Decentralization and Development

By Ter Manyang,


Ayod-Ulang SouthSudan

August 5, 2015(Nyamilepedia) —- Decentralization refers to tire systematic effort to delegate to the lowest levels all authority except that which can only be exercised at central points.” —Louis A. Allen. “Decentralization means the division of a group of functions and activities into relatively autonomous units with overall authority and responsibility for their operation delegate to time of cacti unit.’—Earl. P. Strong“Decentralisation is simply a matter of dividing up the managerial work and assigning specific duties to the various executive skills. Whereas development

The systematic use of scientific and technical knowledge to meet specific objectives or requirements.

An extension of the theoretical or practical aspects of a concept, design, discovery, or invention.

The process of economic and social transformation that is based on complex cultural and environmental factors and their interactions.

The process of adding improvements to a parcel of land, such as grading, subdivisions, drainage, access, roads, utilities.

Qn 1. (a)Evaluate the success of Decentralization Policy in Africa.

Dcentralization of authority means conscious/systematic effort to bring dispersal (spreading) of decision-making power to the lower levels of the Organization. In decentralization, only broad powers will be reserved at the top level. Such powers include power to plan, organize, direct and control and maximum powers will delegated to the authority at the lower level. It is just opposite to centralization. Under centralization, authority is mostly concentrated at the top-level management. Centralization and decentralization are mutually dependent. In a large Organization, the process of centralization and decentralization co-exist and reinforce each other.

Decentralization is a natural development when the Organization grows large and complex. Here, centralization of management is neither possible nor desirable. The only practical solution is to divide the Organization into decision-making units and giving the powers to take routine types of decisions about the functioning of those units. This is decentralization in practice. In decentralization, systematic efforts are being made to delegate to the lowest levels all authority except that which can only be exercised at the central points. Decentralization is delegation not from one individual to another but delegation to all units in an Organization. A company is said to be highly decentralized, when the delegation is company-wide in all functions and divisions of the company and also for a wide range of authorities and responsibilities.

Decentralization the deliberate and planned transfer of authority and resources away from the central state institutions to peripheral institutions has acquired considerable popularity especially in developing countries. But this popularity in the scholarly and policy circles has not always been for the best: it has made the term to become slippery (Bird1995), one that means different things to different people (Conyers 1985).

Decentralization takes many forms e.g. the delegation of responsibility and authority to field units of the same department or level of government referred to as deconcentration or the devolution of authority to locally constituted units of government or special purpose authorities. Other forms include privatization, deregulation (Rondinelli 1981) but there are also references to territorial and functional decentralization (United Nations1965, Rondinelli 1981, Smith 1985). Variants in the decentralization family have also been suggested: hybrid or partial decentralization whereby responsibilities and personnel are decentralized but not financing (as in the Decentralization Act of 1982 in Nepal) (Silverman1992: 15). Another is market decentralization referring to the decentralization from governments to market, quasi-market and non-governmental organizations, as distinct from most of the forms mentioned earlier which are referred to as intergovernmental decentralization (Bennett 1994: 11). Market decentralization incorporating not only privatisation,but contracting, fiscal decentralization, public private partnerships has recently acquirednew prominence as it has become a part of the new public sector management reforms which are driven by international finance institutions (IFIs). These are also referred to as forms of economic decentralization (Mackintosh & Roy 1999).

Decentralization is a relative, complex, instrumental and multidimensional process.It is relative in that it describes the distribution of state resources (responsibility, finance,personnel or discretionary authority) between various institutional actors within the state and/or society against some normative mode in space or time. It is complex in that it incorporates and is impacted upon by political, economic, institutional and cultural factors. Moreover, programmes of decentralization are a mixture of centralization, privatisation, and deconcentration and in some cases devolution. These facts make decentralization an instrumental concept in that it is a means to specific ends (improved service delivery, empowerment, poverty alleviation etc not an end in itself. Finally, decentralization is multidimensional process which defines the distribution of power and resources between state and society, the executive and other branches of the government, at micro level between central and local governments, central government and their field administrations,between central/local governments and non-governmental entities as well as at higher levels between governmental units within a federal or international system.

Globally, African countries are the most centralized in terms of formal governance structures. Approaching decentralization as a complex, relative, instrumental and multidimensional process, this paper highlights the motivations and dilemmas of recent decentralization policies and programmes in Africa. It discusses the main features of African decentralization policies and practices in colonial and post-colonial times with special focuson the 1980s and beyond. This period is associated with structural adjustment and democratization’s framework for analyzing decentralization policies and programmes is proposed. This is the basis for suggested improvements in the design and implementation of decentralization policies in African and possibly, other developing states.

Historical, political, economic factors explain the poorer development of local government institutions in developing countries compared to industrialized countries. In the1990s, however, Africa’s national governments (as other less developed (LDCs) and transitional countries) and international development agencies renewed their interest in localself-government institutions as distinct from deconcentrated structures, which have always been favored. These factors include: globalization, economic crisis and the response of structural adjustment, democratization and local, domestic forces such as rapid urbanisation, stronger ethnic identities etc. (See Wunsch&Olowu 1990, McCarney 1996).

The decision to focus on African countries is both pragmatic and deliberate. It ispragmatic in that LDCs constitute a wide diversity of countries; hence a focus on Africamakes the discussion more manageable especially on the subject of decentralization. It isalso deliberate in view of the fact that the relationship between adjustment/democratization and the institutionalization of local government in Latin America, the former EasternEuropean countries and Asia has been the subject of much more systematic research and analysis (Regulska 1993, Campbell 1997, Fukasaku&Hausmann 1998, Rood 2000).

