Academic journal article African Studies Review

Power Inequalities and the Institutions of Senegalese Development Organizations

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Power Inequalities and the Institutions of Senegalese Development Organizations

Article excerpt


The focus on decentralization and civil society in Africa demands that scholars examine the factors that affect the institutions (i.e., rules and procedures) of local development organizations. Using two case studies from rural Senegal, this article investigates how the preferences of group participants, the authority positions of group actors, and the alternatives that individuals have shape the institutions of local organizations. The article then illustrates how the rules that emerge through institutional bargaining affect the decisions local organizations make about issues such as resource allocation and the implementation of development projects.

Résumé: Se concentrer sur la décentralisation et la société civile en Afrique demande aux chercheurs d'examiner les facteurs affectant les institutions (c'est à dire les règlements et procédures) des organisations locales de développement. En se basant sur deux cas d'étude dans le Sénégal rural, cet article examine comment les préférences des participants au groupe, la position d'autorité des acteurs du groupe, et les alternatives proposées aux individus et offrant les mémes bénéfices que ceux de l'organisation, faéonnent les institutions des organisations locales. Cet article illustre ensuite comment les règlements émergeant des négociations institutionnelles affectent les décisions prises par les organisations locales sur les problèmes tels que l'allocation des ressources et la mise en oeuvre de projets de développement.


Since the 1980s, many sub-Saharan African governments and international donors have decentralized authority structures and emphasized community associations as a means of fostering development and grassroots democracy (Conyers 1983; Mutizwa-Mangiza & Conyers 1996; Wunsch & Olowu 1990; Ribot 1995; Tordoff 1994).J In addition, international aid agencies have directed more funds to local organizations (van de Walle & Johnston 1996). Despite these efforts, development in many sub-Saharan African countries has stagnated, as evidenced by weak agricultural production, declines in overall economic growth, increasing debt levels, and poor export production (New York Times, june 1, 2000; World Bank 1997). In addition, there is little evidence to suggest that decentralization has fostered democracy. Although these various problems cannot be blamed fully on ineffective governance, I believe that it is necessary to examine the institutions of local development organizations and the power inequalities that they often reflect in order to better understand the continent's problems.

This article applies insights from various theories of "new institutionalism" to case studies from rural Senegal. The purpose of the article is twofold. First, I examine how three variables affect the formation of institutions for local development organizations.2 These variables are the preferences of participants, the authority positions of the actors, and the opportunities for members to achieve the same benefits elsewhere. Though development organizations and their institutions are intricately connected, the primary focus of this article is on the institutions (i.e., the rules and procedures). Organizations are created with purposive intent, but it is institutions that shape organizational outcomes and the behavior of individuals within the organization (North 1990:5). The second purpose of the article is to illustrate that institutions have an enormous impact on development organizations. In the language of new institutionalism, one might say that institutions "matter." I do not assume, however, that institutions that emerge from bargaining are necessarily as efficient, democratic, or effective as they could be. The lessons of the case studies have widespread applicability for state officials, international donors, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) officials who seek to design effective development initiatives.

Scholars have approached sub-Saharan Africa's underdevelopment using several explanatory variables, including class, ethnic, and gender cleavages, as causal factors influencing underdevelopment (Fatton 1995; Horowitz 1985; Parpart & Staudt 1990). …

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