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Linkages between Decentralisation and Decentralised Cooperation in Ghana

November 1999

Amanor, K. and J. Annan. 1999. Linkages between Decentralisation and Decentralised Cooperation in Ghana (Discussion Paper 9).

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Since the early 1980s, Ghana has been involved in a decentralisation process. Its origin can be traced back to the economic crisis that emerged from inappropriate top-down approaches to development. Initially, decentralisation was seen as a policy which would empower local communities to initiate local development projects in a period when government was critically short of resources. Gradually, the emphasis shifted to institutional reforms that promote democratisation at local level, linkages between state and civil society, and processes of dialogue, representation and accountability. A legal framework was put in place for the devolution of central government functions to 110 local districts within a three-tier structure of Regional Coordinating Councils, District Assemblies and Town Area Councils/Unit Committees

Decentralisation has been a complex and fragile process. Local governments have been confronted with problems of legitimacy, lack of technical and planning capacities, as well as limited financial resources. Building a new administrative culture – based on local management systems that are participatory, transparent and accountable – is both a necessity and a difficult task. 

Donor agencies have supported this decentralisation process. However, it quickly became clear that effective support cannot be provided within the confines of traditional project approaches to development, with short-term objectives and clearly defined budgets. New approaches need to be developed that are process-oriented, that seek to build new capacities and that promote strategic alliances between diverse actors in the pursuit of a commonly agreed local development agenda.

This study is part of a comparative research progarmme (including similar case studies in Mali and Mozambique) initiated by ECDPM and supported by the European Commission (EC). It examines how EU cooperation with Ghana under the Lomé Convention could help consolidate the decentralisation process. It starts from the premise that the EUs decentralised cooperation approach potentially provides a suitable framework for such an assistance. The guiding principles of this approach (i.e. the active participation of the different actors, the search for public-private partnerships, the delegation of management responsibilities, the choice for a process-approach and the focus on capacity-building) fit nicely with the requirements of a strategic support to decentralisation.

In practice, however, linkages between decentralisation and decentralised cooperation remain rather elusive in Ghana. Decentralised cooperation was launched in 1994 as a two-year pilot programme with limited funding. Progress in implementation has been hampered, in a first phase, by conceptual confusion, lack of appropriate institutional arrangements and weak capacities at different levels. In addition to this, decentralised cooperation tended to adopt a project-oriented approach (focusing on supporting many isolated initiatives) rather than facilitating dialogue and joint action between state organisations and non-state actors (in line with the dynamics of the broader decentralisation process).

Yet things are changing. This study shows that new strategic alliances between local government actors and non-state actors are emerging. Donor agencies, including the EC, are exploring innovative ways to build linkages between the various development players at local level, to increase the demand- making capacity of local communities and to promote local governance.

In a concluding section, operational ways are identified in which the EU’s decentralised cooperation can help to build upon these potentials and develop a stronger articulation with decentralisation. It is argued, for instance, that district assemblies are a suitable location in which to place decentralised cooperation programmes. Rather than creating high level, ad-hoc management structures, it would be logical to devolve as much of management capacity as possible to district assemblies while building conplementary structures with space for dialogue and collaboration between state and non-state actors. In the same logic, the EUs decentralised cooperation programme could seek to foster joint donor funding arrangements and support for district level initiatives. 

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African institutionsDiscussion Papers (series)ResearchDecentralisationAfricaGhanaWest Africa

External authors

Kojo Amanor

Joe Annan