Monday, May 31, 2010


Being a keynote address presented by Ndiva Kofele KALE , University Distinguished Professor & Professor of Law(from USA), during a Public Dialogue on Decentralization Organized by the Buea Municipal Council of Cameroon, under the theme “Participation: the challenge for Decentralization in Cameroon” at Pan-African Institute for Development Buea, 26-27 May, 2010
In the early hours of November 23 in the year of our Lord 79 A.D., the area around Mt. Vesuvius shook with a huge earthquake; as the mountain split open it released a mushroom cloud that rose upward to nearly 60,000 feet (18,000 meters), that is twice the cruising altitude of most commercial jet planes! Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, aka Pliny the Younger, Roman senator, lawyer & amateur historian-- whose eye-witness account of the eruption the great Roman historian, Tacitus, relied on in writing the history of this period– described huge, billowing, gray-black clouds. Under this shroud of pitch darkness, the inhabitants of Pompeii, a prosperous Roman city situated at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, were showered non-stop with hot volcanic ash mixed with pumice-stones.

Ladies and Gentlemen, imagine, if you will, a powerful current of hot larva rushing toward you at breakneck speed, estimated at about 100miles an hour (160 kilometers per hour), hour after hour for nearly 18 hours. By the time it stopped, Pompeii & most of its citizens were buried under 22 meters (72 feet) of volcanic ash. And there they remained, forgotten for nearly 1600 years until the ruins were accidentally rediscovered in 1592.
Buea sits on the southeastern slope of Mt. Cameroon which like Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano. Six times in the 20th century and once in this century, Fako has not disappointed. What if the next volcanic eruption produces consequences on the same scale as those of Vesuvius 1,921 years ago? What is the probability that our Buea could become the 21st century version of ancient Pompeii?
Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot make projections on Buea fifty years from now without contemplating the possibility that Buea may cease to exist long before that. Fifty years is a long time and anything can happen. Certainly if anyone had told Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus in May 79 AD that Pompeii would be reduced to rubble and buried under its own weight in a matter of months, he would most likely have dismissed it as a tasteless joke. The disappearance of Pompeii would have been the last thing on his mind! Just as that of Buea is the last thing anyone in this audience is willing to contemplate.
However, in the firm belief that divine providence has reserved for Buea a fate far better than that which befell ancient Pompeii, let us now move on to the task I was commissioned to execute. A wise man once observed that: Only fools rush in where even angels fear to tread. But that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is precisely what I agreed to do when I accepted the Honorable Moki mo’Mbella’s invitation to address this distinguished assemblage on the topic: “The Challenges and Opportunities of Decentralization: Buea in the year 2060” which, if you note, is bifurcated: the first part invites us to critically review the challenges and opportunities of decentralization. I suspect you are asking the same question I have put to myself since I pronounced that fateful “yes” to the invitation: Who would be that foolish and reckless to accept to engage a topic of this kind in a conclave of elected mayors and municipal councilors. You, after all, are the men and women on the frontline who wrestle daily with the vagaries of this phenomenon. No one knows better than you the multiple challenges and promises of decentralization. So, I shall not presume to lecture you on a subject the intricacies of which you, undeniably, are the acknowledged experts.
The other half of the topic: Buea in the year 2060, presupposes a certain expertise in gazing at a crystal ball in order to foretell the future. Here again I have recklessly positioned myself on treacherous ground because this job of clairvoyance is one better left to the marabouts. And not just any marabout but only the grand marabouts! In my defense, I enter two pleas:
First, the Mayor of Buea was very persuasive in cajoling me into accepting this invitation and before I realized what I was saying it was already too late.
Secondly, I believe that in life a person should always strive to ensure that his reach exceeds his grasp; and there are times when one has to throw caution to the wind and proceed where even angels think twice before venturing in!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit that any discourse on the challenges and opportunities of decentralization makes little sense unless it is contextualized. For practitioners like you, a bland, sterile, academic discussion on this subject would hardly be engaging. I think it would be much more fruitful if we were to tackle this issue of decentralization by relating it to the concrete case of a municipality, one that is fixed both in time and space. Should you agree and I do hope you do, then I would like to put to you the following question: what would the municipality of Buea look like 50 years from now when, presumably, the process of decentralization would have reached its apogee? To answer this question requires me to work my way backwards:
First, I place Buea in its historical context, i.e., its past, present and future on the hunch that what Buea was, is and will influence the nature, the shape and form of its decentralization;
Next, I situate the concept of decentralization on the broader landscape of democratic local governance. One cannot separate “decentralization” from the democratic imperative, because historically the former has always been a response to the prodding of the latter and both, like Siamese twins, are inextricably bound;

Finally, I touch on the challenges decentralization presents and the opportunities it offers to municipalities like Buea.