Compared to these other developing countries, decentralization policies have remained poorly analyzed and developed in African countries and local governments are least developedthere than other regions of the world (UNDP 1993).Africa, for instance, has the highest proportion of World Bank (WB) decentralization projects among LDCs, it has the least formal analytical work on decentralization or intergovernmental relations (Litvack et. al 1997: 35). Decentralization policies and programmesin Africa are designed more often because of ideological arguments (whichexult the supremacy of party, state or market) rather than an analysis of the empirical realityof what exists on the ground. This is further aggravated by the paucity of informationon local political economy issues. This may in part, explain why African decentralization evaluations have with but a few, very limited exceptions, been negative (Compare:Rondinelli 1981, Mawhood 1983, Olowu 1988, Crook & Manor 1998; with Olowu 1989,Olowu& Smoke 1992).

Like other LDCs, African states can be described as both highly centralized and decentralized.

In terms of broad state-society relations, African countries are decentralised.Most economic activities remain uncultured by the state, a fact that is regarded as an illustration of state weakness (Hyden 1983, Migdal 1988). On the other hand, they are also highly centralized, having been forged out of colonial conquest. Colonized peoples were regarded as neither possessing the intellectual nor cultural capacities for local self-governance.

Beginning from India and spreading later to Africa, the predominant form of government was ‘indirect rule’. This meant rule by a few colonial officials with the aid of the most compliant traditional rulers. Where no such rulers existed, they were created as in eastern Nigeria and parts of eastern and southern Africa. The objective was to provide the minimal conditions for law and order, taxation and justice for the colonial order. Local administration comprised a native court system, a local tax and a treasury.

The onset of democratization in the 1990s has brought to the fore a fourth wave of decentralization reforms in Africa that are linked to the process of political liberalization and democratization. This fourth wave represents in many countries a discontinuity with past approaches to decentralization in that a deliberate attempt is made to create local governments that are genuinely participatory, responsible to the local communities and relate actively with other local economic factors other than state institutions what has been referred to as local embededness (Evans 1996, Ostrom 1996, Helmsing 2000). In the next section, we discuss in some detail some of the factors that have motivated these fundamental reforms and the dilemmas which these countries confront in designing decentralization policies and programmes which actually enhance democratic participation and improved services.

By the beginning of 1980s, whereas personnel of local governments in OECD countries constituted 42% of all government employees, they were 21 % in Asia, Latin America (29%) and Africa (10%) (Heller &Tait 1983). More recent figures for the early1990s on employee size (Schiavo-Campo 1998) and financial decentralization also follow the same pattern. Data from UNDP’s (1993: 69) Human Development Report 1993 revealsthat in industrial countries, local governments normally account for 20-35% of total government expenditure, (decentralization expenditure ratios are even higher in countries likeDenmark (45%) and Finland (41%). In developing countries, however, the ratio is usuallybelow 15% and the ratio is not substantially higher even when defense and debt servicing are excluded.

The case for centralized governance dominated the policy and academic literature in African decentralization (See Wunsch&Olowu 1990, Hulme& Turner 1997). Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the following factors led to renewed interest in new programmes and policies on decentralization in Africa:

The failure of centralized public sector management evidenced by economic, fiscal and political crises (Wunsch&Olowu 1990). The resulting decline in state resources hasincreased pressure for economic, institutional (public sector) and political reforms(World Bank 1981, 1989, 1997, Cornia&Helleinner 1994) as part of the search fornew paradigms of governance.

The above mentioned failures have stimulated pressures for political reforms by domesticactors outside the state, many of who had become more visible, politically, andmore sophisticated in their critique and protest of state policies as the economic crisisbit harder. Most of these actors sought to bridge the wide gulf between the state and thecitizen by demanding greater involvement of citizens in the policy processes and thesynchronisation of informal local realities with the highly centralized structures and operations of the (formal) state system. The most dominant form of politics in Africa islocal politics but the state has always been organized in manner that is oblivious of thisreality. This is a phenomenon, which, some argue, is responsible for the persistence oftwo publics long after the colonial period the amoral, formal public and the informal public, which is the real public realm to which most citizens, hold moral allegiance. (SeeEkeh 1975, Joseph 1987, Hyden 1999).

Pressure from external donors: This is an important consideration given the fact many African states are heavily dependent on donor funds for development expenditures. Democratic decentralization is regarded as one of the key elements of good governance (GG) programmes. The others are: transparency, accountability, rule of law, electoralreforms and conflict mitigation. GG programmes are regarded as key to alleviatingpoverty to which most bilateral and multilateral donors had committed themselves inthe 1990s (UNDP 1997, OECD 1997). The European Union and several European bilateral donors initiated programmes of ‘decentralized co-operation’, which look beyondthe traditional central government organs in the recipient countries to incorporate private, non-governmental and local government organs (see Hertog 1999, Materu et. Al2000).

Growing urbanization and metropolitanisation in most countries.Urbanisation is variable in Africa but it is marked everywhere by high rates of growth. As Table 1 shows,African urbanization level is low by world standards (40% compared to a world average of 51%). However, the rate of growth for the region is high. The southern part isthe fastest growing region followed by the west, east and north (UNCHS 1996).This phenomenon is itself only a symptom of fundamental changes to the modes ofeconomic production on the continent. Structural adjustment stimulated economic diversificationin most countries. In agriculture, many producers have moved away fromcash to arable farming and agrobasedindustrialisation. There has also been a greatermovement of people to the service industries.

