14. What Happens to Local Governance in Africa and How Can It Be Strengthened?

E-mail of panel organiser: ghyden@ufl.edu

In the last couple of decades decentralization has been pursued as a global mantra, albeit often with more attention to prescriptive models than political reality. This is particularly the case in Africa where decentralization approaches have produced few sustainable outcomes. This panel will examine the reasons why results have been so meagre and what can be done to change that. It will look into the relevance of conventional models in contexts where politics is based on patronage rather than policy. It will provide empirical evidence to suggest what works and what does not work. It will be both analytical and prescriptive without proposing blueprints. In line with emerging thinking at global level, as manifest for example in the discourse on the U.N. post-2015 development agenda, it will emphasize the importance of context and the development of measures of improvement that take into consideration not how a country compares with others but how far it has come along a governance and development path that begins at home, i.e. with the situation that started at an appropriately selected baseline point. Presentations in this panel will represent a cross-section of academic and practical experience that should make this panel of interest to researchers and policy practitioners alike.

Papers Session 1

1. Ruling the Locality: Local Governments and National Politics in Post- Colonial Uganda.

Author: Elizabeth Laruni(College of Humanities, UK)


Ethnic conflict in post-independence Uganda was a consequence of the
confrontation between strong ethnically divided local institutions and the postcolonial
push for political centralisation, under the guise of nation building. To
strengthen one, the other had to be weakened. Post-independence, Ugandan
politicians who had succeeded within local polities were elevated to represent
their various regional and ethnic groups on the national stage. However, these
politicised ethnic demarcations were not, and should not, be considered
simply as a product of the Ugandan post-colonial state. Rather they were a
continuation of pre-colonial and colonial political structures that had
emphasised local governance, ethnicities and the ‘tribe.’ These were the
same structures of power that were left embedded within Ugandan politics at
the eve of independence.

This paper will seek to highlight persistent patterns of political
engagement between local and national government institutions in postcolonial
Uganda, by exploring the legacy of the British Native Administration
and its ethos of ‘divide and rule’. It will argue that the current trend of
districticisation is a continuation of colony policies that were used to contain
potential threats against the national administrative body from the locality.
However, the historic pattern of utilising cultural institutions and
ethnic/regional identities to make economic and political demands against the
national government, also serves to reinstate the politics of decentralisation,
whilst emphasising the power of local political elites. More broadly, this paper
will argue that this exclusive symbiotic relationship between Ugandan local
governments and the political centre continues to hinder the development of
strong and representative local governments in Uganda.

2. ‘The District Belongs to the Sons of the Soil’: Decentralisation and the Entrenchment of Ethnic Exclusion in Uganda

Author: Jimmy Spire Ssentongo (Uganda Martyrs University/ Makerere University)


Decentralisation has been idealised as one of the vital governance mechanisms for taking services closer to the people. In Africa, Uganda’s decentralised framework has been noted as one of the good models through which the ideals of decentralisation can be achieved. It has been a popular assumption in Uganda that decentralisation of decision-making powers and the management of resources to smaller units would enhance service delivery. However, the potential of decentralisation to realise the above ideal turned out to be conditional upon the context, especially - in this case - its political ramifications. Among other unfortunate peculiarities of decentralisation in Uganda is that, as was done by the colonial administration, districts (decentralised units) are mainly drawn along ethnic lines thus entrenching ethnic identity politics and conflictual exclusionary tendencies. One potential source of conflict flowing from a decentralised set up is in the concentration of power over resources at district level, which renders district political positions very attractive, hence sharpening the competition for them. In accentuating competition for resources, decentralisation has the paradoxical effect of triggering an obsession with belonging often creating a conflictual dichotomy of those who belong and those who belong less. This paper illustrates this trajectory using the case of a Ugandan district known as Kibaale which has experienced ethnic tension since its creation in 1991. The creation of the district to address ‘historical injustices’ came along with a psyche of district ownership by the ‘indigenous’ ethnic group thus setting into motion special political claims based on autochthony. The emerging dynamics reconstitute citizenship by creating classes of ‘real citizens’ and ‘foreigners/strangers’ thus defeating the logic of decentralisation. The paper thus argues for a decentralised framework that transcends ethnic cleavages for more inclusive governance structures.

