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Decentralisations in practice in southern Africa
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Different forms of decentralisation are occurring in parallel, often in ways that cause confusion, ambiguity, high transaction costs and conflict, in southern Africa. Case studies in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe show how political authorities with downward accountability to electorates co-exist and sometimes conflict with decentralised service delivery (through line ministries, NGOs or donor projects). Multiple decentralisations have also brought conflicts between new local government authorities and "traditional" authorities - often further complicated by party-related affiliations. Rather than relying on idealised notions of decentralisation, the case studies suggest that efforts should be made to avoid the creation of parallel authority structures. Local government reform must take account of existing social and economic complexity and local power dynamics and not wish them away in the development of new systems of local governance. And, without providing adequate resources, and attempting to build capacity beyond councils, new elected authorities may quickly lose legitimacy, and fail to provide the development benefits they claim.
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