Decentralization in Africa: Goals, Dimensions, Myths and Challenges

Smoke, P.
Public Administration and Development, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Guest editor of this issue of the journal on "Decentralization and Local Governance in Africa.")

Decentralisation is a complex and often somewhat elusive phenomenon. Many countries around the world have been attempting- for several reasons and with varying degrees of intention and success-to create or strengthen sub-national governments in recent years. Africa is no exception to either the decentralisation trend or the reality of its complexity and diversity. Drawing selectively on the large academic and practitioner literature on decentralisation and the articles in this volume, this article briefly outlines a number of typical prominent goals of decentralisation. It then reviews some key dimensions of decentralisation-fiscal, institutional and political. These are too frequently treated separately by policy analysts and policy makers although they are inherently linked. Next, a few popular myths and misconceptions about decentralisation are explored. Finally, a number of common outstanding challenges for improving decentralisation and local government reform efforts in Africa are considered.

Wagner Faculty