The Arithmetic of Decentralization

Tue, 11 Mar 2008 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Decentralization is moving in full swing in Ghana. The practice, as a development venture, is to broaden the provision of public goods nation-wide by involving the citizenry in their progress.

But as Ghana’s development history reveals, decentralization develops better in a democracy – Ghana had had 21 years military juntas and 6 years of one-party regimes. That’s not normally cool for development. The Indian Nobel Prize winning laureate Amartya Sen, in “Development As Freedom,” argues that people develop better in a democracy, especially people who have gone through autocratic rules, suffocating one-party regimes, and mindless military juntas as Ghana had. And nowhere do we see this more than in Ghana’s emerging democracy and its decentralization process for the past 16 years.

With his eyes on history, part of President John Kufour’s legacies is decentralization as a development motor fertilized in healthy democracy. Kufour sees this as part of the broader “good governance and accelerated development” of his ruling National Patriotic Party which tout as its mantra “Freedom in Development,” with its in-built informal economy and property acquisition. It is as if they have borrowed a leaf from the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, author of “The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.”

But despite the rough start of project Ghana, decentralization has been crawling slowly with the almost 20-years-old Jerry Rawlings regime having effectively rolled the process. No doubt, Kufour acknowledges this and says “the introduction of the district assembly concept two decades ago had facilitated the growth of the local government system in the country.” That’s nice for Ghana’s budding democracy and the concept of continuity as a Ghanaian/African traditional value.

That makes the decentralization process preceding the Kufour regime but better driven under democracy for pretty much of Ghana has been under one-party regimes and military governments that did not augur well for sustainable decentralization, as the current World Bank literature and volumes on the intersection of development and democracy would say. And as Sen would say, the lack of long-running freedoms in Ghana has made it hard to solve problems of “poverty,” “famine,” ethnicity, “hunger,” and “extensive neglect of interests,” among others. At the centre of this is individual agency as freedoms, says Sen, as counter to all the troubles of poverty and deprivation. And Kufour would acknowledge Sen’s theory by confirming that the decentralization process aims to “enhanced development, poverty reduction,” and “good governance.”

Though decentralization may be part of the emerging global development architecture, it is how it is implemented that differs from one local to another. This is informed by the local’s history and culture, as the World Bank and other experts argue. That makes Ghana and the African region peculiar, for it is the only region where its development processes are dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its traditional values and histories. And the peculiarity tells the development troubles of Ghana.

Part of the solution is decentralization, as a way of involving the people in their development process by understanding their needs that are seen in their values based on their history and culture. But because of Ghana’s colonial heritage and its peoples’ culture much of the work of the decentralization process wheel around the mixing of Ghana’s traditional values with those of its ex-colonial Western orthodox ones. The global development design is replete with this. In Canada, Ottawa has enjoined federal policy-makers, where appropriate, to factor in indigenous values in policy-making and research.

But this is where much of the challenges will come in a Ghana where policy-making and bureaucratization, for the past 51 years, despite its history and rich culture, has been one-track – more ex-colonial neo-liberal Western paradigms running the development show to the detriment of Ghana’s traditional values.

Kufour is aware of this and reveals that the decentralization “transformation would require a new type of assembly members to comprehend both local and native issues that could give leadership and direction to the staff of the local government service in the district.” And that may mean reading from the locals and mixing them with the global prosperity construction.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi