In a democratic society, leaders are freely elected regardless of their leadership style. In most developing and emerging economies, elected leaders rely on technocrats to formulate and implement policies merely as boardroom experts. Yet some civil servants are part-politician, part-technocrat.
After the exodus of civil servants aspiring to vie for political office in the August 9 general election from February 9, there is bound to be a fierce ideological battle between technocrats and politicians.
Ideally, technocrats seek to inform, assess and integrate their forward-looking leadership in a merit-based management style. Born to serve the public interest by developing strategic solutions to societal problems such as the ‘unholy trinity’ of disease, ignorance and hunger, they are primarily driven by the cognitive problem-solution mindset.
Most of their decisions display strong democratic values such as trust and integrity, essential ingredients in a functioning democracy—what every citizen desires. The technocrats’ knowledge and value-based decision-making enables them to assess development needs, align them to scarce resources and mainstream them in policy decision-making.
Their role in nation-building cannot be gainsaid. They are critical agents of charting the development path by designing robust and sound blueprints and are equipped with the know-how for implementing them. This is what makes them exceptional performers in political office as the interest of most political elites is to preserve the status quo.
There is a trade-off of interests between technocracy and politics. But to a large extent, technocrats’ contributions are enormous. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for technocrat-led governments as they have proved to be fundamental in crisis recovery.
However, many technocrats’ political careers could fail to see the light of day despite being qualified to tackle the over six-decade-old challenges of the common mwananchi. This is largely attributed to the skewed populist nature of our politics.
First, technocrats formulate the most practical but which may put off the electorate, and are considered ‘boring’. In sharp contrast, politicians have mastered to art of orchestrating popular but unsound policies with short-term benefits to the nation. That easily elicits euphoria, hence votes.
Secondly, they tend to focus on the short- and long-term outcomes, regardless of the beneficiary. They are future-centric to the public interest. Conversely, politicians are more concerned with the here and now fulfilment of election pledges. They are not interested in huge benefits that may accrue.
Thirdly, in some communities, technocrats are branded as agents of foreign culture, ideas and values. That is often used to label them as being contrary to African values and culture. That resonates with most citizens in favour of politicians, who are inclined to toxic populist narratives.
It is encouraging to see technocrats make their political pitch. No doubt, politics of technocracy will provide a rational, competent, humane and sane leadership—the surest prescription for our woes.
Mr Ombane is an economist. [email protected]