Fifty years from today Buea would be commemorating its 305th anniversary as home to an intrepid band of hunters led by Ey’a Njia Tama Lifanje who crossed Fako from the west, sometime between 1750 and 1755, heading southeastwards in pursuit of their quarry, finally settling in Buea. From its modest beginning Buea gradually developed into a powerful garrison state, with strong expansionist tendencies. Between 1755 and 1895, a period of almost 140 years, Buea was able to assert its independence and dominance over its immediate neighbors until it was conquered by German colonial forces in November 1895. At the height of its power, the population of this “Kingdom on Mount Cameroon” (Ardener’s felicitous term) hardly rose above 1,500.
Today Buea has an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000. This number would likely climb to between two and three million or more by the year 2060. Based on UN projections, population growth in general and urban growth in particular, in the next twenty years, is expected to be particularly rapid in Africa, averaging 5% per year. Interestingly, Cameroon’s annual urban growth rate is in line with the African average. So, we should expect the Buea population to continue to swell in the next fifty years and this growth will be the product of the same factors that account for urban growth elsewhere in Africa:
 rural–urban migration,
 natural population increase, and
 the geographic expansion of Buea’s current administrative boundaries through annexations (e.g., tacking on Ekona and Idenau to the Buea municipality).

Against this backdrop, it bears asking what the demographic profile of Buea would be fifty years from today? The small band of Bakweri-speaking hunters who accompanied Eye Njie to their new encampment in Buea in 1755 could not have numbered more than ten families. On the eve of the First Bakweri-German War in 1891 these first settlers had grown to between 1,000 and 1,500 inhabitants. Sixty-five years later, the number of Bakweri in all of Fako Division stood at about 16,000; hardly what one would consider an impressive rate of growth. Since Edwin Ardener’s pioneering 1953 study on divorce and fertility among the Bakweri, where he observed an alarming slump in this group’s fertility rates, anecdotal evidence confirms this decline to have continued unabated! So, for instance, by 1974 there were an estimated 17 non-Bakweri to every indigenous person in Fako Division. This trend raises some particularly troubling questions regarding the cosmopolitan character of Buea in the year 2060.
Fifty years from today, how many Bakweri will be counted among the population of Buea?
Who will the new migrants to Buea in the next fifty years be and where will they be coming from?
What face, complexion and accent will this new influx of people to Buea have?

What would Buea’s municipal government look like in the year 2060? Current electoral law stipulates that in confectioning a list of candidates for municipal council elections, political parties and the administration must “take into consideration the various sociological components of the constituency.”

How will this translate in a Buea, if those who constitute the majority population already control most, if not all, of the local governments in say, Donga-Mantung, Lebielem, Mezam and Momo Divisions?

How does one promote and protect “sociological sensibilities” in the case of an indigenous people who are vastly outnumbered by the immigrant population by, say, a ratio of ten to one?

As we approach the year 2060 are those halcyon days gone when it was simplistically assumed that the elected mayor of Buea as well as the parliamentarians representing this constituency would automatically be Bakweri?

Exponential growth and overwhelming pressure on municipal services
Brushing aside for the moment these sociological imponderables, what other problems await the citizens of Buea half a century from now? Cameroonian economist, Fondo Sikod, squarely identifies some of those problems and challenges:
Cameroon has no planned urban area. Towns grow haphazardly, covering surrounding rural neighbourhoods which become urban informal settlements as the poor colonize them. There is no zoning in these areas and population densities are usually very high. Houses are built in any shape, style and size and face any direction. The result is that some people's living rooms face other people's pit latrines or garbage dumps. There are no sewers in the poor neighbourhoods. Quite often, water for drinking and cooking comes from wells that are close to pit latrines.
Sikod is describing Buea, Kumba, Mamfe, Edea, Maroua, in short, the average Cameroonian town. But his cold and clinical assessment of the current state of urbanization in Cameroon unwittingly provides urban planners with a blueprint of what to avoid and what to pursue as they plan ahead for Buea’s future. Luckily for these designers they have fifty years to tinker around in order to get it right. Question: how far along would decentralization have gone to permit the population of Buea to take ownership of their metropolis and through a democratic process shape it the way that best serves their collective interests? This question can be better answered if we are all agreed on what decentralization is and what its reformist and transformative potentials are.

