Reviewed by Daniel Musiitwa
Finding public sector success stories in Africa is rare, which explains why many African governments have resorted to full scale privatization.
Against this context, the story of Dr. William Muhairwe, and how he turned around a failing government parastatal offers a real-world window into what really ails Africa.
“Making Public Enterprises Work – From Despair to Promise: A Turn Around Account” tells the story of how Muhairwe and his team transformed a loss making state-owned operation into one of Africa’s most successful public utilities. In a country, once dubbed a literary desert, it is refreshing to find a business leader writing a book that shares his experience and knowledge.
The turn around story is remarkable. Over ten years, NWSC increased volume annual water sales from 3.8 million in 1998 to 44.4 million cubic meters by 2009, and the number of customers from 46,000 to nearly 226,000. Over the same period, staff numbers fell from 1,800 to 1,500, representing a significant gain in productivity.
Muhairwe’s approach to organizational turn-around boils down, more or less into five steps.
- Recognize that problems exist and turn them into challenges.
- Identify priorities for quality, customer service, distribution, revenue and cost
- Focus on achieving quick wins that demonstrate to staff that success is attainable.
- Build and retain highly qualified staff, and motivate them with performance based rewards
- Relentlessly seek incremental gains by constantly raising the bar once targets are met
At 415 pages, the book is quite long. Still, it is a worthwhile read for public policy types and anyone looking to do business in Africa. It provides practical insights informed by the experience of someone who has actually walked the walk, and talked the talk. Muhairwe demonstrates that what ails African systems is a lack of effective leadership, and that transferring private sector management discipline and principles to the public sector can indeed be a viable alternative to wholesale privatization. Above all, Muhairwe proves that it is possible to succeed in a continent often written off for its shortcomings.