Mauritania: Meritocracy vs. Patronage.
Mauritania will see some kind of ‘democratic’ election this year. If anything, that seems pretty inevitable at the moment. The Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) will, at least with donor support, ensure a transparent electoral process. However, the comédie of the 2007 presidential elections has shown that there still is large room for manipulations: Gifts (food and/or money) and promises to voters.
What is the underlying mechanism?
Mauritania is a very poor country with high unemployment rates. At the same time the state is the largest employer. What follows is a patron-client relation. Daniel Posner explains it as follows
“voters seek access to state resources by allocating their electoral support to (a candidate) who they assume will be more likely than (another) to redistribute those resources to them. (…) (P)oliticians woo support by promising to channel resources to would-be voters.”
Therefore voters will cast their vote for the candidate that is most likely to win and to provide the opportunity for the voter to extract state resources. Gifts act as a sort of declaration of intent by the politician to be willing to distribute state resources in return for electoral support.
Public Sector Reform?
The central source for individual rents from the state and reason for patronage is employment in the public sector. So – and this is the idea I had today – why not reform the public sector? If recruitment was on a merit-basis, possibilities for informal appointments should fade. This may potentially switch the motivation of voters towards a more policy-oriented direction. Obviously this would demand a strong, (semi-)autonomous body to ensure merit-based recruitment and strong political pressure in the first place, but that could be something for the donors to put on their agendas.
Does anyone know about the current state of public sector recruitment in Mauritania? Have there been any reforms lately? A quick google query only displayed a overly ambitious NPM-style World Bank project.