride over a vast history of traditional leaders and institutions. These institutions have evolved over time and exhibit diverse patterns that were caused by the unique local environments and peculiarities of interaction with the local state institutions. In many countries, traditional governance structures peacefully co-exist and cooperate with the modern public administration offices. The emphasis of late has been on a striking equilibrium of the two systems.

One way to accommodate both is to relegate them to separate spheres of authority, for example, attributing traditional spheres, such as family, marriage, land and certain criminal and civil matters to more or less traditional systems that function relying largely on the traditional structures. Examples are available when administrators efforts have met with success in adapting traditional institutions to the needs of modern public administration.

Thus, in Africa, Uganda re-established kingdoms and traditional leadership institutions, giving them responsibilities pertaining to economic and cultural development. In Rwanda, the gacaca courts were established to alleviate the impact of the genocide of 1994. The state officials hope that the gacaca courts, more readily understandable to the common people, will not help the State to speed up the processing genocide-related cases and will help to achieve reconciliation at the folk level.

The traditional chieftainship system has proven especially effective in conflict resolution. The traditional leaders who are closer to grass roots are better able to handle the problems of the common people. Ghana has seen the examples of the application of the norms of the constitutionally acknowledged customary law that empowers the king or chief to settles all dispute that he hears as an official. A lot of these instances that involved land, chieftaincy, succession, criminal and civil cases could have taken years in regular court proceedings, were settled by traditional leaders to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.

Attempts have been made in the past decades by numerous international organizations such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote indigenous public administration structures and ensure the integration of the traditional and modern structures. Examples are programs being implemented in Tokelau and Cook Islands that envisage the establishment of the Modern House of Tokelau, a new national governing system targeting the integration of traditional village authority structures with up-to-date public sector management and decision-making processes, or, in Cook Islands, the restructuring of the public sector financing system that will facilitate the shift of authority to the local structures based on traditional principles (Responding to the challenges).

Traditional administration structures still have a lot to offer in the contemporary environment. They embrace holistic approaches that are more readily embraced by the local people. The traditional leaders personify the paternal attitude to public administration, deriving much of their power from personal influence and reputation, which represents an important source of power for the local communities.

This personal touch of public administration is not easy to embrace or to translate into the contemporary structures, which is why the traditional rulers can build the missing link in the relationships between the power and the common person. Modern administrators should not overlook this opportunity to make themselves closer to the citizens in the local communities for whom otherwise the administrative endeavours may remain futile due to the lack of transparency and clarity for the individual.

Overall, traditional patterns are customary for the common people, especially in the rural areas and small urban communities, and in this way can be an important factor in providing better governance at the political level between the citizen and the state, an interactive process that enables the translation of the government ideas into reality.

The traditional administration is even more important in the light of the fact that the needs of a modern society are so complex and extensive that they all obviously canto be met from a single source of the government, supplying funding and administrative support. Traditional leaders can participate in the local projects that would be directed at the topical issues of the contemporary society, such as health care improvement, reorganizing local education, and efforts in promoting the economic welfare of the local communities through the introduction of better regulatory practices.

Concrete steps could involve the establishment of an education fund subordinated to the local leaders, a health care fund to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region, especially topical in the African region. The leaders can be given greater powers in the resolution of local conflicts, and some of the judicial responsibilities can be delegated to the traditional leaders level with the possibility of later appeal to the higher authorities.  In this way the traditional can be fitted suitable into the modern, fulfilling the ultimate goal of the public servant to contribute to the well being of the society they work for.

Works cited
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Globalization and localization: understanding governance and public administration in Asia, 2002 [online]. Available from:

Interview with Mr. Ronald Bilodeau, Assistant Clerk of the Canadian Government [online], 2001. Available from:

Keynote address presented by his royal Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. Asantehene, the Fourth African development forum [online], 2004. Available from:

KUDRYCKA, B., Governance and public administration in the 21st century, Sub-topic III, The changing position and status of civil servants[online]. Available from:

Responding to the challenges [online]. Available from:

RIGGS, F. W., Globalisation and public administration [online]. Available from:

SOMMERMANN, K.-P., Governance and public administration in the 21st century, Sub-topic I: The rule of law and public administration in a global setting [online]. Available from:
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UNITED KINGDOM PARLIAMENT, SELECT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, 2001. Seventh report, Traditional public service values [online]. Available from:

UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL, COMMITTEE OF EXPERTS ON PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, 2004, Historical perspectives and trends of governance and the institutional development of public administration in Africa [online]. Available from:

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