In This Review

States at Work: Dynamics of African Bureaucracies
States at Work: Dynamics of African Bureaucracies
Edited by Thomas Bierschenk and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sarda
Brill Academic Pub, 2014, 440 pp

This collection of essays on African bureaucracies offers some profound insights, presenting excellent case studies of the day-to-day workings of specific agencies, including Senegal’s forest service, Niger’s district courts, Cameroon’s education ministry, and Malawi’s central administrative bureaucracy. Most of these organizations are hamstrung by inadequate finances and personnel and are held back by highly centralized, hierarchical structures, in which most of the resources get captured by the top of the administrative pyramid. A number of contributors emphasize the negative effects of reforms that are frequently imposed by external donors but rarely implemented in full. This is a bleak picture, but the book also observes that many African bureaucracies have maintained enough institutional vitality and experience to provide decent public services and are often staffed by professionals who demonstrate remarkable ingenuity while serving the public in less-than-ideal circumstances.