Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Democratic Local Government and Responsiveness: Lessons from Zimbabwe and Tanzania

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Democratic Local Government and Responsiveness: Lessons from Zimbabwe and Tanzania

Article excerpt



Based on case studies in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, this article investigates the proposition that democratic local government is coupled with high level of responsiveness. None of the selected councils are particularly responsive. When trying to explain this finding, I draw on both state-centred and society-centred theories of political decision-making. It is the state-centred theories that prove to have most explanatory power. Although the character of the social formation differs substantially between the two countries (chieftainship plays a much more prominent role in Zimbabwe), this is not a decisive factor. The argument that the level of popular participation is a key factor in explaining responsiveness is examined in depth. The argument has certain relevance. However, it is argued that the councils' degree of financial autonomy from central government have more significant bearings on responsiveness.

1. Introduction

THE 1980s AND 1990s saw the introduction of wide-ranging political and institutional reforms in many African countries. One such reform sought to increase political decentralisation (devolution) and to introduce of democratic local government. [1] A main justification for introducing local democracy was that it would ensure that local governments become "responsive" (Smith 1985; Sharpe 1984). Responsiveness of governments concerns the way their activities and outputs correspond to the perceived interests of their public or clients. Fried (1980) has defined it as the degree of congruence between community preferences and public policies. Congruence indicates a high level of responsiveness, while discongruence indicates a low level. What, then, are the mechanisms assumed to ensure that democratic procedures create responsive local governments? According to Smith (1985), democratic systems are particularly responsive because development priorities are identified by decision-makers who both have intimate knowled ge of local affairs and are engaged in open-minded, two-way communication with their electorate.

Knowledge about local affairs is seen as a prerequisite for responsive policies, not only in democratic systems of local government, but in any system. In totally decentralised systems the administration can determine local priorities simply by carrying out local surveys. Also in devolved, one-party systems, councils are likely to pay attention to local priorities, although the parties themselves have a tendency to define the "objective" interest of the people. What is held to make democratic local governments particularly responsive is that democratic procedures enable the electorate to make sure that the development policy of their elected council is maximally attuned to their own preferences.

In operationalising responsiveness, this research draws on some of the indicators applied by Crook and Manor (1995). They measure responsiveness as (1) congruence between actual spending priorities and main popular preferences, (2) popular perceptions of quantity and quality of services, and (3) responsiveness towards vulnerable groups. The proceeding section establishes some conceptual and theoretical guidelines that can illuminate the assumed relationship between democratic local government and responsiveness. Following this, an account is given of the structure of the local government systems in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. This section includes a description of the level and form of decentralisation in both countries, the financial viability of the councils, and the workings of the planning systems. The next section provides an assessment of the level of responsiveness in two selected cases, the Manyame Rural District Council (RDC) in Zimbabwe (fieldwork 1997) and the Kigoma/Ujiji Town Council in Tanzania (fiel dwork 1996). [2] The major bulk of the article is devoted to analysing the level of responsiveness in each of the councils, in light of the theoretical framework presented above and in light of the differences and shared features of the two councils. …

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