Comparative Civil Service

  • Joseph Antwi-BoasiakoEmail author
  • Isaac Nyarko
  • Ama Kissiwah Boateng
Living reference work entry



Finer (1925) defines civil service as a professional body of officials who have been employed to a permanent job and are paid based on the skills and qualities they possessed.

Recruitment in the civil service is about finding suitable and sufficient number of employees to fill vacancies in the civil service.


The term “civil service” has been explained by various scholars varying from country to country. According to Kettl (2013), there must be in place some features to qualify a civil service across countries. To him, in all the civil service across countries, employees should be paid according to their rank and all employees should be protected from any form of political interference. Finer (1925) adds that the civil service should employ people into a public permanent job and be paid on the skills they have. Again, the employees of the civil service should be recruited based on merit and not through patronage (Kettl 2013).

Regarding recruitment, Fredericksen (1996) explained the concept as the process of finding and attracting people who are qualified as a pool of candidates for a job. Recruitment and selection into the civil service are key to civil services across countries. It is argued that recruitment by merit comes with a lot of advantages as opposed to the patronage system. The term “meritocracy” as popularized by Young in 1958 has been explained as a social system where talent and merit are the basis for looking for people to fill positions and distributing rewards (Everest-Phillips 2016). The 1997 World Development Report explains that meritocracy in the civil service helps attract high-quality personnel, confers some form of prestige on the civil service, and is a great motivation for good performance of personnel (World Development Report 1997).

According to Moon and Hwang (2013, p. 1), scholars have developed interest in conducting comparative studies on civil service systems for different countries; however, “there is still a dearth of basic comparative understanding of civil service systems.” To understand the different systems of civil service as used by different countries, Everest-Phillips (2016) has stated that more research on meritocracy in different contexts from around the world could offer wider evidence about how the practice of meritocracy may change over time. Based on these, this entry seeks to examine the status of civil service systems in three African countries – Gabon, Ghana, and Zimbabwe – by exploring their recruitment into the civil service and finding out the reasons for the similarities and the differences.

Specifically, the entry seeks to find out the extent to which the countries adhere to the principle of meritocracy in the recruitment of civil service personnel and to find out the factors that enhance or undermine the adherence to the principle of meritocracy in the recruitment of civil service personnel. The rest of the entry is structured as follows: the theoretical framework of analysis, methodology used for the entry, the findings and analysis, and the conclusions.

Theoretical Framework of Analysis

The theoretical underpinning for this entry will be guided by two theories: the Weberian state hypothesis and the prismatic-sala model by Fred Riggs.

Weberian State Hypothesis

Drawing from the insight of Weber, recruitment based on merit was identified by him as a one of the principles of bureaucracy. To Weber, he identified six principles of bureaucracy: written legal rules of administrative conduct, impersonality in service and decision making, hierarchy of offices and level in authority, people being specialized in the role they play and expert training, full-time employment toward retirement, and, lastly, personnel recruitment based on merit. It has been argued by Evans (1996) that it is necessary for the replacement of the patronage system by a professional state and that is a prerequisite for development. To him, the procedure for hiring and firing in the civil service should be through competitive examinations rather than political appointments and dismissals.

Prismatic-Sala Model

This model was developed by a Chinese born American called Fred W. Riggs who has been regarded as the godfather of comparative public administration. According to Riggs (1962), societies are divided into three: fused, prismatic, and diffracted societies. This led to the fused-prismatic-diffracted model. These three models represent the traditional underdeveloped, developing third world, and the modern developed societies, respectively. According to Riggs, the fused and diffracted models are ideal models and cannot be found in real-life situations. To him, the fused model has a society which holds on firmly to their traditional and cultural values. Some features of the fused society are a single structure performing all functions. In this situation, one person performs all the economic, administrative, and political functions for the society. On the other hand, the diffracted society has different structures to perform specific functions and mostly found in the Western countries like the USA.

A prismatic model according to Riggs is described as a society lying between the ideal-fused and ideal-diffracted society. Adopting from the fused society, the prismatic society has some characteristics of the fused, where the prismatic society is seen to be kind of traditional and possessing the characteristics of the diffracted and it is seen to possess some form of modernity. In this model, tradition and modernity coexist; however, there is somehow a lack of coordination among the prismatic social structures. In the study of administrative systems, Riggs developed the prismatic-sala model to understand the administrative system of the prismatic transitional societies. It is believed that Riggs applied ecological models in analyzing societies and their administrative system. Riggs argue that the performance of the sala is shaped by specific forces like the elites and economic factors.


Research Approach

According to Creswell (2013), there are three types of approaches used in a study. They are quantitative, qualitative, and a mixed method which combines a qualitative and the quantitative approaches. However, for the purposes of this entry, a qualitative approach is employed.

