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Centralization and Decentralization: Compatible Governance Concepts and Practices  

Eva M. Witesman

The extent to which governance structures are centralized or decentralized is a key consideration for public administrators. While centralization and decentralization seem to represent opposite approaches to the structure of public organizations, the two frequently co-exist simultaneously in what is alternately deemed a comfortable coexistence or a paradoxical tension. Public institution reform efforts may call for increased centralizing forces (such as hierarchy, unification, and governance) or decentralizing ones (such as marketization, devolution of power, deconcentration, and diversification). Public administrators calling for structural reform are often driven toward either centralization or decentralization by particular sets of public values. Values such as accountability, power, and efficiency favor centralized governance, while values such as responsiveness, engagement, and innovation favor decentralization. Thus, the design of public administration structures and processes frequently exist as an expression of value-based norms. Both centralization and decentralization are associated with distinct advantages for achieving specific public value goals. Conversely, each approach has unique weaknesses that create opportunities for corruption. The pursuit of public value goals and the avoidance of corruption are two primary drivers that motivate structural reform. While structural reforms may be viewed as swings of a pendulum between two extreme ideal states (fully centralized or fully decentralized), a growing consensus in the scholarship suggests that centralized and decentralized structures are internally compatible and complementary. In other words, both centralized and decentralized structures frequently co-exist within the same institutions, often creating a dynamic tension between values. This creates an increasingly complex structural paradigm for the expression of public values. The result is that many governance structures appear to be evolving toward new models in which elements of both centralized and decentralized control are observed simultaneously.


The Capacity of Decentralization to Promote Democracy and Development in Africa  

Amy R. Poteete

The multifaceted nature of decentralization, democracy, and development renders relationships among them ambivalent and conditional. It is certainly possible to decentralize in ways that foster local democracy and improvements in socioeconomic well-being. The empirical record, however, is mixed, and not only because the phenomena of interest have multiple dimensions and are open to interpretation. Whatever its form, decentralization is inherently political. In the African context, the extent and form of decentralization has been influenced by international support, the challenges of extending state authority in relatively young multi-ethnic states, and, increasingly, electoral considerations. By the 1980s, the broad consensus in the constructive developmental role of a strong central state that had characterized the immediate postwar period gave way to a growing perception of statist approaches as impeding democracy and, especially, development. For some, decentralization implied an expansion of popular participation that promised greater sensitivity to local knowledge and more responsiveness to local concerns. Others saw decentralization as part of a broader agenda of scaling back the central state, reducing its role, its size, and its costs. Yet others saw decentralization as part of a strategy of achieving sustainable natural resource management or political stability in post-conflict societies. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of international organizations were promoting decentralization and providing both financial and technical support for decentralization reforms. In the African context, political decisions about whether and how to decentralize reflect the continued salience of ethno-regional identities and non-state authorities, especially traditional or customary leaders. Incumbents may decentralize because they hope to consolidate their political position by crowding out or co-opting rivals, depoliticizing conflicts, or deflecting blame to subnational actors. Indeed, reforms made in the name of decentralization often strengthen the political center, at least over the short to medium term. Whether it attempts to co-opt or sideline them, decentralization interacts with and may reinforce the salience of ethno-regional identities and traditional authorities. To the extent that democracy presumes the equality of all citizens, regardless of ascribed status or identity, the reinforcement of ethno-regional identities and unelected authorities threatens democracy. The international spread of decentralization reforms coincided with the increasing prevalence of multiparty elections. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and the quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals. Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels (national, regional, local) and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system. Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice.


Traditional Leaders and Development in Africa  

Lauren Honig

Traditional leaders have a significant role in the social, political, and economic lives of citizens in countries throughout Africa. They are defined as local elites who derive legitimacy from custom, tradition, and spirituality. While their claims to authority are local, traditional leaders, or “chiefs,” are also integrated into the modern state in a variety of ways. The position of traditional leaders between state and local communities allows them to function as development intermediaries. They do so by influencing the distribution of national public goods and the representation of citizen demands to the state. Further, traditional leaders can impact development by coordinating local collective action, adjudicating conflicts, and overseeing land rights. In the role of development intermediaries, traditional leaders shape who benefits from different types of development outcomes within the local and national community. Identifying the positive and negative developmental impacts of traditional leaders requires attention to the different implications of their roles as lobbyists, local governments, political patrons, and land authorities.