Retrenchment in the public and privatesectors has led to the led to the growth of the informal/service sectors which are basedmainly in cities. Other forces have also stimulated greater massive urban migration besidesthe traditional push-pull factors. One of these is the increased number of femaleshaving secondary education and another has been the massive movement of people inconflict prone societies to the safety of the major cities. Whereas primary education hasfallen compared to 1980, secondary education has actually increased by more thandouble (from 10% of age group to 22% between 1980 and 1993 for females and from20% to 27% for males (World Bank 1997: 227). Many metropolitan cities in Africa especiallyhave swollen, and the more so if they are in countries that have experiencedmassive conflict in recent times. (See Rakodi 1997). Urban population has thus risenfrom 23% in 1980 to 31% in 1995 and the proportion of the total population living incities of over 1 million population have risen from only 5% in 1980 to 8% in 1995(World Bank 1997:231).

In the past, the infrastructures for the few major urban centers were financed from centralstate coffers via the instrumentality of central government parastatals, which were created to deliver important services. Economic restructuring has led in many countriesto the dissolution of several of these parastatals and their responsibilities transferred to,or taken over by local authorities or private sector organizations (see Rakodi 1997).Urbanizations is also indicative of the increasing sophistication of the peoples of thecontinent and their intolerance for old forms of domination by central and local elites.

The conscious use of decentralization as a political mechanism by ruling groups toneutralise, contain or seek compromises with regional or local elites (Crook & Manor1998, Boone 1998).Decentralization has proved to be a crucial mechanism in nationaland international efforts at conflict resolution in many parts of the continent. It played arole for instance in the resolution of the long conflicts in Ethiopia, South Africa andMozambique and looks promising in the resolution of raging conflicts in the Sudan, Morocco, Angola, Senegal, the two Congos etc.

Globalization has also compelled many national governments to adopt decentralisation.Increasingly, state actors realize that they must compete for resources globally and theycan no longer afford to be pre-occupied with routine management matters in cities anddistricts as they once did. Moreover, structural adjustment, retrenchment have reducedstate fiscal and human resources. It becomes necessary to make use of the remainingofficials in the most strategic areas, leaving detailed management to other institutional actors, under programmes of decentralization.

In general, it is possible to discern in the period two forces orchestrating democratic or devolutionary decentralization (DD). Donors promote the first and civilsociety actors aimed at empowering the people by giving them greater opportunities for ‘voice’, promote self-governance, and resource mobilization. In particular, DD is sought toremedy the three most serious institutional weaknesses of African governmental systemsweak accountability, poor integration between formal and informal structures of governanceand poor quantity and quality of basic service delivery. Accountability is weak in most public sector organizations because public service norms and enforcement mechanismsare weak. Formal, state-based structures are also separated from the informal, community-based structures and NGOs. Finally, weak and ineffective tax instruments togetherwith these other two problems result in poor and unsustainable delivery of basic services in most communities (Ekeh 1975, Dia 1996, Joseph 1999). The second stream of demand forDD is from central state actors who see DD as an opportunity to dump responsibilitieswhich they can no longer deliver, given the steady decline of state financial and human resources.

These two streams coalesce and have stimulated the development of DD in thecontinent. Nevertheless, they also contributed to some of the most serious obstacles whichthe implementation of DD programmes confronts.

Evaluation of African Decentralization Policies and Programmes

As already noted above, a new form of decentralization programme is discernible in countries such as Uganda, South Africa, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia. What constitutes the main elements of this new form of decentralization?

Conventionally, evaluations of decentralization programmes tend to focus on institutions or processes. Attempt is usually made to measure the extent to which decentralization policies or processes increase the autonomy of decentralized agencies (See for instance Rondinelli 1981, Ayee 1996, Vengroff&Umeh 1997, etc). Selznik (1949), for instance, suggested the following four criteria: a) discretion: the powers to determine what to do; b) personnel: the power to hire and fire; c) finance: the power to raise and commit resources; and d) Co-operation: the power to establish harmonious relationships between the organization and its environment.

Building on these earlier efforts, we propose that since decentralization is a means not an end in itself, it is necessary to establish the goals which decentralization policies seek and distinguish these from the means or mechanisms for realizing such goals. In developing an analytical framework, the three sub-goals identified earlier for DD are utilized. These are accountable use of resources, institutional synergy between formal and informalstructures and effective service delivery. They are intermediate to the goals of self-governance, democratic participation, institutional diversity and differentiation andeconomic growth that is mentioned either explicitly or implicitly in many decentralization policy statements (see Adamolekun 1991, Wunsch 1991, Smith 1996, Ostrom 1996, Dia 1996, OECD 1997, Gershberg 1998, Olowu 1999, Barkan 1998, Blair 2000).

The analysis, which follows, takes four sample cases from the more progressive forms of devolutionary decentralization and federal forms and contrasts them with one case of the conventional type (Ghana). As was pointed out earlier, deconcentration could be a legitimate policy goal. However, its objective is essentially to decongest the central government and possibly increase central government control on the localities. To the extent that incentives are created for effective performance of central functions, it has value in increasing policy implementation effectiveness. Devolution and federalism, on the other hand, seek to create incentives for local (governance) actors to make and implement decisions in respect of crucial, locally based services, thus forcing them to mobilize resources and strategize their use in a responsible way.

