Decentralization and its effect on urban governance in Africa

Gutheil, Lena
Externe Publikationen (2024)

in: Ifri Studies (April 2024), Paris: Ifri

ISBN: 978-10-373-0854-2
Volltext/Full text

African cities are growing rapidly - soon the majority of the African population will live in cities and not in rural areas. Municipal actors do not always have the capacities, the formal competencies and/or resources to provide adequate infrastructure and services for the growing populations. Here, decentralization policies are of crucial importance for urban governance, as they determine the institutional environment in which urban governance takes place. Decentralization aims at shifting competencies and resources from the central government to territorially defined subnational levels of government, including cities and municipalities. This process is inherently political and contested, as different actors negotiate their access to power and resources. Based on a literature review, the paper analyses the entanglement between decentralization and urban governance looking specifically at the political implications of how decentralization plays out at the municipal level. The first part of the paper takes stock of the current state of fiscal, administrative and political decentralization for cities and subnational governments in Africa and gives some context information concerning the origins of decentralization and its differing trajectories. Despite major advances in political decentralization, fiscal decentralization lags behind. The political motives for pursuing decentralization reforms often result in incomplete decentralization and have a profound effect on power sharing arrangements. The second part analyzes the effects decentralization policies have on urban governance. Decentralization profoundly alters power dynamics at the local level, which has an influence on party politics, leaders’ capacity to provide for infrastructure and services and the accountability relationship between citizens and the state. Looking at these three interrelated dimensions and how they are shaped by different city contexts reveals the inherently political character of urban governance. Overall, the paper finds that cities are affected differently by decentralization policies than rural areas. Cities’ economic and political salience, the presence of a multitude of actors with decision-making powers as well as the strong voices of opposition parties and civil society make decentralization especially prone to politicization. At the same time, these factors also contribute to cities’ strong position in shaping these policies and the politics of decentralization beyond the confines of the municipal level.

Über die Autorin

Gutheil, Lena



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