PART II: DECENTRALIZATION: Challenges and Opportunities

Cameroon like many African countries is in the process of decentralizing significant functions to local governments. Here we understand decentralization to mean the transfer of authority and responsibility from the central government to subordinate or quasi-independent government organizations or the private sector. Because decentralization is a hydra-headed creature, it is important to distinguish among the various types of decentralization. This is necessary because they have different characteristics, policy implications, and conditions for success.
• Deconcentration refers to the redistribution of financial and management responsibilities among different levels of the central government. Often considered the weakest form of decentralization, deconcentration is used most frequently in unitary states. Within this category, however, policies and opportunities for local input vary:

o deconcentration can merely shift responsibilities from central government officials in the capital city to those working in regions or divisions (essentially it is the assignment of specific functions and tasks performed by the staff of the headquarters of central administrations to staff posted in peripheral locations within the national territory), or

o it can create strong field administration or local administrative capacity under the supervision of central government ministries.

• Delegation is a more extensive form of decentralization. Here the central government transfers responsibility for decision-making and administration of public functions to semi-autonomous organizations not wholly controlled by the central government, though ultimately accountable to it.
o Governments delegate responsibilities when they create public enterprises or corporations, housing authorities, transportation authorities, special service districts, semi-autonomous school districts, regional development corporations, or special project implementation units. They may be exempt from constraints on regular civil service personnel and may be able to charge users directly for services.

• Devolution is the transfer of authority for decision-making, finance, and management to quasi-autonomous units of local government with corporate status. Devolution usually transfers responsibilities for services to municipalities that elect their own mayors and councils, raise their own revenues, and have independent authority to make investment decisions.
o In a devolved system, local governments have clear and legally recognized geographical boundaries over which they exercise authority and within which they perform public functions. It is this type of decentralization that underlies most political decentralization.
It is important that we understand the full implications of real devolution so as not to confuse it with inadequate devolution. The choice of devolution implies changes in the political and fiscal dimensions of government. Local governments to which authority and resources are devolved acquire the power of autonomous initiative and decision making with respect to setting their own rules, goals and objectives. They also acquire the power of elaborating and implementing their own policies and strategies, and of allocating resources to different activities within the domain assigned to them. In addition, they often are given authority to raise financial resources, through taxes, and in some cases, to borrow on the capital markets. When these critical elements are missing what we have instead is inadequate devolution.
• Fiscal decentralization. Financial responsibility is at the heart of decentralization. To carry out their decentralized functions effectively, local governments and private NGOs must have adequate revenues, either raised locally or transferred from the central government, as well as the authority to make expenditure decisions. Fiscal decentralization can take many forms, including:
• Self-financing or cost recovery through user charges;
o Co financing or co production, in which users participate in providing services and infrastructure through monetary or labor contributions
o Expansion of local revenues through property or sales taxes or indirect charges
o intergovernmental transfers of general revenues from taxes collected by the central government to local governments for general or specific uses;
o Authorization of municipal borrowing and mobilization of national or local government resources through loan guarantees.
Why decentralization? Several factors account for the current interest in decentralization? What has motivated countries to decentralize?
In response to a constitutional imperative. For example, article 1, paragraph (1)(2) of the Constitution of Cameroon describes the Republic as “a decentralized unitary State” while Part X-- articles 55-62-- enshrines the autonomy of sub national governments (see also the Constitutions of Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and South Africa). Such an entrenchment makes it more difficult for national institutions to erode the power and authority of local institutions;

As a response to pressures from regional and ethnic groups for more control and participation in political processes and in the process strengthening local democracy. Here decentralization could be nothing more than a desperate attempt to keep a country together in the face of centrifugal and centripetal pressures by granting more autonomy to all localities or by forging “asymmetrical federations;”—the case of Ethiopia.
As an outcome of internal unrest; for instance, in Uganda and Mozambique, decentralization allowed local participation and brought together warring factions;

In recognition of the limitations and the failure of central administration and the need to improve service delivery at the local level—a means of ensuring that infrastructure and service provision reach the greatest number of people;

In the absence of a meaningful alternative governance structure to provide local government services; in failed states (Somalia, Haiti come to mind) where there is no functioning central government, the enterprise of governance usually falls on private NGOs.
An involuntary response to external pressure—decentralization was one of the conditionalities in the World Bank structural adjustment reform package of the 1980s. Countries receiving structural adjustment loans were strongly ‘encouraged’ to deconcentrate their over-centralized government administration and to strengthen local governments through devolution of various functions previously entrusted to central government units.
Enabling Environment for Decentralization
Is there an archetypal political environment that is particularly receptive to the decentralization impulse? I ask because in our continent decentralization is being pursued in Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone countries. These countries have inherited the administrative and political traditions of the former colonial powers and their regimes, and these have in turn influenced how decentralization policies were developed and implemented.
Are Anglophone countries better wired to receive decentralization, weaned on, as they have been, to the British political tradition of “Indirect Rule” where the central government does not have direct power to discipline local authorities but can control through subventions (financial allocations) and judicial decisions? This system contrasts with the French and Portuguese systems of local government that are highly centralized and where the “prefect” is directly under the (disciplinary) control of the central government.
Colonial heritage aside, does a country’s political configuration advance or retard decentralization?
• Do federal systems, for example, facilitate decentralization and development better than unitary systems?
• Do the former have a better institutional framework and the basic capacity building tools supportive of decentralized governance?
It has been advanced in some quarters that local governments in unitary systems function largely as administrative units of the center, within legislative powers assigned to them by the central government. This is in sharp contrast to a federal system where different independent governments make public decisions and provide opportunities (more so than unitary systems) for the participation of the local population. You who travel around the world observing local governments in action, let me ask you: whether Accra, Ghana is managed differently from Dakar in Senegal? Better? Efficiently? How different are the municipal governments of Ikom or Calabar in Nigeria from those of Eyumojock and Santa? I suspect that Nigerian and Ghanaian municipalities are organized, managed and governed differently from their French-speaking counterparts. And I make bold the claim that these differences are not just limited to style and design but are quite fundamental!

The Challenges and Opportunities of Decentralization
Decentralization creates both challenges and opportunities. I limit myself here to three of the principal challenges:
The Lack of Political Will: Despite pronouncements to the contrary, central governments often do not want to devolve power to the local level. National political leaders and civil servants may resist decentralization for any number of reasons, from the narrow, parochial interest of retaining power to the broader concern of maintaining national oversight in the interest of uniformity.
The Management Challenge: As the process of decentralization, it will not take that long for reality to sink in that many local governments have limited financial and human resources and inadequate governance capacity to fulfill the mandate thrust upon them. Many of our municipal governments lack the necessary institutional capacity to manage their rapidly growing populations. As central administration shifts to untested local governments responsibility for, say, public health, education, shelter, waste management, and so on, few of them are equipped with the technical and managerial expertise needed to take on these new responsibilities. Will the next fifty years make a difference?

The Challenge of Unrequited Expectations: Decentralization may not be the panacea that it is touted to be if it is only limited to the “deconcentration” of national authority and services to the local level, without the devolution of revenue-generating and decision-making authority necessary for true decentralization. Absent this degree of autonomy from the central government, local governments may be circumscribed in their ability to track and account for local government funds and make wise decisions on how to spend the funds.
Decentralization is about the shifting of assignments and responsibilities and comfortably ensconced within this realignment of tasks and authority are boundless opportunities to be harnessed. Let me mention only two:

The Promise of Good Governance: decentralization helps to clean up government, improve services and improve local administration; it makes local governments more participatory, more accountable, and, consequently, more effective.

The Expansion of Political Space: decentralization can bring government closer to the people and can become a means to empower citizens locally. That is, beyond simply devolving administration or management of service delivery to sub national units, decentralization can also lead to the creation of sustainable democratic processes that guarantee popular participation in local governance through town meetings, public hearings on major issues, participatory planning and budgeting, and opinion surveys.

But these opportunities can only be exploited only when the necessary conditions for creating more transparent, accountable, responsive and effective local governments are in place. That is:
An appropriate legal and regulatory framework, especially one that supports market-oriented municipal finance

Allows access to private sector borrowing facilities becomes necessary when public sector resources are insufficient to meet all infrastructure investment needs;

A strong civil society, and increased opportunities for participation in the governance process, and

Local governments with the capacity to manage, finance and deliver services. At the end of the day, what matters most is that the Buea local government is able to deliver services to its residents and that citizens of this town have recourse through democratic means should their local government be unwilling or unable to deliver those services.
These crucial basics respond to both the supply of and demand requirements for good governance. If by the year 2060 the Buea municipal government is in a position to improve the delivery of key services (e.g., education, community health care, potable water), the tangible benefits that result can demonstrate the value of decentralized democratic governance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have rambled on for much too long and your patience is beginning to wear thin even though you are much too polite to say so. Let me now mercifully bring this to a close by offering this thought: when the population of Buea gathers in the year 2060 to celebrate three centuries of their city’s existence, many of us assembled in this room today will not be alive to behold that momentous event. But a few of you here would and it is to you then that I wish to extend a happy birthday in advance! I extend my heartfelt thanks to Mayor Moki mo’Mbella whose gracious invitation accounts for my presence here today; Sir, I hope it was all worth the trouble. To you, our municipal magistrates and distinguished guests, I say thank you for listening. Moderators, this concludes my presentation!

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