Seven major mechanisms are used to implement DD and can be used to evaluate the extent of decentralization in any country. The analysis starts with the allocation of responsibilities for services between central and local level governments. In a completely centralized polity, the central government no matter how local delivers all services. The principle of subsidiarity suggests that as much as possible the smallest beneficiary local community should provide its own services, assuming that it has access to the required revenues. As already indicated above, many countries in LDCs do decentralize responsibilities but not the means of financing the programme of decentralization. A second mechanism in decentralization is therefore the decentralization of financing of devolved responsibilities. The arrangements could be in the form of granting to local governments their own revenue sources (with responsibilities to set the base and rate), cost recovery (nominal, full or partial), transfers from higher governments and granting them borrowing powers. The third mechanism is the decentralization of decision-making powers.

Many central governments would give financial powers to local communities but not the decision-making powers to approve budgets or laws. Such decisions continue to be made by the central government often defeating the very essence of decentralization. For instance, there is documented evidence that central governments cause delays in approving local government budgets in Kenya and Nigeria, and that this constitutes an important explanation of programme implementation failures. In the latter country it led to radical reforms of local government in the 1980s (Oyugi 1990, Olowu 1990). But this is a responsibility that could and should be undertaken by local governments that are responsible to their constituents.

The fourth mechanism is the management of the personnel of decentralized services whether by central or local entities. For various reasons this often takes a longer timeto fully delegate to local governments. The unified approach is a mid-way house betweenthe extremes of integrated and separate personnel arrangements but unified services in many African countries have ended up functioning as integrated personnel systems. Furthermore,many professionals are reluctant to work in local governments, fearing reductionin their status or job security. Different approaches have been used to resolve this problemin many countries (see Tendler’s (1997) analysis of health sector reform in Brazil 1987-92and Olowu&Wunsch’s (1990) analysis of the same phenomenon in Nigeria).

The fifth and often a very difficult mechanism is the one relating to the enforcement of local government accountability. Should national government bureaucracies or local assemblies enforce accountability? Both are problematic in developing country circumstances.Contrary to conventional thinking, accountability is actually weak even in nationalgovernments because there are no strong institutions to canvass for or enforce accountabilityat this level. Many central agencies are limited to post-audit financial reports and eventhis is in arrears in some countries of up to 5-10 years. Similarly, citizens at the local levelare not able to use either voice or exit options because of the high transaction costs involvede.g. moving from one locality to another without credit, reliable information or accessto land etc. Although central governments try to enforce accountability at local levels,through inspectorates and dissolution of erring councils, this has not institutionalizedhigher levels of integrity among local officials or their accountability to local citizens.

Clearly, a mixture of both central and local accounting institutions will be needed but the systems that have worked better are those in which effort has been made to create independent organs of accountability: special audit bodies (Uganda), local ombudsmen or complaints bodies (Nigeria).

The sixth mechanism is the involvement of other institutional actors outside the state in the delivery of services. There are two possibilities here to involve private andNGOs or communities as agents or privatize the services to them. In the former, they helpto produce the service while the responsibility for provision rests with the council. In the latter, these organizations are responsible for providing and producing the service, undersome form of local authority regulatory framework.

Finally, there is the extent of political competition that is allowed at the local level. Some countries legally disallow party competition at the local level even though they may as in Ghana permit them at the national level. In other countries party competition is barred at the national and local levels as in Uganda but citizens are allowed to make reasoned choices among several candidates that are in effect sponsored by different local political forces. Yet, in others, the state may officially allow multi parties but effectively ensure the neutralization of political forces at the local level and at times even at the national level as well (Ethiopia).

This framework does not assume that any form of decentralization is either good or bad. Rather, evaluation is made contingent on the three objective goals of decentralization: accountable use of resources, institutional synergy and services delivery and the seven suggested mechanisms that are used to measure the maturity or success of any programme/policy of decentralization. Besides, overall judgments of whether the programme of decentralization is deconcentrated or devolved is the outcome of the analysis rather than accepting official labels, which can be very confusing. Finally, the framework analyses decentralization from the viewpoint of polycentric or complex networks in which each of the institutional actors (central, local government, private and nongovernmental organizations) are essential players. For instance, it is paradoxical but significant fact that effective decentralization requires the deliberate strengthening of central institutions and agencies to enable them to support the effectiveness of decentralized agencies. (Adamolekun 1999, Ostrom 1996, Tendler 1997, Gershberg 1998).

Case studies of five national decentralization programmes are analyzed below.


Until the adoption of a democratic federal constitution of ten autonomous federal regional states in December 1994, Ethiopia was ruled for many years first as a feudal empire and from 1975, as a highly centralized Leninist socialist state led by the military. The new Ethiopian constitution, adopted after the election of the current government in 1995 stipulates that ‘every nationality and people. has the right to a full measure of self government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits..’The regions vary widely in population and competence. Oromiya, the largest state has a population of 17 million whereas Gambela contains only 110,000 populations. They have wide (residual) powers including the ability to secede from the federation. They are empowered ‘to establish a state administration that best advances self-rule and a democratic order ‘ in their states. Their responsibilities include the formulation and execution of economic and social development policies, land and natural resource, state police forces and maintenance of public order. Below the regions are Zones, Words (or districts) and kebeles (communes) all of which are assigned specific responsibilities within the province of the state but devolution is mainly felt at the level of the Woredas. They formulate their own budgets and are responsible for front-line responsibilities such as health, education, and soil conservation, observation of legal rights and law and order. The kebele functions to all intents and purposes as a field administration of the worked.

The Amhara regional constitution, for instance, empowers the woreda administration to implement regional laws and regulations, to make social and economic development plans for its locality, decide on its own internal affairs and to develop its locality. It also has a judicial unit from which appeals can be made to other regional courts (Zikre Gazette 1995).

