The New Local Level Politics in East Africa: Studies on Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya

The New Local Level Politics in East Africa: Studies on Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya

The New Local Level Politics in East Africa: Studies on Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya

The New Local Level Politics in East Africa: Studies on Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Excerpt

For many years, social science has recognised that a proper grasp of national politics requires that the study of “high” and central state politics be complemented by that of popular and local-level politics. Practice however has tended to trail behind the acknowledgement of this principle.

Studies dealing explicitly with local-level politics in Africa were a relatively common feature of the late colonial and early independence periods, but later became rare—and for fairly obvious reasons. The anthropological perspective from which most of the original anglophone African studies were conducted was politically and academically superceded. Taking for granted the colonial structure of state authority, these studies were largely identical with examinations of the workings of the institutions of the so-called “native authorities”, often from an explicitly partisan pro-chiefly perspective (see, for example, Young and Fosbrooke (I960) and Abrahams (1967)). After independence the formerly colonial realm of provincial and district authority was merged with the old (sub-district) chiefly one, while anthropology as a discipline tended to be locally succeeded by public administration. In the latter process an even more policy-related orientation came to dominate, from which empirical questions about the organisation and bases of political power were increasingly excluded on grounds of “sensitivity”. Where it occurred at all, discussion about political power in Africa henceforth tended to be largely abstract in character. Today though, the related tendencies of a broadening of political and academic freedoms and a few tentative signs of the (re) appearance of an empirical political science have enabled the study of local-level politics in Africa to re-emerge, and to simultaneously acquire a more systematically critical foundation.

This collection of essays on local-level politics takes the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania as its geographical focus. These countries were from 1918 until independence bound together by a common colonial power and by broadly similar political structures (“indirect rule”), and for a certain period comprised a political federation. Towards the end of the 1960s their state political and ideological orientations began to sharply diverge and the late 1970s saw them embroiled in serious disputes and, in the case of Tanzania and Uganda, outright war. However, their reform of state structures moved in fairly similar directions. All not only became single-party or non-party regimes, but continued to allocate an extremely limited role to representative institutions, to maintain a four-tier system of government dominated by strong central and provincial authorities, and to separate representative bodies in the lower two tiers from any meaningful revenue base.

In more recent years—along with many other African countries—Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have further shared the experience of central state contraction, or rather, of central state withdrawl from what were earlier depicted as some of its key responsibilities. The phenomenon of state contraction was most spectacular . . .

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