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2008| January-March | Volume 6 | Issue 1
June 26, 2009
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Political Articulation and Accountability in Decentralisation: Theory and Evidence from India
January-March 2008, 6(1):12-23
New institutions created through decentralisation policies around the world, notwithstanding the rhetoric, are often lacking in substantive democratic content. New policies for decentralised natural resource management have transferred powers to a range of local authorities, including private associations, customary authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Scholars see such transfers as detrimental to the legitimacy of local democratic institutions, leading to a fragmentation of local authority and dampening prospects for democratic consolidation. In much of this critique, however, there is limited attention to the wider democratic context (or lack thereof) and its effect on local governments. This article develops the concept of political articulation to characterise the relationship between citizens and elected representatives, and argues that accountability in decentralisation cannot be conceptualised or analysed separately from the accountability of higher institutions of representation and governance. The empirical analysis of the article uses the experience of a World Bank-funded Ecodevelopment Project in Himachal Pradesh, India, to generate insights into the role of political articulation in analysing decentralisation reforms.
Introduction: Institutional Choice and Recognition in the Formation and Consolidation of Local Democracy
Jesse C Ribot, Ashwini Chhatre, Tomila Lankina
January-March 2008, 6(1):1-11
What are the democracy effects of 'decentralisation' reforms and projects? Most developing countries have launched decentralisation reforms for the purpose of improving service delivery, local development and management. In these reforms and projects, however, governments, international development agencies and large non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are transferring power to a wide range of local institutions, including private bodies, customary authorities and NGOs. Recognition of these other local institutions means that fledgling local governments are receiving few public powers and face competition for legitimacy. Under what conditions is the new plurality of approaches and local interlocutors fostering local democratic consolidation or resulting in fragmented forms of authority and belonging? Through case studies in Benin, Guatemala, India, Malawi, Russia, Senegal and South Africa, this issue explores the effects of institutional choices and recognition by governments, international development agencies and large NGOs on three dimensions of democracy: 1) representation, 2) citizenship and 3) the public domain. This article outlines an approach to the politics of institutional choice and recognition while drawing out findings from the articles in this issue.
Indigenous Peoples, Representation and Citizenship in Guatemalan Forestry
Anne M Larson
January-March 2008, 6(1):35-48
Forestry decision-making is still largely centralised in Guatemala. Nevertheless, elected municipal governments can now play a key role in local forest management. These local governments, with some exceptions, are the principal local institutions empowered to participate in natural resource authority. Some theorists argue that such elected local officials are the most likely to be representative and downwardly accountable. But do these political institutions have the ability to represent the interests of minority and historically excluded or oppressed groups? Latin American indigenous movements are fighting for new conceptions of democracy and practices of representation that recognise collective rights and respect for customary law and authority. How does this approach weigh against elected local government? This article compares how elected municipal governments versus traditional indigenous authorities represent the interests of indigenous communities in forest management. It traces the historical context of relations between indigenous people and the state in the region, and then presents the findings from case studies in two Guatemalan municipalities. The article finds that both authorities have some strengths as well as important weaknesses, thus supporting arguments for the reinvention of both liberal democracy and tradition in the interest of inclusive citizenship.
Enclosing the Local for the Global Commons: Community Land Rights in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area
Marja Spierenburg, Conrad Steenkamp, Harry Wels
January-March 2008, 6(1):87-97
The Great Limpopo is one of the largest Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) in the world, encompassing vast areas in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. By arguing that residents living in or close to the TFCA will participate in its management and benefit economically, TFCA proponents claim social legitimacy for the project. The establishment of the Great Limpopo required negotiations among the three nation states, different government departments within these states and various donors contributing funds. This article explores how these negotiations and interactions affected the institutional choices made with regards to the management of the Great Limpopo and how these shaped the control and benefits of local residents. This article examines the differences among the different actors in terms of power and capacities, which are often ignored in the promotion of TFCAs. By comparing the experiences of local residents in the South African part of the TFCA with those in Mozambique, the cases show how international negotiations interact with national policies of decentralisation to shape and sometimes even disable local government institutions.