On financing arrangements, Ethiopian regions are entitled to levy and collect taxes on incomes, utilities, private property, mining rent and royalties on forest resources. They also share in the concurrent taxation of profits and, mining rents etc. Given the variable institutional capacity of the regions and other sub-national units, it is not surprising that federal transfers to the states have become the major means of financing the new federal system. In 1994/5, the regions collected only 18% of domestic tax revenues but they were responsible for almost 36% of the total (recurrent and capital) expenditures in the country.

In the social sector especially schools and health services the share of the centre has fallen to only 27%, with the regional agencies and others responsible for the balance of over 70%.

On Decision Making Powers, the Ethiopian regions, woredas and kebeles have elective offices, a sharp contrast to several years of imperial and socialist governments when all of these positions were appointed by the state. These organs are also helping to bridge the wide gulf between the formal and informal structures. The informal structures have been used as a platform to define a different agenda from the national level politics although the opportunity has also been used to settle political scores.

On personnel management, regional governments are responsible for managing their own personnel. From a situation in which all personnel were central personnel, today, the regional states have ten times (200,000) more personnel than the central government (20,000). Personnel at the local government level (woredas, kebeles) are however, paid by and responsible to the regional state.

Accountability Mechanisms: In spite of their heavy dependence on the federal government for funds, Ethiopian regional states were originally responsible only to themselves. In 1997, following a number of scandalous revelations of financial malfeasance in the regions, a new finance bill was passed into law, which made it mandatory for regions to account for federal transfers to the federal auditor general. Each state has its own auditor but the capacity of the regions is so variable. At the regional level, the tradition of accountability to higher government bureaucracy has continued even though a number of structures exist at the local level to enforce accountability. For instance, many communities have been able to utilize their power of recall (in federal and state constitutions) to dismiss ‘corrupt’ politicians, often leading to considerable instability in some regions. In spite of some of the negative overtones of these provisions, the practice is helping to develop a new culture of accountability at the local level.

Other Institutional Actors: There is very limited involvement of other institutional actors in the delivery of services in Ethiopia. However, in the health sector, there are a number of non-governmental agencies that are active. Ditto for water in the arid areas of the country. However, there is very little linkage between the local government system and these organizations.

Party Political Competition at the Local Level: Even though the constitution grants the citizens freedom of political association, the ruling party has managed to effectively neutralize the other political parties, which are mainly ethnic based. They are not represented in the parliament and they do not control any region. The opposition argues that Ethiopian ‘democratic’ elections were rigged (Young 1997, Ayenew 1998).


Museveni’s National Resistance Army fought different Uganda governments (led by Okello and Obote) to a standstill and ultimately took power from the Obote administration in 1986. Museveni argued that his struggle was against misrule and chaos. Originally, the new local governments were created around the Resistance councils, which the government found useful in its guerrilla struggles. In 1993, a statute was passed consolidating these councils into five tiers of local councils comprising village, parish, sub county, county and district councils. The district council is the apex of the system of local government and had extensive powers for formulating socio-economic development plans and providing basic infrastructure and social services. When the new national constitution was introduced in 1997, the system of local government was an important element of that constitution. A new law, the Ugandan Local Governments Act of 1997 created (from the erstwhile Resistance councils) 45 district/city, 13 municipal, 863 sub-county/city and 970 town councils.

Local authorities are given broad powers to develop their local communities. These include:

education services which cover primary, secondary, trade, special and technical education; medical and health services including hospitals, health centres, dispensaries, maternity and other basic health services, water services, road services that are not under the responsibility of the national government, long list of competencies in land use and administration, forests, water, women etc. (Lubanga 1995, Timbaingana 1998).

Financing Arrangements: Local governments in Uganda have access to select own revenues. These include graduated personal tax, rates, rents, property tax, royalties, stamp duties, registration fees, market dues, trade licenses and fees. It is the sub-county level that collects these revenues out of which it remits 35% to the district council, 25% and 5% each to the village, parish and county councils respectively. In the cities, lower divisions remit 50% to the urban/municipal councils. But the backbone of the local government finance in Uganda are the various transfers of financial resources to the local governments by the national government. The broad responsibilities given to these councils and the relatively low levels of the revenue bases made dependence on central government transfers inevitable.

The national government has worked out a principle of transferring substantial resources to local governments. They comprise unconditional, conditional (for feeder roads maintenance, primary education, primary health care and agricultural extension) and equalization grants. In 1996/97, the central government transfers amounted to 176.5 million Ugandan shillings. More than one half of this went to the payment of salaries in primary and secondary schools. A Local Government Finance Commission has been set up with responsibility for monitoring and recommending the appropriate formula for distributing transfers to LGs.

The fact that sub counties and divisions can retain a substantial portion of their revenue collections has led to a 70% increase in the revenue collections of the district and urban councils in that country.

Decision Making Powers: Before 1986, central government field officials administered local governments in Uganda. This has given way to closely contested elections at each of the five levels in spite of the absence of multiparty politics. The newly constituted local bodies are responsible for approving budgets, rather than refer them to central government

for approval as was done in the past.

Personnel Management of Decentralized Services: The Ugandan government undertook a major reorganization of the system of personnel management at the local government

level. Before this time, local government officials were either civil servant seconded to LGs or placed in a unified personnel system for all local governments in the country. The reforms constituted each district council into a separate personnel agency.

The weakness with the unified system was that senior local government personnel were treated for all intents and purposes as central government staff. This was because central government officials managed the unified structures, as it is the case in many other African countries that utilize the unified personnel system.

