July 3, 2012

Humphrey Fellowship helps Sierra Leone man aid in rebuilding his country

When an 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone ended in 2002, Ansu Tucker was 34 years old and a deputy secretary in the countrys Ministry of Agriculture. Tucker and people like him faced rebuilding a nation where tens of thousands had died and more than 2 million had been displaced.

Ansu Tucker

Ansu Tucker

Starting over meant facing not only endemic national poverty – about 10 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day – but also deep and pervasive government corruption.

Today, though, Tucker works closely with international development groups assisting Sierra Leone, including the World Bank, which in July will begin disbursing $17 million to strengthen pay reform, performance management and recruitment and staffing in the civil service.

Tucker got help in his job by spending 2004-05 as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the UW Evans School of Public Affairs. Since 1987, Evans has hosted between 11 and 15 midcareer professionals from around the world who spend one year gaining theoretical and practical experience in their fields. The latest class will begin the first week of September.

“Fellows return to their positions with a broader perspective, a new network of international colleagues and new friends. We all gain a mutual respect and appreciation for different perspectives and cultures,” said Sandra Archibald, dean of the Evans School.

“My fellowship in the U.S. was an eye-opener … I saw my country as part of a wider global community,” Tucker said during a recent interview. He studied public sector management with special emphasis on performance management as practiced by the King County Executives Office.

Tucker was particularly taken with ways the U.S. manages cultural differences. “I personally think that one of the sources of Americas strength is its ability to effectively manage its diverse culture,” he said. Like many other African nations, he added, Sierra Leone has great difficulty managing diversity, as evidenced by the civil war.

After his Humphrey fellowship, returned to Sierra Leone, a nation of 5.5 million on the west coast of Africa slowly re-establishing democracy. He began training government workers in performance management — ways to optimize civil servants productivity.

Tucker now directs human resource planning and budgeting for the central government, and also trains human resource managers. This planning is important, he said, as it forecasts needs of the civil service and keeps unauthorized names off the payroll.

In 2008, Tucker worked on a civil service census and verification program that eliminated unauthorized names from the government payroll, anticipating that the census and verification will be repeated every four years. The government has also prosecuted various officials for corruption, and as a result of new regulations, government executives must annually declare their assets. But much remains to be done so Tucker continues serving on a task force that roots out corruption in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leones workforce is young and growing quickly. The median age of citizens is 19, and the fertility rate is high, 4.94 children per woman. Experts say the governments inability to deliver basic services, particularly to youth and women, helped cause the civil war.

Youth unemployment is high, and the civil service can neither attract nor retain quality staff. Poor salaries are the main issue but not the only one. Lack of professional development opportunities is another: the paths for training and advancement arent clearly marked or managed.

Also, the civil war caused a brain drain that led to what Tucker called “a huge skills gap,” a lack of mid-level managers who could make the country run smoothly. The World Bank program includes a small project that will help recruit young university graduates by offering special incentives and fast-track positions.

Gross domestic product in Sierra Leone is projected to grow by 50 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013, largely because of massive natural resource revenue, much of it from iron ore. The countrys civil service manages that revenue and is charged with translating it into social dividends.

The civil service “has to attract high-quality professionals, retain them and put their talents to good use,” said Ben Roseth, a junior professional associate at the World Bank who is working with Tucker and others in the country.

Tucker lives in the capital, Freetown, and is the married father of three children. The son of a university lecturer and a head teacher in an elementary school, he attended Catholic schools in Sierra Leone, later receiving a bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Sierra Leone.

For Tucker, the Humphrey fellowship and the work that followed have been fruitful. “I knew,” he said, “that I could make the world a better place in my own little way.”

 

 

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