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01.03.2020 Feature Article

African University Students Find Politics Difficult To Understand

in the Study of Public Administration
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Several types of research have been undertaken in the mainstream sciences to investigate the level of difficulties associated with the study of concepts in biology, chemistry, physics, computer studies and a host of others. What has been lacking in literature have been researches related to the social sciences and humanities on concept difficulties related to the study of such course.

Funded by the World Bank Africa Centre of Excellence ( Lagos State University) and the Okebukola Science Foundation, a number of researches have been conducted on the science, with one in the humanities (public administration).

In a study of 650 students from five African universities (University of Professional Studies Accra, University of Ghana, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Crawford University( Igbesa) and the Lagos State University, results of groundbreaking research found that the most difficult concepts in the study of public administration is politics. Using mean ranks, the study suggests the following results;

Table 1: Ranking of Difficult Concepts in the Study of Public Administration

Table 1 - Mean rank analysis of difficult concepts in Public Administration (N = 650)

S/N. Difficult concepts Mean Ranking
B8 Politics 1.83 1st
B1 Bureaucracy 1.81 2nd
B7 Public Policy 1.77 3rd
B6 Decentralization 1.74 4th
B5 Governance 1.62 5th
B9 Public Personnel Administration 1.58 6th
B3 Corruption 1.49 7th
Topic Arms of Government 1.48 8th
B2 Ethics 1.42 9th
B10 Defining Public Administration 1.39 10th

Source: Indigenous (Cultural) Knowledge Related To the Concept of Politics as a Difficult Topic in Public Administration

The table shows the ranking of the difficult concept in the study of Public Administration. The study shows that Politics with a mean of 1.83 is perceived as the most difficult concept in the study of public administration. Public Policy, Decentralization, Governance, Public Personnel Administration, Corruption, Arms of Government, Ethics and Defining Public Administration followed in the order of difficulties in understanding by African university students’ studying public administration (Awaah, 20202).

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The study suggests that to make politics easy to understand, African university teachers should adopt the Cuturo-Techno- Conceptual Approach (Okebukola, 2015) in teaching the course. The study explained the approach as emphasizing on using examples and explanations that are related to the students’ cultural environment to aid understanding.

For instance, the study argued that politics is not new to Africans. Before the advent of western political systems, Africans had their indigenous ways of getting into political office; majorly through the clan and chieftaincy systems. In West Africa just as it pertained in many parts of Africa, ascending to the positions of a chief or head of a kingdom had criterion that one had to meet just as it is with qualifications for being elected in modern-day political office. For instance, among the Gurune speaking people of northern Ghana, some key qualifications included being whole-bodied, not of a questionable character, must have a wife, not impotent, must be from the royal clan, be of sound mind, and not leprous amongst others. If one did not meet any of these criteria, such a person would be disqualified from being enskinned a chief. This aspect of indigenous criteria for qualifications into chieftaincy can be likened to modern-day vetting on the pre-established criteria for getting into a political office like being a citizen, clean police records, declaration of assets amongst others (Awaah, 2020).


The paper further argues that in modern-day politics as taught in the classrooms, dispute is an integral part of the systems and such disputes take the wisdom of the courts to settle. This is not new to Africans. In time past, the elders and chiefs in Africa were repositories of traditional wisdom and would sit in the compounds of the chief to adjudicate matters relating to sub-chiefs and other subjects. When the matter was higher than a given chief, the matter would be referred to as the overlord of the given traditional area. It is common knowledge that, in matters pertaining to some tribes in the Upper East Region of Ghana, when disputes arose and the immediate chief of the locality lacked the jurisprudence to mediate the matter, the matter was sent to the Nayiri (overlord of Mampurrgu) for settlement. This practice is still prevalent with the Mole – Dagbani group of Ghana (bid).

The author further argues backs his script with narratives from oral tradition of one such dispute within the Dagbon kingdom - the people of Dagbon could not resolve the matter pertaining who became the next chief or overlord of Dagbon (Yaa-Naa) within a given period. It was agreed before the Dagbon state that, the matter be referred to the Nayiri for settlement. This reflects the dispute settlement systems of modern-day politics when matters begin from lower to higher courts depending on the magnitude of the dispute. Of particular interest in this narration is that, when the Dagbon state agreed to refer the matter to the Nayiri, the youngest contender for the skin knowing he is the least advantaged in the race went to Nayiri ahead of the appointed date. He enquired of the Nayiri what name would be one appropriate and impressive for the next chief of Dagbon (Yaa-Naa).

Oral traditions has it that, the Nayiri, not knowing his motive mention Nyo-u din galsi ni dei bobri transliterated as the chest that is big will get decorations. The phrase actually connotes the virtue of patience and unity as it really means one needs patience to get power or acclaim. Subsequently, the day for the real adjudication came and all contenders were seated before the Nayiri. Amongst other criteria, all contenders were asked to suggest their skin names, the youngest knowing the mindset of the Nayiri mentioned Nyo-u din galsi ni dei bobri. He was crowned the chief of Dagbon. Oral tradition has it that, he was one of the key chiefs in the history of Dagbon to bring developments into the area. Apart from settling the dispute, this further reflects the concept of modern-day lobbying as pertains in politics, for Naa Zangina would have missed out on the chieftaincy if he did not lobby the Nayirri.

The full article is published in the book, Breaking Barriers to Learning: the Culturo-Techno-Conceptual Approach and would be available on amazon.com for sale shortly.

Fred Awaah
Fred Awaah, © 2020

Fred Awaah lectures at the University of Professional Studies – Accra, Ghana. He has taught in universities in Botswana, Lesotho and Nigeria and has been visiting fellow at the IACIU and Centre for Human Security - NigeriaColumn: FredAwaah

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