3. Everyone’s Turn to Eat: County Level Politics in Kenya after Devolution

Authors: Agnes Cornell (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Michelle D’Arcy (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)


For the first time on March 4, 2013 Kenyans voted for county governors. Devolution has significantly changed fiscal and administrative organization, but has it led to changes in politics? Has it empowered people at the local level, engendered broad based development and improved service delivery? Or has it replicated patrimonial, clientelist and ethnically entrenched dynamics on a local stage? We explore these issues by looking at the election campaigns and mobilization strategies of those seeking election as governor in four case study counties: Nakuru, Kiambu, Mombasa, and Kilifi. Using original primary data from interviews with candidates and their campaign teams, we establish the kind of campaign strategies employed – whether ethnic and clientist or broad-based - and corroborate our findings with aggregate data from all 47 counties. We find that the most successful campaigns employed clientelist and ethnically based mobilization strategies, suggesting continuity in political dynamics, but that devolution has also brought new intra-ethnic and intra-county divisions to the fore, a potential source of change in future. The success of candidates with clientelist campaigns suggests that, for the Kenyan electorate, devolution has been seen as ‘everyone’s turn to eat’.

4. Have the local government reforms in Tanzania contributed to a more democratic process at the local level in Tanzania?

Authors: Jonas Ewald (Linneaus University, Sweden and Robert Mhamba (University of Dar es
Salaam, Tanzania)


This paper present fresh field work data from four case studies carried out in January to May 2014 on to what extent the Tanzanian Local Government Reform Programmes (LGRP) 1996-2008 has brought about more democratic decision making processes. The main findings point to that even if the local government has well-elaborated structures for governance and democratic participation from the sub-village/street to the district level, the outcomes of the LGR on improving the democratic processes at the local level has been limited. We examine to what extent various actors at various levels can exercise horizontal and vertical accountability.   Our findings indicate that the local government reforms have inadequately changed the existing power relations, political elite interests and ideology of the political actors. Real power still lies in the hands of the ruling party elites at the National and District level and constrains power sharing at the LGA levels and at the Ward, Village and Subvillage level. The Local Government Reform has not provided adequate mechanisms, processes and Incentives to hold political elites and the duty bearers to account, neither vertically or horizontally, at the different levels of local government. Power distribution has remained Top-Down with increasing conflict of interest between the Top and the Bottom. Local governance is inadequately addressing the existing competing interests e.g. personal versus public, party versus collective, local versus national. In addition, mediating competing claims over resources remains a challenge as the local government reforms have inadequately strengthened the governance system at the local levels. One of the largest constraints is the lack of awareness, information and capacity to process information by citizens, and elected members of the political structures. The Village and in particular the Sub-village structures have, however, a huge and underestimated potential, both as entry point in the political system, and as effective mechanisms for democratic governance.


Author: Göran Hydén (University of Florida, USA)


Few would argue with thesis that decentralization has the potential of strengthening both democratic governance and development. The challenge, however, has always been to make it happen. The irony is that local governance was the source of democratization during late colonialism. Nationalist leaders rode the wave of success in local government authorities, cooperative societies and self-help groups. Since independence, however, all these institutions have been discouraged, even outright suppressed by central government. Why is it so difficult to promote effective decentralization in African countries?

This paper tries to problematize a set of issues that are too often treated merely in a prescriptive mode and provide a fuller understanding of why decentralization falls so much short of its potential. It examines the issue from three distinct perspectives. The first is political economy: how much is explained by the peculiarities of African economic realities characterized as they are by informality? The second is power: how much can be interpreted through a power lens? The way people approach power is itself of significance. The third is an institutional perspective: do we have an adequate appreciation of how people approach rules? The paper will discuss these issues with a view of arriving at some conclusions about what might be done to better foster democratic local governance in these countries.

Chair Session 1: Göran Hydén
Discussant Session 1: Adiam Tedros (International Center for Local Democracy)

Papers Session 2

6. Conflict Prevention in Rwanda: the Role of Local Government

Author: Peter Mugume (Gothenburg University, Sweden)


This study’s aim is to contribute to the knowledge on decentralization and conflict prevention. The study explores violent environmental conflicts prevention taking an emphasis on post-genocide Rwanda’s decentralized local government. The decentralization policy which has been adopted by the post-Genocide Rwandan government is considered to be a channel through which sustainable development of the country can be promoted. This policy which is under implementation, was adopted with a view to empower the local communities to participate in the decision making process in issues of their concern including environmental concerns. In order to find out how decentralized local government relates to prevention of violent environmental conflicts, I employ three decentralization’s sub-concepts-devolution of powers, responsiveness and participation as operational concepts. The sub-concepts are employed in a qualitative case study of Kayonza district. Hence, the study findings presented in this paper are related to the powers devolved by the central government to the local government units, local leaders’ responsiveness to local environmental issues, and local community’s participation under decentralization process.