Research Design

The entry uses a cross-sectional analysis which measures three countries in relation to civil service recruitment. It uses a cross-national and a cross-historical analysis of meritocracy in the civil service in these countries to perform this comparative study.

In selecting countries for this entry, the authors selected all the countries from Africa. The authors’ criteria were to select countries based on income status: low income, lower middle income, and upper middle income, as these are the income levels prevalent in Africa. Again, the authors selected the countries based on their locations. This gave the authors some differences in the culture, as countries are likely to have some similar practices if they are found in one part of the continent. Using these criteria, three countries were selected by the authors: Gabon which is in Central Africa and an upper middle-income country, Ghana which is in West Africa and a lower middle-income, and lastly Zimbabwe which is located in the South of Africa and a low middle-income country.

Source of Data

The entry uses data from the Global Integrity Index for its comparative analysis. The index uses close to 300 indicators to assess the existence and effectiveness of anti-corruption mechanisms that promote public integrity. The global integrity is a nongovernmental organization located in Washington which advocates for integrity and accountability in government. The index uses peer reviews of person recruited by Global Integrity Index and local country experts. The index has been in existence from 2006 and have been producing this index till date. The index is mostly targeted at developing countries.

Since 2013, the Global Integrity Index uses data from the African Integrity Indicators on 54 countries. The African Integrity Initiative follows a similar methodology as used by Global Integrity Index to cover the topics. In measuring civil service integrity, the index measures from the year 2013 to 2017.


To measure meritocracy in the civil service recruitment in the three countries, two indicators used to measure civil service integrity by the Global Integrity Index are used for this entry. First indicator used was in relation to how in practice, the work of civil servants is not compromised by political interference. The entry limits political interference in recruitment into the civil service. It is assumed that, when there is a political interference, people are not recruited to the service based on merit but by political appointments. Data scores scale of 0–100 is used to measure this indicator with 0 being the minimum value representing civil service being compromised by political interference and 100 being the maximum value representing that, in practice, civil service works is not compromised by political interference.

Second indicator used to measure recruitment based on merit for this entry is that, in practice, civil service workers are appointed and evaluated according to professional criteria. Data scores scale of 0–100 is used to measure this indicator with 0 being the minimum value representing civil service workers are not appointed and evaluated according to professional criteria. The maximum of 100 represents that civil service workers are appointed and evaluated according to professional criteria.

Civil Service in the Three Countries

Civil Service in Ghana

Civil service in Ghana derives its legal framework from two legal frameworks: the 1992 Ghana’s constitution and an Act of Parliament. The Chapter 14 of the 1992 constitution is dedicated to the public service of Ghana where civil service is under the category. In the constitution, the Article 190 (1)(a) gives a legal framework in which civil service of Ghana should operate. The Article 190 (2) states that the civil service shall, until provision is otherwise made by Parliament, comprise service in both central and local government. Again, the civil service of Ghana derives its framework from an Act of Parliament. The civil service Act 1993 (PNDC Law 327) is also a Parliamentary Act to supplement what has been stated in the constitution. These two laws combined provide a legal framework for the operations of civil service in Ghana.

Civil Service in Gabon

In the case of Gabon, the country is governed by the 1991 constitution. The constitution came into existence after Gabon became a multiparty democracy in March 1991. Since then, the constitution has undergone several amendments with the most recent being the Law No. 13/2003, the amendment of August 19, 2003. From the constitution, a legal framework is given to the civil service of Gabon. In addition to the 1991 Constitution of Gabon (as last amended by the Law No. 13/2003 of August 19, 2003), the Civil Service code of Ethics in June 2005 serves as a guide for civil servants in Gabon to conduct themselves in everything they do. A combination of the two laws provides a legal framework for the civil service of Gabon.

Civil Service in Zimbabwe

The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe provides a legal framework for the civil service in Zimbabwe. Under the Chapter 10 which has been wholly dedicated to civil service in the Zimbabwe, the Article 199 (1) states that “there is a single civil service which is responsible for the administration of Zimbabwe” and consists of all persons employed by the state aside the security personnel, judges, and people who preside over courts, staff of parliament amongst other few (Article 199: 2). Besides the Chapter 10 of the Zimbabwean constitution dedicating a Chapter to outline the composition, the conduct of the civil service, the minister of civil service, and the composition of the civil service commission, the Public Service Act (Chapter 16:04) also adds to the framework of civil service in Zimbabwe. This act gives power to the civil service commission which is the supervisory body of the civil service in Zimbabwe.