District executive secretaries and town clerks have responsibility for LG employees and pay their salaries, assisted by a district service committee. Field officers of decentralized functions have been transferred to LGs. Each district has a district service committee responsible for LG employee matters. In turn, secretaries and town clerks are responsible to the local councils even though most of the salaries of LG staff are paid through transfers from the central government.

Accountability mechanisms: There is an attempt to get the local governments to rely more on local rather than central institutions. To this end, a number of institutions have been created. They include the LG Tenders Board, an LG Public Accounts Committee, which serves as a form of Public Accounts Committee for LGs in a district and a Local Government Auditor. These institutions have been quite effective in detecting corruption in the system and the local councils are closely involved in their operations.

Involvement of Other Institutional Actors: Private sector and non-governmental organizations are utilized as agents for the local governments for production and provision of some services. Several services have also been privatized to private and not for profit organizations.

Besides, many district and municipal councils have, for instance, contracted with private enterprises the collection of their revenues. Local level privatization has been limited.

Cote d’Ivoire:

Two major forces French colonization and the dominant single party, the Partidemocratique de la Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), had shaped politics, economy and administration.

But by the 1980s, cocoa and coffee prices slumped in the world market. Moreover, there were strong resentments against excessive authoritarianism and corruption among the ruling elites, which was perceived to have led to the immiseration of the masses of the rural peasants.

A radical reform of the system of local governance was undertaken in the late 1980s to rejuvenate the political system and to reduce the financial squeeze on the central government. Between 1987 and 1995, 135 newly elected communes (local bodies) were created for Abidjan (which had ten of these municipalities and other smaller towns and cities.

Communities formed the basis of this commune system rather than the old administrative structures the model population of each commune was around 10,000 although it was quite variable. Crook (1996: 702) notes the main features of this system:

Each commune is an authority with legal personality and ‘financial autonomy’.

meaning. the right to create and manage its own budget, property and resources.Legal accountability to democratically elected officials is firmly based atthe local level. The mayor and his deputies who form the executive authority are elected councilors, elected to office by the municipal council, not appointed bygovernment as in the pre-1980 system. The mayor can appoint and dismiss communes taff (except the seconded chief administrative posts) but all the employees including civil servants are accountable to the mayor. The executive is formally accountable to the council. The council itself is a wholly elected body.

Broad competence is given to these communes in terms of responsibilities provision of educational buildings and equipment, cultural and social facilities, public health and sanitary services, maintenance of local roads, markets, bus stations, administrative services including census, births, deaths and marriages, allocation plots and plot development.

Some old style financial controls are still in place. The communes make and approve their budgets but they are implemented by the central government Treasury departments e.g. payment of creditors. Communes are still subject to close supervision by the Ministry of Interior and also have very little control over their rates of taxation or rates collection.

Even though one of the key motivations for the reform was the mobilization of local and private financial sources, the central government has been quite generous in providing fiscal transfers to the communes to sustain the reform.

Even though the democratic structures exist and are functional, the channels of consultation between local citizens and local political and administrative officials remain constrained and as a result communes are not always responsive to the needs of their citizens. Crook (1996:702-3) notes that unlike many other countries with ‘mixed ‘forms of devolution/decentralization, Ivorian communal administration is not simply a regrouping of deconcentrated central ministries under the nominal control of an elected council.


Nigeria initiated a global programme of devolutionary decentralization in 1976 in the hope that these structures will form the basis for democratic renewal and the restoration of civilian government. Successive (military) administrations sought to sustain and deepen these reforms. In particular, from 1988 to 1992, the military government under the leadership of Ibrahim Babangida took some far-reaching decisions, which were aimed at improving the effectiveness of democratically elected local governments in Nigeria (Gboyega 1998). This included the abolition of the state ministries of local governments, which were thought to be the clog in the wheel of local government progress. Federal transfers were now paid directly to the local governments rather than passed through the states in conformity with federal practice. In addition, local governments were granted the authority to make and approve their own budgets; in the past such approvals were given by state authorities and were often delayed. Primary and basic health education was transferred to the local governments. In view of the additional financial implications of this development, the total amounts of federal transfers to local governments were increased from 10% (it was only 3% in 1976) to 20% of federal revenues. Considering the fact that this was in the hey days of an oil boom, this led to huge increases in local government revenues.

The results have been impressive. The quality of their leadership both political and administrative improved dramatically. The local governments also increased their capacity to deliver services to their clientele leading to substantial improvements in the quality of basic infrastructures a fact that was further helped by special initiatives on rural infrastructures and credit. On the other hand, the reforms boosted the power of the local chief executives without a corresponding effectiveness of citizens’ control. Under the fourth republic the state assemblies who now have the responsibility for local government oversight and policy development have captured most of powers devolved by the federal government to local governments. (Olowu 1996, Gboyega 1998).

Up to the present time, the fortunes of the Nigerian local government system have been tied to that of the country’s successive military governments’ political civilianization programmes. The resulting local government system is adjudged to have facilitated the delivery of services and a more even distribution of the country’s resources leading to economic progress and political stability in a country dominated by the excesses and corruption of military officials at state and national levels.

In Nigeria’s fourth republic (which began in May 1999), local governments exercise all the powers of autonomous governments they were originally conceived as third tiers of Nigeria’s federal democracy (Adamolekun 1984). They have access to own revenues and huge intergovernmental transfers (including a share of VAT), own personnel and budgetary powers and all political parties freely canvass for votes here as they do at other levels. Local governments are actively engaging private and non-governmental and community organizations in the provision of goods and services.


