Debates about decentralisation reform dominating the extant literature focus on the relationship between decentralisation and such issues as participatory governance, democratisation, social development, and accountability. These issues have dominated theoretical and empirical research on decentralisation in nearly all fields of the social sciences over the last five decades. However, there are emerging questions about the implications for power relations between actors and institutions in the differentiated arenas in highly centralised unitary states experimenting with decentralisation. Equally interesting and puzzling is a situation in which traditional authorities are subjects and objects of decentralisation and are fused with central and local state authorities to operate in the same arena and function under similar rules. It is assumed that varying informal modes of interaction, patterns, and stable and unstable power relations emerge out of such arrangements, and this calls for an analysis beyond the dominant legal-institutional method of analysing central-local power relations in decentralisation literature. Further understanding of informal or de facto mode of interaction between these actors could shed deeper lights on the power relations, in addition to extant de jure patterns. The following research question therefore arises: How does decentralisation reform affect power and authority relations between traditional, local and central state actors? I contend that the dominant assumption that decentralisation reforms strengthen the power and authority of local actors vis-à-vis central actors needs to be re-examined to account for cases in which decentralisation reforms produce varying forms of power relation such as those that produce relations of dominance, co-operation, and co-optation, and stability and instability; and those in which decentralisation reforms undermine the powers of some local actors. I therefore hypothesise that decentralisation reform changes the relations of power among actors in a unitary state in ways that undermine or strengthen local authorities through institutions and processes that occur both within and out of the gamut of the legal modes of interactions; and that the gradation of power at the differentiated levels produced through these processes of interaction lead to stable or unstable relations of power among the actors in ways that affects local (social and political) outcomes. With a focus on Liberia, this study is intended to explore this question and examine these various forms of power relations as hypothesised above. Primarily the study will focus on the decision-making powers, nature of power relations, and patterns of interaction between actors in levels of government and traditional authorities.
- Centre of African Studies
- Centre for Comparative Political Thought
- Royal Africa Society