Corruption, Anti-corruption and its Discontents

To what extent has decentralisation been effective in combating corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Essay 2015 15 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Africa




Theories of decentralisation

Criticism of decentralisation

Decentralisation in sub-Saharan Africa

Independence and statism

Reforms in sub-Saharan Africa countries

Barriers to implementing successful decentralisation in sub-Saharan Africa

Has decentralisation reduced corruption?




Overwhelmed by bad governance, an eyesore of poverty and disease, the relics of prolong corruption and misrule have pushed developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa and their counterparts, the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) into political, administrative and economic reforms. Since the 1990s, decentralisation has been a key policy instrument advocated and favoured by governments, donor countries, civil society and international institutions to engender good governance. Many countries in Africa have speedily implemented political, administrative and fiscal decentralisation within the last three decades (Conyers 2007; Dickovick and Wunsch 2014). The primary or perhaps the profound motivation for the wave of decentralisation around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan, is based on the conceptual argument that it offers potential benefits. According to proponents, in a decentralised governance system where power and resources are devolved, services will increase alongside efficiency. Productive and economic growth will inhibit rent-seeking, encouraging downward accountability to promote civic participation in decision-making. This will eventually alleviate poverty and reduce corruption. It is expected that where these goals are achieved, the level of human development index will rise in sub-Saharan Africa.

In spite of the hypothetical rationale for adopting decentralised policy, there are several scholars and academics that are pessimistic and cynical about the concept. Tulchin et al. (2004) for instance, argues that due to the complex and fluid nature of decentralisation, it is highly unlikely to determine the actual outcome against expectation. To qualify this statement, Wunsch (2008) writes that evidence of decentralisation across Africa over the years has been frustrating. However, some evidence suggests that there have been improvement in service delivery in certain countries within this region. Although Conyers (2007:27) caution that is it hard to ascertain whether decentralisation contributed to the progress.

Given the conflicting ideas surrounding the impacts of decentralisation as predicted, this essay argues that while decentralisation may have contributed to improving good governance in certain countries around the world, the contrary holds for sub-Saharan countries. Thus, this essay explores the extent at which decentralisation has contributed to fighting corruption in sub-Saharan. The first part is a review of decentralisation theory; next it discusses the genealogy of sub-Saharan decentralisation. It moves on to examine the effect of decentralisation on combating corruption; and provide brief summary of key issues discussed.

Theories of decentralisation

Governments across the world in both the developed and developing countries have experienced a wave of policy reforms aimed at improving and expanding administrative, macroeconomic and political authority to local levels of governance. The dramatic shift in public policy reforms has been encouraged by the emergent of the concept of decentralisation in the early 1990s. The expectations of decentralisation vary greatly in theory to include a better governance system linked to economic growth and poverty reduction especially in third world countries. Rondinelli (1981:133) refers to decentralisation as: the transfer or delegation of legal and political authority to plan, make decisions and manage public functions from the central government and its agencies to field organizations of those agencies, subordinate units of government, semi-autonomous public corporations, area wide or regional development authorities; functional authorities, autonomous local governments, or nongovernmental organizations.

Emerging from this very complex and wide-ranging definition, proponents argue that decentralisation has significant impacts on good governance, political accountability and participation. The World Bank, a leading advocate of decentralisation, suggests that ‘a primary objective of decentralization is to maintain political stability in the face of pressures for localization’ (World Bank 1999:107–124). In other words, a decentralised system can engender appropriate mechanism capable of peacefully resolving political, tribal and ethnic conflicts that once separated individuals, or that have the potential to ignite violence within a country. Similarly, in a decentralised system greater accountability, cost-effectiveness and reduced corrupt incidences can be achieved even when local capacity is weakened (Bardhan and Mookherjee 2005; Ostrom, Schroeder, and Wynne 1993). The argument for improved accountability is that since re-election to local political office is often based on citizens’ appraisal of performance, the incentive for direct political transparency and responsibility to local communities will attempt to improve social service delivery, such as education and health.

Advocates of decentralisation also state that economic development and political stability can be guaranteed when greater civil participation in policy decision-making is enhanced through practical transfer of autonomy. Such devolution of power to local authorities can improve productivity and impartiality (Hope and Chikulo 2000; World Bank 1999). Additionally, De Mello and Fukusaku (1999) find that closing existing gaps between central government and the general citizens will result to increase responsiveness in service delivery, efficiency in resource allocation and expansion in macroeconomic activities.

Furthermore, proponents also believe that effective and un-corresponding political competition decreases the motivation and likelihood of bureaucrat to extort private money for delivering of public services in an economic system. As Shleifer and Vishny (1993: 610) write:

Countries with more political competition have stronger public pressure against corruption – through laws, democratic elections, and even the independent press – and so are more likely to use government organizations that contain rather than maximize corruption proceeds.

Conversely, Jin and Weingast (1999) underscores that the incentives for central government to prescribe irrational policies that favour certain groups or localities against others will diminish as long as competition exists among communities. Also, from a public management perspective, Hope and Chikulo (2000) point out few key indicators such as prudential management of public sector, improve citizens’ collaboration and efficient market economy parallel to the creation and utilisation of public goods and services will emerge as a result of decentralisation. For such, one will argue based on the above analyses that in decentralised economies there is the prospect for reduction in corruption and rent-seeking when political stability coupled with popular civil participation in policy-making and competition over jurisdiction exist.



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decentralisation corruption anit-corruption discontent sub-saharan region africa




Title: Corruption, Anti-corruption and its Discontents