The Ghanaian decentralization programme transferred 86 responsibilities to the new Ghanaian 110 district assemblies. These responsibilities were ones which central government departments and agencies delivered in the past primary and secondary schools, hospitals, road construction and maintenance. Generous own revenues were allocated to the local governments, which provide 80% of total revenues of the councils, the rest coming from central government transfers. Central government personnel responsible for decentralized services from 22 central government departments were mandated to work in the districts thus unifying the local field administration system with the local government system.

Over ten years since the current decentralization were initiated; the field agencies remain uninterested into the district assemblies. They still receive their authorization and funds from their headquarters and the relevant laws to effect the decentralized administration envisaged under the programme remain unsigned. Furthermore, the budgets of these districts must be approved by central agencies. Their topmost personnel continue to be central officials. The most prominent person at the local level is the District Chief Executive (DCE), a central government appointee who chairs the executive meetings of the council comprising elected councilors. He also represents the district assembly in the regional planning council (Ayee 1999). The major form of accountability is still to the central government but this has not prevented the loss of huge sums of money. For instance, some 25 of these District Chief Executives (DCEs) were dismissed in 1997 for corruption (Ayee 1996, 1997). Non-governmental organizations are quite active in the delivery of basic services in various communities but there is little or no direct contact with the districts (Crook 1994).

It is possible to argue that the Ghanaian decentralization programme was rather ambitious in the sense that it expected local governments with weak governance capacities to manage responsibilities, financial and human resources of 22 central government departments in the field. In this sense, it attempted to fuse field administration and local governments.

This has not worked as the critical legal and administrative instruments were not implemented ten years after the reform and there has been resistance from administrators to such draconian fusion of local and field administrative systems. Besides, the reform also represent an attempt to promote the ruling party (indirectly) in the communities by adopting the non-party electoral systems as the ruling party had all the advantages including nominating 30% of the membership, including members of the parliament as members of the district assembly councils and appointing the chief executives of the DA. As it happened, this one-party rule seems to have boomeranged in that the Ghanaian people in 2001 successfully voted out the ruling party at the national level. This is likely to bring about dramatic changes the Ghanaian local government system.

  1. b) Discuss, with examples four major Problems faced by Decentralization Policy in African Countries.

Democratic decentralization confronts serious problems of policy design and implementation

in all countries and especially in poor African countries.

In the past, the problems that DD faced theoretical objections. For example, somescholars wondered whether local government and democracy are indeed compatible evenin industrial societies. They argued that democracy exults the principle of equality whereaslocal governments celebrate the principle of differentiation (Langrod 1953). Moreover, seriousdoubts were cast on the idea of local democracy in developing countries where thepreconditions for popular democracy high literacy levels, communication and education,an established and secure middle class, a vibrant civil society, relatively limited forms ofmaterial and social inequality and a broadly secular public ideology. All of these are theproduct of the industrial or capitalist revolution, which are yet to take place in most countriesof the developing world (Huntington 1968, Hyden 1983, Leftwich 1993).

Secondly, it was also argued that local autonomy is only feasible at high levels ofeconomic development. Fred Riggs (1964) spoke of the ‘law’ of circular causation in poor countries. Decentralization would only promote the decentralization of poverty. (See alsoPrud’homme 1995 and Bennett 1994). According to this view, local governments’ maymake contributions to the locative functions of government but they generally cannotcontribute positively to distributive and stabilization functions. However, in a developingcountry context, local governments are even not able to make any contributions to a locative efficiency for a variety of reasons, the absence of a democratic culture, inter-local mobilityproblems and most importantly, because of rampart corruption at the local level(Prud’homme 1995).

Recent experiences of successful DDs in LDCs have challenged these views. Thereis increasing evidence that local governments can contribute to the resolution of the governancecrisis confronted by many African countries (World Bank 1989:60). Evidence alsoexists which shows that local people possess substantial knowledge of their environmentsand their societies to enable them contribute to solving their own problems locally (Richards1985, Olowu et al. 1991, Dia 1996, Esman&Uphoff 1984). Appropriate institutionaland policy design can help ensure that local governments impact positively on efficiency,equity and macroeconomic stability (Ostrom et. al 1993, Silverman 1997, Litvacket al. 1998).

Currently, the feasibility of local government in African states seems to turn on the practical problems confronting decentralization. These can be categorized into three dilemmas political, economic and managerial dilemmas, which confront local governmentreforms in Africa.

Political Dilemmas: Devolutionary decentralization (DD) confronts two major politicalproblems. The first is the unwillingness of political and administrative leaders toshare monopoly power-inherited since colonial times. This is in part due to fears that devolutionary decentralization might undermine national cohesion and fan the embers of secessionwhich are usually real considerations in societies in which ethnic and communityloyalties are quite strong relative to national cohesion. Politics is always defined in localterms. There is also the fear that devolution might compromise the integrity of nationallydelivered services. In many instances, these rational fears are often a cloak for the fear ofloosening their grip on political power which in many countries is monopolized by the ruling elites at the centre. Another way of looking at these problems is that devolutionary decentralization is viewed in the lenses of a zero-sum power game in which local actorsgain at the expense of the centre rather than a positive sum power game in which all playersboth local and centre gain over time.

Different strategies are utilized to ensure continuing central control. In Ghana, governmentappointed District Council Executives wield power over the elected councils. InZimbabwe, the Ministry of Local Government dissolves the councils at will. In Tanzania, senior administrators express strong fears to decentralization since it might lead to serious corruption and mis use by councilors (Ayee 1996, Barkan 1998).

