LPSA’s efforts to Elevate the Debate on Decentralization and Multilevel Governance in Africa off to a productive start

From May 20-22, 2024, the Local Public Sector Alliance hosted a pan-African workshop on “Elevating The Debate On Decentralization and Multilevel Governance In Africa” at the Emara Ole-Sereni Hotel, in Nairobi, Kenya. The workshop brought together leading experts and partner organizations to identify practical steps to advocate for–and support–more inclusive and effective decentralization and localization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The workshop was hosted by the Local Public Sector Alliance in partnership with the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights (University of the Western Cape, South Africa); the East Africa Local Governments Association (EALGA); the Institute for Local Government Studies, Ghana; and the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC), Kenya. The workshop brings together leading decentralization experts from across Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world, including national and local government officials; civil society representatives; academics and researchers; as well as development partners.

The workshop kicked off with opening remarks by the Guest of Honor, Mr. Kithinji Kiragu, OGW, MBS, Chairman of Kenya’s Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC).

The workshop’s sessions sought to identify realistic policy solutions—taking into account existing institutional and political economy constraints—to empower, capacitate, or incentivize local governments in Africa to pursue inclusive governance, contribute to sustainable localized development, and better position local governments to engage in decentralized or localized development cooperation. Workshop sessions furthered focus on identifying ways in which evidence-informed policy analysis can ‘elevate the decentralization and localization debate’ and promote more inclusive and effective decentralization and localization in Africa.

“A fantastically crafted agenda that set the minds off in a frenzy of thoughts an ideas. Looking forward to harvesting the seeds that will hopefully be planted in the garden of the Pan African Network …”

Gertrude Rose Gamweru, Secretary-General EALGA

Among others, key takeaways from the workshop included:

  • The state of decentralization, localization, and local governance in Africa is under-appreciated. Whereas all countries in Africa proclaim to have local governments, most local governments lack the authority and autonomy to act as “governments of the people, by the people, for the people.”
  • Little is systematically known about the actual (de facto) assignment of functions across different levels of government in Africa. Without knowing “who actually does what”, it is difficult to assess the role of local governments in Africa in the localization of the SDGs. More needs to be done to promote the localization of public services and development efforts and to ensure decentralized cooperation in Africa.
  • There is considerable variation in decentralization practices within Africa, but no mechanism for knowledge sharing across countries. Kenya and South Africa are among the most decentralized countries on the continent. However, devolution does not necessarily equate to more effective services: continued efforts are needed to ensure effective intergovernmental coordination, inclusive governance, and efficient local service delivery.
  • More data and analysis are needed to promote the consistent, responsible use of inclusive data and evidence to inform and improve policymaking. Locally disaggregated data about public sector spending or local development results is rarely (publicly) available, and where such data is available, it is rarely used to analyze the effectiveness of the (local) public sector. This is a major missed opportunity to use evidence-informed decision-making to ensure a more inclusive, responsive and efficient public sector.
  • The workshop was first-of-its-kind, building relationships between (national and local) government officials, policy makers, and evidence organizations. The workshop was the first of its kind bring together central government officials, local government practitioners, scholars, policy makers, civil society actors, and other champions of decentralization and localization from across Africa to discuss and exchange knowledge and experiences on the state of decentralization, localization, and multilevel governance. There is currently no other inclusive pan-African platform for brings together such a range of stakeholders in support of decentralization and more inclusive and effective localization in Africa.
  • LPSA’s Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Working Group offers a platform for further convening, coordination and partnerships to unlock the capacity of African experts and evidence organizations. Although there is extensive expertise in Africa on issues related to decentralization and local governance, there are specific areas of analysis and practice that are currently underserved. Further convening, coordination and partnerships are required to unlock the capacity of African experts to engage in comparative (peer) reviews of local governance institutions as well as the ability to engage in comparative quantitative assessments of intergovernmental finances within and across countries in the region.