Federalism and devolution

Authored by: Mai Hassan

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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Practitioners and academics alike have argued that decentralization can help to remedy many economic, political, and social problems including the high political salience of ethnicity and incomplete democratization. Federalism and devolution, two far-reaching forms of decentralization in which subnational units have some level of constitutionally mandated autonomy, are thought to be especially beneficial as they transfer the most power and resources away from the center. This chapter reveals how decentralization in sub-Saharan Africa has not always had the intended effects and how, in some cases, it has increased the salience of ethnicity or undermined democratization. This is, in part, because leaders are liable to undermine federalism and devolution reforms—leaders steer the adoption of decentralization reforms and leaders are unlikely to implement reforms intended to weaken their political power. In sum, this chapter suggests that decentralization can prove useful in some situations, but that decentralization cannot be considered as a cure-all and can have negative unintended consequences.

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