Resource Wealth and Political Decentralization in Latin America  

Moises Arce and Michael Hendricks

Existing literature has emphasized economic conditions as central to protests over resource extraction. However, it is also necessary to examine the political conditions that make some regions or provinces more prone to protest. These political conditions are tied to electoral and partisan dynamics and draw attention to the political context or environment in which protests emerge. Focusing on electoral and partisan dynamics can help explain the variation of protest across geography and time, and in particular, why similar resource-abundant provinces within the same country experience different levels of protest.


Intergovernmental Relations in Latin America: Determinants and Dynamics  

Julieta Suarez-Cao

Intergovernmental relations in Latin America present a varied sample of both institutional determinants and actual dynamics. Constitutional structures regulate whether countries have a federal or a unitary system of territorial distribution of power and stipulate the territorial levels of government. Thus, constitutions structure the number of vertical and horizontal intergovernmental relations. Actual dynamics, however, depend on policy prerogatives that establish subnational authority vis-à-vis the national administration. These prerogatives, usually understood in terms of power, responsibilities, and resources, shape the territorial balance of power within a country. Power, responsibilities, and resources can be combined to apprehend the degree of authority in the hands of regional governments. Such authority is analytically organized into two dimensions: the regional power of self-rule and the power to share rule with national decision makers. This distinction helps to explain that the trend toward increasing regional authority is mostly a product of decentralization and devolution politics that have enhanced self-rule, rather than reforms that advance the shared rule dimension. Nevertheless, neither constitutional structures nor new regional policy prerogatives are the only determinants of the dynamics of intergovernmental relations. Informal institutions, such as subnational coalitions and local political clientelism, are particularly relevant to understanding the actual balance of power between national and subnational governments and among subnational arenas.


Autochthony, Belonging, and Xenophobia in Africa  

Peter Geschiere

The renewed relevance of “autochthony” and similar notions of belonging in many parts of Africa is symptomatic of the confusing changes on the continent since the “post-Cold War moment.” Africa is certainly not exceptional in this respect. The “new world order,” so triumphantly announced by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the apparent victory of capitalism turned out to be marked by intensifying global flows, as expected, but also by an increasing obsession with belonging all over the globe, which was less expected. Yet, it may be important to emphasize as well that this upsurge of struggles over local belonging took on special aspects in Africa. The notion of autochthony has its own history on the continent, going back to the impact of colonialism, but building on older distinctions. However, it always sat uneasily with what many historians and anthropologists see as characteristic for African social formations: a heavy emphasis on mobility and inclusion of people: wealth in people. Since the last decades of the 20th century, there seems to be an increasing closure of local communities in many parts of the continent: a growing emphasis on exclusion rather than inclusion of newcomers, immigrants, or “strangers.” After a brief sketch of the history of autochthony on the continent, also in relation to parallel notions like ethnicity and indigeneity, the focus is placed on the factors behind such a tendency toward closure: increasing land scarcity, and especially the changing global context since 1990. In many parts of the continent, the neo-liberal twin of democratization and decentralization had the effect that the feeling of belonging to the village became of crucial importance again, as well for people who had already lived for generations in the cities. The implications of such a growing preoccupation with autochthony and local belonging for national citizenship and notions on civil society are highly variable and depend on historical context. However, one recurrent trait is the paradox between a promise of basic security (how can one belong more than if one is rooted in the soil?) and a practice of deep uncertainty. The receding quality of these claims to belong—autochthony as a basic denial of history, which always implies movement—allows that they always can be contested: One’s autochthony can always be unmasked as “fake,” with someone else belonging more. Autochthony can be institutionalized in various forms and to various degrees, but its basic uncertainty gives it a violent potential.


East Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics  

Walter O. Oyugi and Jimmy Ochieng

The East African region historically has comprised Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The politics of these countries have been shaped by the colonial heritage bequeathed at independence and its impact continues to reverberate on politics and administration of the region five decades after independence. While the three countries inherited similar systems of governance that sought to decentralize power, they all reverted to the centralized governance systems that predated independence, to not serve the leaders’ own power interests but to also secure effective control of the localities. According to the said system, all governance institutions at the subterritorial level operated in line with centrally determined guidelines. This centralization of power has impacted on the evolution, character, and nature of the state in the region as well as on the governance of the individual states. Even with constitutional and legislative changes to check on the excess powers of the executive—which in all three cases means the president and his key allies— it continues to seek means of controlling the processes of democratization and decentralization in a manner that defeats the logic of introducing checks and balances. While Tanzania and Kenya have experimented with democratization since the 1990s and Uganda since the 2000s, consolidation remains a challenge due to the reluctance of those in charge of central government to let go of power and its attendant benefits. In addition, the various experiences with decentralization have suffered from the desire of the center to use them not as platforms for participatory governance but rather as tools for control and domination. At the regional level, the issues of national interest and mistrust have continued to constrain endeavors toward deeper integration.


Public Administration in Central and Eastern Europe  

Stanisław Mazur

In the early 1990s, the Central and Eastern European countries (CEE countries) saw the collapse of communist regimes and an unprecedented political and economic transformation that resulted in the establishment of democratic, law-governed states and market economies. Administrative reforms, which became an important milestone in this transformation, were considerably influenced both by administrative legacies predominant in the countries and by the Europeanization processes associated with their accession to the European Union. The administrative legacies, which combine elements of various traditions (e.g., German, Napoleonic, and Anglo-American) are still strongly affected by what is left of the communist era. Conversely, the impact of Europeanization processes on public administrations in CEE countries has proved to be much weaker than initially expected. The process of building a professional and apolitical civil service in CEE countries has been plagued by discontinuity and inconsistency, owing to the specific administrative culture of the region, the weakening pressure to modernize EU institutions, and the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, as well as growing populist tendencies in the region. All these factors encouraged the belief that political control over public administration needs to be tightened in order for the effectiveness and quality of governance mechanisms to be improved. The quality of governance and public management varies widely across the CEE countries. What they have in common—at least to some extent—is the fairly high dynamics of change, including the reversal of the effects of previously implemented reforms. The latter factor may be interpreted as a search for country-specific reform paths, partly due to disappointment with the values and models prevailing in Western Europe, and somewhat as a consequence of growing populist tendencies in the region.


Traditional Institutions of Governance in Africa  

Kidane Mengisteab

Most African countries are characterized by parallel institutions, one representing the formal laws of the state and the other representing the traditional institutions that are adhered to more commonly in rural areas. The parallel institutional systems often complement each other in the continent’s contemporary governance. Oftentimes, however, they contradict each other, creating problems associated with institutional incoherence. Why the traditional systems endure, how the institutional dichotomy impacts the process of building democratic governance, and how the problems of institutional incoherence might be mitigated are issues that have not yet received adequate attention in African studies. The evidence suggests that traditional institutions have continued to metamorphose under the postcolonial state, as Africa’s socioeconomic systems continue to evolve. Despite such changes, these institutions are referred to as traditional not because they continue to exist in an unadulterated form as they did in Africa’s precolonial past but because they are largely born of the precolonial political systems and are adhered to principally, although not exclusively, by the population in the traditional (subsistent) sectors of the economy. Subsequent to the colonial experience, traditional institutions may be considered to be informal institutions in the sense that they are often not sanctioned by the state. However, they are not merely customs and norms; rather they are systems of governance, which were formal in precolonial times and continue to exist in a semiformal manner in some countries and in an informal manner in others. Another issue that needs some clarification is the neglect by the literature of the traditional institutions of the political systems without centralized authority structures. In general, decentralized political systems, which are often elder-based with group leadership, have received little attention, even though these systems are widespread and have the institutions of judicial systems and mechanisms of conflict resolution and allocation of resources, like the institutions of the centralized systems. Careful analysis suggests that African traditional institutions lie in a continuum between the highly decentralized to the centralized systems and they all have resource allocation practices, conflict resolution, judicial systems, and decision-making practices, which are distinct from those of the state.