Gender Inequality in Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve, Senegal: Political Parties and the 'Village Approach'
January-March 2008, 6(1):62-73
This article illustrates how the use of village committees to manage natural resources in the Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve was inconsistent with democratic decentralisation objectives. Ostensibly participatory projects that create village committees bestow discretionary power on traditional leaders who are not popularly accountable and have a poor track record of serving women's needs. This article interrogates how participatory approaches used in the Malidino reserve shaped the gender distribution of outcomes in decision processes, access to forest resources and land, incomes and economic activities, biodiversity conservation, and rural community empowerment and social change. It also shows how donor sponsored participatory approaches might exacerbate party politics, and through them, ethnic, kinship and gender cleavages by bestowing power and authority on actors belonging to a rival party and on actors with questionable democratic legitimacy. Both, the participatory parallel institutions and local governments, serve to undermine women's ability to collectively address their own interests.
Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide
January-March 2008, 6(1):102-103
Dilemmas of Democratic Decentralisation in Mangochi District, Malawi: Interest and Mistrust in Fisheries Management
January-March 2008, 6(1):74-86
To establish 'participatory' fisheries management, in 1993 Malawi's Fisheries Department constituted elected Beach Village Committees (BVCs) with village headmen as ex-officio members. But, struggles between elected BVC members and traditional authorities (TAs) over benefits from fisheries undermined the authority of elected members. Legal ambiguity on who should make decisions facilitated the takeover by headmen. Further, the BVC was elected by the population as a whole, representing more than just the fishers, whom these committees were designed to control. This resulted in the sabotaging of the BVCs activities by the fishers. Under these conditions, representing the whole population undermined the effectiveness of the BVCs. In 1998, decentralisation reforms placed 'community inclusion' in fisheries management under Village Development Committees (VDCs), whose members would be appointed by elected District Assemblies (DAs). This reform is likely to unleash a struggle over BVC-VDC relations. But, different visions of decentralisation, shared mistrust of local democracy, higher level battles for authority among the government, politicians and TAs stalled the decentralisation process. Donors supporting these reforms were also mistrustful of representative local institutions. The institutions chosen and recognised by the government under donor pressure are the sites of political struggles in which representation, a sense of belonging and downward accountability are losing ground.
State Building and Local Democracy in Benin: Two Cases of Decentralised Forest Management
January-March 2008, 6(1):49-61
Beyond local development, the political agenda of decentralisation in West Africa was the restoration of state legitimacy and power, and some enhancement of local democracy. The mix of local institutions created in preceding participatory development projects resulted in fragmented forms of authority. Elsewhere, local communities have developed their own institutions for managing local affairs. How in such a context do elected local governments wield power, recognise other authorities and contribute to restoration of national state legitimacy? The Lokoly forest in Benin was never subject to state intervention. The Toui-Kilibo forest, however, has been a protected state forest since 1940 and a site for participatory forest management projects since early 1990s. In both cases, the public domain has been enclosed and local government legitimacy over forest resource management contested, hampering the formation of a so-called democratic local government. This article compares these two cases, elaborating on social actors' strategies in the symbolic construction and channelling of power, and on the challenges local governments face when attempting to wield legitimate authority over public spaces and articulate local politics to national state building.
A Trunk Full of Tales: Seventy Years with the Indian Elephant
January-March 2008, 6(1):103-104
'Fragmented Belonging' on Russia's Forested Western Frontier
January-March 2008, 6(1):24-34
Karelia is a forestry-rich region on Russia's northwestern frontier. This article shows how institutional arrangements for local government were a product of contending efforts of western donors and other transnational actors, the federal and regional governments, and the municipalities. Russia's re-centralising reforms and broader authoritarian context notwithstanding, Karelia illustrates how the choice of local institutions, and ideas about representation and citizenship are increasingly shaped by actors beyond the central state. Borrowing insights from J.S. Migdal and J.C. Ribot, this article argues that the result is shifting cognitive boundaries and 'fragmented belonging' in a dynamic process of contestation and recontestation of citizenship.
Living with Diversity: Forestry Institutions in the Western Himalaya
January-March 2008, 6(1):99-102
Field Days: A Naturalist's Journey Through South and Southeast Asia
January-March 2008, 6(1):98-99
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