Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 183-184
[Access article in PDF]
An impressive amount of work has gone into this carefully conceived and executed book. A spellbinding page-turner it is not, at least for most readers. This should not be read as underestimating the quality of Democracy and Decentralisation. It is a study that is a model in many respects.
Crook and Manor look in detail at administrative decentralization in Bangladesh, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and India. Their fieldwork is excellent. With no less than ninety-two tables in the four chapters devoted to the case studies, Democracy and Decentralisation tells us far more than a casual reader may want or need. But for the specialist seeking to determine whether the rhetoric of grassroots participation is matched in any fashion by performance, this book will prove a valuable source indeed.
Decentralization and representative democracy seem naturally linked, in the American mind. However, in many respects they are recent innovations in the above four states, removed in key respects from their colonial and immediate postcolonial experiences, especially at subregional levels. Think, for example, of the French tradition of prefectural administration imposed on Côte d'Ivoire, reinforced by the single-list electoral system preferred by the Parti démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire. (This means in multimember districts that all seats would be awarded to the party winning a simple majority.) Or, consider how both Kwame Nkrumah's Convention People's Party and Jerry Rawlings' Committees for the Defense of the Revolution sought to transform the localisms of village politics, overcoming ethnic particularism by stressing the unifying image of Ghana as a whole. These all tended to exalt the center.
"Performance" is notoriously slippery to analyze empirically as a concept. Crook and Manor divide it in three: effectiveness ("tangible outputs measured in relation both to official objectives or targets and to previous [pre-reform] levels of output"); responsiveness (both perceived needs and the section[s] of the populace to which attention is given); and process (means rather than ends, involving such crucial areas as fairness, probity, transparency, due process, and political accommodation). In turn, they assessed both participation (electoral; direct contact with or pressure upon political institutions; indirect; links between elected representatives and constituents; and the character and scope of participation) and performance (output effectiveness through analysis of revenues and expenditures compared with official objectives; responsiveness, through congruence between policies, outputs, and popular preferences; and process). These are impressive efforts indeed.
"Accountability" is another complex category. Elections mean much in democratic systems. Bureaucrats must be responsible to elected officials and political bodies, and cognizant of the public's needs. The quality of [End Page 182] accountability relationships, the authors hypothesize, would have a "crucial impact" on: (1) relations between elected representatives and the public; and (2) relations between local bureaucrats, other government agencies, and executive officials on the one hand, and elected representatives on the other. To tap into perceptions, Crook and Manor carried out semistructured elite interviews, and 2,030 interviews with representative quota samples and smaller samples of community or opinion leaders. One can readily imagine the problems inherent in carrying out this research.
High expectations, particularly on the part of outside observers and donors, attended the installation of democratically elected councils at local or intermediate levels. Rather, I should write, reinstallation; there had been efforts decades earlier to tap local initiatives and resources, and to enhance political legitimacy by "bringing the government closer to the people." These efforts foundered, as Crook and Manor briefly indicate, as a result of "distrust and interference from above, infighting, and shortages of resources and expertise in elected councils and local communities" (p. 2). You can guess the results: plus ça change, c'est la même chose.
The records of accomplishments have been limited. Take, for example, the ever vexing question of budget. If local councils are to become significantly...