n Africa Insight - Decentralising poverty? Reflections on the experience of decentralisation and the capacity to achieve local development in Ghana and South Africa

Volume 35, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


The paper aims to evaluate progress made so far in the decentralisation process in Africa in the light of two case studies, one in a country where decentralisation is well established and government might be expected to be responding to deficiencies observed (Ghana), and the second in a country where decentralisation is relatively recent (South Africa). The focus is on decentralised local government and its potential for poverty alleviation. Consideration is also given to the interactions between local government and other key players in the local development process, notably indigenous and international NGOs and traditional authorities, and the broader grassroots communities they are all supposed to serve. The paper concludes that the limited benefits of decentralisation are mostly being mopped up by urbanbased local elites, whether employed in local government or running local NGOs (including so-called government NGOs). Much energy is also dissipated in the wrangles that characterise interaction between local government and traditional leaders. So long as the political will and commitment needed for fully representative community participation in the development process remain weak, and the mechanisms for defining and regulating the respective duties of local government, NGOs and traditional leaders are absent, it seems unlikely that decentralisation will be able to make a significant contribution to poverty alleviation.

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