A second political dilemma is the problem of local elite capture. In many instances,it is local elites rather than the most vulnerable that capture decentralized power which is then utilized to repress the local minorities including women and stranger elementsin the various communities. Many traditional rulers in different parts of Africa have used decentralized power to obstruct development of their people by diverting decentralized resources to personal uses and are thus opposed to forms of basic modern education, health, sanitation and water supplies because of their fear that these may break their holdon local power. The strong effort made by the military to promote DD in Nigeria from themid 1970scrystallised in the emergence in the early 1990s of very powerful elected local government chief executives who abused these powers. Similar developments were noticedin the urban municipalities of Tanzania with cities selling choice public lands reserved for constructing school playgrounds, roads and infrastructure development, tree planting andprotected species to Asians and Arabs. (Gboyega 1998, Mukandala 1998).

Economic Dilemmas: Decentralization in poor countries confronts three major dilemmas.First, as earlier noted above, there is the fear that devolution may complicate the tasks of economic stabilization, as central actors are not able to effectively control localspending. Many also believe that local governments are not very good at addressing redistributionquestions although this is the case only when the focus is on inter-jurisdictionalrather than intra-jurisdictional inequalities. Even the latter is based on the faulty assumptionof citizens’ easy mobility from one locality to another. On the other hand, evidence hasbeen adduced to show that local governments can be effective in redressing not only intra-localand inter-local disparities if backed by appropriate intergovernmental transfer systems(Smoke 1999, For the Nigerian case see Olowu 1990).

Secondly, to what extent is decentralization feasible in the absence of wider institutional, political and economic reforms? Centralized infrastructure investment decision bypublic and private agencies make it difficult to implement decentralization. For instance,Nzokenu (1994) suggested the need for land reforms in many parts of Africa if decentralization is to be advanced in many rural parts of Africa land is presently held by local elitesor governments in trust for the people, but in reality it is only accessible to the rich andpowerful. But land reform must also be accompanied with the reform of the banking systemwhich at the present time is concentrated in the urban centres. A number of experimentsof community banking have shown the great possibilities which exists for mobilizing idle savings in the rural areas for economic development purposes (Webster & Fiddler1996, Mabogunje 1995).

Clearly, the development of a favorable local economic system will provide the enabling environment for the development of critical economic and socialinfrastructure all, which are crucial for economic development.Similarly, an independent judiciary as an independent arbiter is crucial to the enhancement of decentralized governance. Instead of relying on central governments toresolve disputes between local government authorities or between local government andthe national governments, a strengthened judiciary can more impartially resolve these issues.Similarly, effective local legislatures can act as more effective checks on local executivesthan the central government in many instances.

A third economic dilemma arising from all of the above mentioned considerations is that decentralization involves more not less costs the costs of new institutions, staffing,procedures and training for all concerned etc (World Health Organization 1997). In theshort run, resources must be mobilized to underwrite decentralization. Unfortunately, manycountries have a very weak fiscal resource base and cannot therefore finance this costs.Indeed; fiscal crisis was one of the most important reasons why political and economic reforms, including decentralization were undertaken.

Policy and Management Dilemmas: An appropriate institutional design that respondadequately to the above mentioned problems and how to sustain the programme of decentralization once initiated constitute the key policy and management dilemmas. Theproblem is compounded by the absence of reliable data on governmental performance andalso by weak policy management capacity at central and local levels in developing countriesgenerally but especially so in African countries (Grindle& Thomas 1990, Mutahaba&Balogun 1992).

This third set of problems are usually the most difficult to resolve. Some of themost difficult design and management issues include the following: how to implement decentralization policies in all parts of a country, given their different levels of developmentincluding the possibilities of adopting a phased approach, how to transform the zero-sum game perception of decentralization into a positive-sum game in which all sides gain.Other critical design issues include: how to ensure that decentralization helps national integration rather than secessionist bids, how to mobilize the necessary resources to finance the heavy cost of decentralization reforms which are often designed in the first instance to reducecosts. Yet, other issues also include allocation of responsibilities between central andlocal governments and between different tiers of local authorities; the balance between financialpowers and/or resources and allocated responsibilities, the treatment of regions asdistinct from local community structures; and of rural and urban areas etc. Another difficultdesign issue is how to integrate the informal structures of community governance withthe formal structures of the state without undermining the integrity of either of the two.Failure in any of these areas has often meant the death knell of local government reformsin many countries of Africa.

These problems have remained pervasive in most countries, almost negating all efforts

at democratic decentralization. Five country cases are reviewed below.


Conclusively the fact is that among countries pursuing democratic decentralization as a policy choice, fundamentally new orientations arediscernible. Greater attention is paid to local peoples’ participation and their empowerment,the accountability of local governments to local people and close interaction with localnon-state institutions.DD implies a new set of responsibilities for central governments. The capacityto undertake policy development, review and monitor decentralization policy implementation in the central government is lacking in many countries. There is a tendency toresort to the suspension of local councils as the solution to tackling teething problems of local government institutionalization.


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The author, Ter Manyang, is an administrator and chairman of Gawaar Nuer-Community in Uganda. He worked with South Sudanese Students’ Union in 2011-2012 as a chairman of anti-of corruption commission. He become chairman of electoral commission of Naath Universities and Colleges Students’ Union in Uganda from 2014-2015 and he formed an organization called Youth Action Development Network in Uganda, he is executive director of YADN.

Ter Manyang Gatwech is pursuing his Masters of Public Administration and Management at Cavendish Universityb Uganda and reached me via- or twitter, @Ter-Manyang.


  1 comment for “Decentralization and Development

  1. Stephen pam gai
    August 6, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Mr Ter, you talk on definition of decentralization without pick point that u are talking about in this situation of s sudan


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