7. Political Decentralisation for Development. What Difference Does National Ownership Make? A Comparative Study of Cambodia and Rwanda

Authors: Malin Hasselskog and Isabell Schierenbeck (Gothenburg University)


The question investigated in this article is how a nationally owned but top-down decentralisation reform, as in Rwanda, differs from an internationally driven one, as in Cambodia, in terms of local participation and downward accountability as experienced and perceived by residents and local officials. The investigation shows that national ownership does not guarantee genuine participation and accountability. Instead, we argue, there is a need to go beyond the dichotomy of national ownership/international intervention and instead indulge with the contextualised variations (of different states and societies) and general difficulties with local governance reforms.

Post-conflict Cambodia and Rwanda faced large inflows of international aid, which gradually turned from emergency, quick impact activities towards longer-term development intervention. Meanwhile, in Cambodia as well as Rwanda, far-reaching decentralisation measures were undertaken, including efforts to install administrative structures and processes in line with ideals of popular participation and downward accountability. While in Cambodia, however, the local governance reforms were initially driven by the international community, in Rwanda, they were largely motivated and determined by the central national leadership, making a point of the reforms being ‘home-grown’. Externally supported governance programmes, like development assistance in general, imply reformatory intervention. Focus is predominantly on ingraining certain norms, new institutions are set up, formal mandates and procedures defined, and organisational charts designed. However, externally driven governance reforms have been claimed to imply the imposition of artificial structures, and building on false assumptions about state-society relations. In response, there has been a call for a local-turn, taking the local experiences seriously, in defining the needs, setting up the reforms, and implement the programs. It needs to be analysed, however, if and how nationally owned reform provides better opportunities for such a local turn than internationally driven reform does.

The study is based on official documents as well as interviews with residents and local officials in Cambodia and Rwanda. The research design allows for cross-case comparison, as well as in-depth insight in each case.

8. Embedded institutions and local justice systems in land-labour disputes resolution in Kiryandongo District, Midwestern Uganda

Author: Opira Otto (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)


Uganda has been on the path of decentralisation since the late 1980s. The decentralisation agenda included the transfer of power and responsibility from the central government to the districts (local councils). Whilst significant progress has been made towards establishing new institutions, many challenges remain in making service delivery effective and local governance structures coherent. This paper examines the judicial capacity of the local councils in land and labour related disputes in multi-ethnic Kiryandongo District. Using household case studies, the paper explores whether (and how) local council courts have the capacity to contribute positively towards successful land-labour conflicts resolutions, a key component of the decentralization agenda. It questions the common view that local council systems are better placed to provide inexpensive, expedient and culturally appropriate forms of justice in Uganda. Instead argues that conventional understanding of the local council system as formal institution fails to deliver justice and protect the property rights of poor people. On the other hand, critical analysis leads to a better understanding of local dispute-resolution mechanisms, practices and principles that inform how to improve legal service delivery at the local levels. The paper concludes that informal justice system and formal dispute resolution processes are somewhat interlinked, thus making the local council courts ineffective, unsustainable and insensitive to human rights concerns.

9. Land governance and fragmented state formation in South Sudan.

Author: Sara de Simone (University of Naples, Italy)


South Sudan reached independence in 2011 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the government of Sudan, bringing to an end the 22-years long civil war. The region was granted a semi-autonomous government led by the former rebel movement who had, since the 90s, declared its commitment to a decentralized system. This commitment has been –and still is- strongly supported by the international donor community, based on the idea of making the state more effective, improving service delivery and enhancing democratic participation. On the side of the SPLM, decentralization is also presented as a way to ensure “unity in diversity” and to allow all the people of South Sudan to rule themselves according to their traditions and culture and to fully benefit from peace dividends.
Besides institutional reforms, the decentralized approach to governance also influences many other aspects of the way policies are conceived and implemented. This paper focuses on the authority over land as one of these aspects. It will show how local actors negotiate their authority over land on the basis of both decentralization and land policies. The relationship between stated goals of governmental policies and the way in which they are actually appropriated in specific localities to claim access to land is central to understanding local dynamics of state formation. In the case of South Sudan, both these policies put at their core an extremely politicized idea of community. Drawing upon field research conducted between 2012 and 2013, this paper will argue that increased tensions over land access and control in the rural areas are not caused by the weak control of the state, but rather by the increasing presence and visibility of the state both as a source of legitimate authority and as a means for accessing resources.

Chair and Discussant Session 2: Göran Hydén

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