Decentralization and Internal Conflict

By Joseph Siegle
Updated: 11/09/2010

ecowas_logo-acss The Africa Center’s Director of Research, Joseph Siegle, PhD, is the co-author of a chapter in the recent publication “Making Decentralization Work: Democracy, Development, and Security,” (London: Lynne Rienner) edited by Ed Connerley, Kent Eaton, and Paul Smoke.

Decentralization is often touted as an essential strategy for fostering stability, accountability and government responsiveness in Africa and throughout the developing world.  But some argue that because decentralization can accentuate ethnic, political and geographic divisions that it can increase the risk of conflict between communities. This cross-national analysis finds a nuanced relationship.

Decentralization that builds on the legitimacy and accountability of local leaders and that invests in the capacity of local government has been less likely to lead to inter-communal conflict. Conversely, decentralization in states with formal federal structures or ambiguous forms of regional autonomy has been more susceptible to inter-group conflict.  Policymakers and practitioners need to take these considerations into account when calling for the devolution of authority.

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