Citizen perceptions of local government responsiveness in sub-Saharan Africa

Citizen perceptions of local government responsiveness in sub-Saharan Africa

How responsive is local governance to citizens' needs in sub-Saharan Africa?

The daily lives of Africans remain relatively untouched by the agents and institutions of a central state.
Ordinary people are more likely to experience day-to-day interactions with local government entities or with informal, traditional or religious leaders in the community. This paper therefore, examines local government performance from the perspective of users, with special attention to questions of responsiveness, representation and accountability. However, the results both confirm and challenge conventional wisdom.

The paper provides finding such as:

  • While citizen activism boosts the popular perception that local leaders are responsive, tax compliance is only weakly connected to responsiveness, and thus to representation and accountability
  • Local governments in Africa tend to have acquired few powers, attained limited technical competencies, and often been subordinated – politically, organizationally and fiscally – to central states. Their operations have been oriented more to top-down mandates than to bottom-up demands
  • Popular assessments of political accountability at the local level are driven by instrumental attitudes about government performance. And, contrary to expectations, a citizen’s experience as a victim of corruption leads to perceptions of more, not less, responsive leadership
  • The countries of sub-Saharan Africa display considerable variation in the institutionalization of local government structures as marked by age, coverage, and capacity
  • The prospects for the development of African local governments depend on the establishment of a local revenue base.

The paper provides the following conclusions:

  • Taxation does not lead to representation in African local government. Other things equal, there is no connection between the number of taxes or fees that a citizen pays and his or her perception that councillors are responsive - corruption partially displaces taxation in linking people and leaders
  • Africans tend to assess the openness of local leaders to popular demands mainly in terms of institutional performance at 'delivering the goods'. In this regard, people regard the provision of opportunities for political participation even more highly than the delivery of concrete benefits like well maintained roads and markets
  • There is no function or procedure on which a majority of citizens consider that their own council authority is performing 'well'. People are especially unhappy with council performance at integrating citizens into the agenda-setting and decision-making processes of local self-government.
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