In the shadows of autonomy: Decentralized state structures and local
contexts in Africa
Dr. Matthew Sabbi, University of Bayreuth
Dr. Lamine Doumbia, DHIP-Dakar
Decentralization processes in Africa are ordinarily supposed to enhance the autonomy of local institutions to deliver local services. Against the backdrop of a strong local arena,s these processes also open up spaces and interfaces between different sets of actors inside and outside of the local bureaucracy. This creates particular challenges for processes of decentralisation. The interactions of local actors shape both public services and the character of the bureaucracy. This panel is interested in the diversity of actors, their logic of action and consequences for the activities of African municipal governments.
Decentralized municipal governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have both democracy and local transformation responsibilities. Though decentralization should ordinarily enhance the autonomy of local institutions to deliver services, we find that actual public authority is co-produced through interface with actors outside of the state bureaucracies. The interface also affects the behaviour of the local bureaucracy. Surprisingly, this challenge is widely overlooked by research and by policy makers and the actors in the local political arena do not receive adequate scholarly attention. While extant studies focus on the behaviour of professionals in state bureaucracies, the aim of this panel goes a step further by integrating actors on the margins. Decentralization processes open and/or strengthen the local political arena with a host of actors and institutions including the bureaucracy, councillors, neo-traditional authorities, local ‘big men’, youth group and local movements. Some of these actors and institutions are new and follow formal state practices while others follow pre-colonial concepts and institutions to legitimize themselves. These diverse actors and interfaces altogether shape, contest and adapt to bureaucratic practices of the state. We are particularly interested in how these different logics and interfaces mimic and affect delivery of everyday municipal services. Topics of interest to this panel include among others:
- Who are the state and non-state actors in decentralized the municipal arena; and under what conditions do municipalities work?
- What innovative strategies frame encounters between municipal officials and residents/ grassroots actors and institutions?
- Who takes the lead in the co-production of local authority; and how autonomous are municipal administrations?
- How are topics on accountability and responsiveness framed and pursued by the different sets of actors?
- Do decentralization processes and the interfaces bring more democracy and more participation; or do decentralization processes decrease such expectations?