Recruitment Based on Meritocracy in the Civil Service of the Gabon, Ghana, and Zimbabwe

Civil Service in Gabon, Ghana, and Zimbabwe, according to the legal framework, are to practice meritocracy in their recruitments. As in line with Weber’s principle of bureaucracy, civil service in these countries has included the principles of meritocracy into their service. Included in the constitution and the Acts are as follows:

Meritocracy in the recruitment into the civil service is explicit in the constitution of Gabon. The Article 47 (16) of the Gabonese constitution states in French, “le statut général de la fonction publique et les statuts particuliers.” This is translated to mean that recruitment in the civil service in Gabon should be based on the general statues of the civil service and special statues. With the general statues, it means that civil service recruitment should be based on meritocracy or to say that the civil service is run based on merit.

In Ghana, civil service recruitment as according to the civil service act is also based on meritocracy. The public service commission has been mandated to conduct recruitment into the civil service of Ghana. The commission adopts the merit-based system of recruitment and appointment into the civil service in Ghana. The public service commission has outlined the procedure for recruitment into the civil service on its website to ensure transparency in the recruitment process of the civil service in Ghana.

The case of Zimbabwe is no different from Gabon and Ghana. In Zimbabwe, the constitution explicitly states in the 2013 constitution the method of recruitment into the civil service. In the Article 203 of the Zimbabwean constitution, the constitution has mandated the civil service commission to perform the following function, which is to appoint qualified and competent persons to hold post in the civil service. The Civil Service Commission in Zimbabwe has outline meritocracy, impartiality, and professionalism as their cherished value that they are using to achieve their vision of a world class employer of first choice.

Similarities/Variations in Meritocratic Recruitment: Gabon, Ghana, and Zimbabwe

Nature of Government

In comparing the three countries for analysis, the graph above shows a difference between the extents to which political interference can be seen in the civil service of these countries. It is evident that in political interference, Zimbabwe plays last among the three countries. As a result, a further analysis shows that the differences or variations in the political interference may be because of other factors which include the nature of government in the three countries.

Comparing the nature of governments in the three countries, it was revealed that Ghana has a democratic system of government while the other two countries – Gabon and Zimbabwe – show signs of autocratic forms of government. The BBC reports that in Zimbabwe for instance, since independence from the British in 1980 till 2017, Zimbabwe had only seen one president: Mr. Robert Mugabe, who ruled for the past three decades until he was removed from office in November 2017. Within this period, the BBC reported of several incidents which have shown signs of dictatorship or authoritarianism in Zimbabwe and the people who were against the president were targeted or had some violence meted against them. In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth on presidential election dispute. Due to this nature of government, there is no doubt that Global Integrity Index reports that there is political interference in the civil service of Zimbabwe. All aspects of the Zimbabwe government are in the hands of Mr. Mugabe. As a result, interference in the civil service was presumably rampant. In 2008, after it was reported that Mr. Mugabe had lost the election to the opposition leader of Zimbabwe, members of the opposition became a target which led to some people fleeing from the country. It is therefore important to note that in most authoritarian regimes the civil service is most likely to be interfered politically.

The case is not different from Gabon however the extent of interference has been minimal as compared to Zimbabwe. According to a study conducted by the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (2010) in the United States, Gabon is an authoritarian and centralized government. Gabon gained independence from France in 1961 and since then only three people have served as presidents: President Leon Mba, Omar Bongo who has been succeeded by his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba in September 2009. Political interference in Gabon is very common in all the facets of the government. As a result, from the Fig. 1 above, it is of no surprise that Gabon is at 25% in all the years used for this entry.
Fig. 1

In practice, civil servants’ work is not compromised by political interference

Political influence in Ghanaian civil service is very minimal as can be seen from Fig. 1. In 2016, data from Global Integrity Index shows that there was no shred of political influence in the civil service of Ghana as it scored 100%. This to some extent can be explained by the nature of government in Ghana. Ghana over the years has enjoyed smooth transitions of power from one party to the other. From the time of independence till date, Ghana has had more than six different governments. In the fourth republic alone, from the year 1992, Ghana has had five presidents through a periodic free and fair election which has been commended by the international organizations.

A comparison of the three countries show that civil service in Zimbabwe has a higher political interference and as a result refutes Max Weber’s principle of bureaucracy which calls for politics out of the civil service to ensure that people are selected into the civil service based on merit. Due to political reasons or because of the nature of government that is in existence in the three countries, meritocracy in the recruitment into the civil service is often absent in Zimbabwe even though it is gradually changing. The situation is however a little better in Gabon than Zimbabwe and best case amongst the three can be found in Ghana.

