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Decentralised Cooperation and Joint Action

Building Partnerships Between Local Government and Civil Society in Africa

April 2001

Materu, J, T. Land, V.. Hauck and J. Knight. 2001. Decentralised Cooperation and Joint Action: Building Partnerships Between Local Government and Civil Society in Africa (Policy Management Report 10). Maastricht : ECDPM

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Currently, the development community is seeking innovative strategies to address the challenges of local development and poverty alleviation, decentra-lisation and local governance, and improving the effectiveness of aid transfers.

In November 1999 therefore, in Mombasa, Kenya, a group of 70 persons came together to compare lessons of experience of applying ‘joint action’ as an approach to local development and poverty alleviation.

Put simply, joint action is about promoting partnerships between local governments and civil society to plan, implement and review development programmes and projects. This is more easily said than done. Local partnerships challenge conventional ways of doing business, demanding the definition of new roles and responsibilities, new management techniques and capacities, and moreover a change of attitudes. 

A set of case studies was commissioned to draw practical lessons of experience from joint action initiatives in East and Southern Africa. The workshop was used to compare and contrast these experiences, particularly with regard to institutional and management dimensions. It also sought to define priority actions to support joint action in the field.

This report builds on the conclusions of the workshop. Drawing on the case studies and the rich discussions from the workshop, it provides an overview of the conceptual and operational issues pertaining to the practise of joint action. It seeks to provide both policy and operational guidance for good practice, which will be of value to local development actors, governments and the international development community.

It is however only a start. The workshop and this publication make it clear that further work is needed to understand how best to support and sustain partnerships between local development actors. 

The report is divided into four chapters. First, joint action as a development approach is set in its historical and conceptual framework. Changes in development cooperation, aid management and the role of the State are reviewed, as well as the emergence of interest in new forms of participatory development, local governance and decentralised cooperation.

Second, the key conceptual and operational questions to do with the management of joint action, as identified from the case studies, are presented. The chapter examines the understanding of joint action, processes and structures for participatory decision making, implementation and review, results achieved, and assesses factors responsible for success and failure.

Third, six local joint action case studies from Mombasa and Nakuru in Kenya, Same in Tanzania, Mamelodi in South Africa, Rakai in Uganda, Mutare in Zimbabwe are presented. In addition, a case study on joint action in Pikine, Senegal is included showing that the issue is of equal concern in francophone Africa.

The final chapter presents recommendations for further work on joint action, focusing on both policy and operational questions. 

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African institutionsDiscussion Papers (series)ResearchDecentralisationAfrica

External authors

Jossy Materu

Tony Land

Jane Knight