African Moral Theory and Public Governance: Nepotism, Preferential Hiring and Other Partiality

In Munyaradzi Felix Murove (ed.), African Ethics: An Anthology for Comparative and Applied Ethics. University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. pp. 335-356 (2009)
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Suppose a person lives in a sub-Saharan country that has won its independence from colonial powers in the last 50 years or so. Suppose also that that person has become a high-ranking government official who makes decisions on how to allocate goods, such as civil service jobs and contracts with private firms. Should such a person refrain from considering any particulars about potential recipients or might it be appropriate to consider, for example, family membership, party affiliation, race or revolutionary stature as reasons to benefit certain individuals at some cost to the general public? Which of these factors should be considered unjust, or even corrupt, as a basis on which to allocate state goods and which should not? This chapter outlines an attractive moral theory with African content that forbids both impartialism and a strong form of partialism that would permit government officials to favour members of their families or political parties. Between these two extremes, a moderate partialism is prescribed. This permits government agents to occasionally favour veterans and victims of state injustices at some cost to the general public. This chapter seeks to provide a new, unified explanation of why sub-Saharan values permit some forms of partiality, such as the preferential hiring of those who struggled against colonialism, but prohibit other nepotistic forms of partiality.

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Thaddeus Metz
Cornell University (PhD)


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