Economic Factors

Variations or similarities in the civil service of the various three countries can also in a way be explained using the economic factors of the countries. Because civil service forms the major part of the government expenditure or civil service are people paid by the government, governments in this cross-national study are tempted to interfere in the recruitment and appointment of people to the civil service to be able to regulate it.

In Ghana for instance, recruitment and selection into the civil service is currently on freeze. This is because of some political decisions made by governments to suspend recruitment into the civil service. In 2010, the government of Ghana placed a ban on the recruitment of employees in the public sector as part of measures to stabilize the economy and effectively manage the public wage bill. This is as a result the economic factors did allow for recruitment into the civil service. As opposed to Max Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy, governments should not, in any way, politically interfere in the civil service as much regulating the recruitment and selection.

Gabon is noted to have a relatively high GDP and recognized to be one of the few economically stable countries in Africa. In all of this, it is estimated that the country’s wealth and resources are in the hands of only 2% of Gabon population due to political and ethnic division in the country. Political interference in Gabon in relation to the civil service recruitment and appointment is face with a lot of economic challenges. Due to the overall economic challenges facing Gabon, the political powers are forced to interfere to regulate the civil service. In 2009 for example, President Ali Bongo ordered for head count into a bloated civil service to cut state spending and the taking charge of the body. This is a high extent of political interference. He claims the country is looking for ways to diversify its economy.

An analysis of the economic factors shows that the country’s economy influences the politicians’ participation in the civil service recruitment. Due to the cost involved in the remuneration of the civil service, the governments are tempted to come in and regulate the recruitment. This is to help them to properly manage the economy. Examples from the countries above show how economic factors influence the civil service recruitment in the countries.

Cultural Values of Society

Besides the nature of governments and the economic factors affecting the meritocracy in the civil service of these countries, cultural values of the three countries sometimes affect the variations in the civil service as measured by Global Integrity Index across the 3 years. The cultural values of the society which harbors the civil service can in a way determine how meritocracy in the country’s civil service can be adhered to.

In Gabon, ethnic affiliation is one of the most important factors in Gabonese identity (Marine Corps Intelligence Activity 2010). Gabon has over 40 different ethnic groups and each Gabonese finds prestige in their ethnic groups and strongly identifies themselves with their ethnic groups. The Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (2010) further goes to say that like his father, Ali Ben Bongo has surrounded himself with trusted family members and build ethnic alliances and patron–client relationship. This has created a divide between the people who are close to Bongo and the rest of the people. Locally, this divide is known as the Bongo system or Bongoïsme. This is where people who only belong to the group are given a share of the national cake through recruitment and appointment into the civil service. This is how ethnicity has affected recruitment into civil service in Gabon.

In Ghana, cultural affiliation is not as rampant as that of the other countries. The constitution provides legal framework into the civil service. This provision seeks to get rid of all forms of ethnicity. Appointment into the civil service has been enshrined in the constitution and calls for a fair representation of ethnicity. Article 17 (2) states that “a person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.” Data from Global Integrity Index confirms that most appointments and recruitment into the civil service are not discriminatory as compared to the other countries in the study (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

In practice, civil servants are appointed and evaluated according to professional criteria

Recruitment and Selection into the Zimbabwean civil service is full of nepotism and favoritism. Zinyemba (2014) argues that nepotism in Zimbabwean happens when top management positions use their influence into the recruitment of civil service. This influence is to secure jobs, which is used to favor friends and relatives. Nepotism in the civil service is based on ethnic ties and as a result recruitment is not based on meritocracy. It is evident that most politicians influence the recruitment and selection process by referring candidates for appointment to vacant positions. These are based on ethnic and cultural lines. It is therefore not surprising that Zimbabwe and Gabon are performing worse than Ghana in the civil service recruitment and appointment.


This entry indicates that the civil service as practiced in some African countries go contrary to the Weberian hypothesis or principle which states that, the processes for hiring or firing in the civil service should be through competitive examinations rather than nepotism or political appointments and dismissals. Comparing three countries in Africa and their means of recruitment into the civil service, it was found that the nature of governmental systems, economic factors, and cultural values varied among the countries under study; hence, it influenced the nature of civil service recruitment. This implies that recruits are not usually selected into the civil service based on competence and/or merit but sometimes political interference and nepotism. Analyzing the factors mentioned above shows that the economies of these three countries had influence on the political stands in the civil service as far as recruitment is concerned. To a greater extent, the sum of remunerations in the civil service also influences its recruitment.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Antwi-Boasiako
    • 1
    Email author
  • Isaac Nyarko
    • 1
  • Ama Kissiwah Boateng
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Public Administration and Health Services ManagementUniversity of GhanaAccraGhana
  2. 2.Faculty of Public Governance and Administration SciencesNational University of Public ServiceBudapestHungary