Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 321–342 | Cite as

Party Systems and Decentralization in Africa

  • Rachel Beatty RiedlEmail author
  • J. Tyler Dickovick


What explains when and to what extent central governments implement decentralization? By centering on the strategic incentives that follow from the particular configuration of competitiveness and party system coherence, we propose a theory that can begin to explain the divergent outcomes in the many forms of decentralization initiated across Africa. This explanation for the extent to which robust decentralization is implemented over time suggests two counter-intuitive findings. First, authoritarian regimes may decentralize further than democratic ones, given the incentives to the hegemonic party where such reforms are initiated. Second, highly fragmented and deeply localized polities may decentralize most minimally, even where there is a broad consensus about the desirability of such reforms. We provide a first test of the theory through a comparative analysis of over a dozen countries, focusing on process tracing for Ethiopia, Botswana, Ghana, and Benin.


Political parties Decentralization Africa Public policy 



The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of several people who have commented on this work in various forms. These include Ed Connerley, Derese Kassa, Jonathan Rodden, Jesse Ribot, participants in the Midwest Group in African Political Economy, and the anonymous reviewers whose comments strengthened the paper greatly. Thanks are also due to numerous interviewees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Washington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA

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