In This Review
Twilight Institutions: Public Authority and Local Politics in Africa
Wiley, 2007, 288 pp.
Gouverner les villes d'Afrique: État, gouvernement local et acteurs privés.
Karthala and the Centre d'étude d'Afrique noire, 2007, 184 pp.
Africa's crisis of governance has generated a lot of analysis, much of it focused on the decline of state capacity and the appropriation of public goods by state elites. What is less documented is how ordinary Africans interact with state structures and how they have adjusted to the decline of the central state. These two collections do a very nice job of filling this gap, focusing on state-citizen interaction at the local level. The collection edited by Lund ranges broadly. Several essays examine how citizens organize to promote security in the context of a breakdown in official policing. A fine essay by Kristine Juul on tax collection in Senegal shows that the few citizens who willingly pay taxes do so more to assert their citizenship than because they expect public services in return. Another essay tracks the evolving legitimacy and functions of traditional chieftaincies through the civil war and the return to multiparty rule in western Mozambique. The collection of essays (which is in French) edited by the French anthropologist Fourchard focuses more specifically on state-citizen interaction in Africa's urban areas but ranges over similar issues. Several essays assess recent donor-driven decentralization reforms and argue convincingly that the promised improvement in the effectiveness and responsiveness of local government remains mostly elusive. An excellent essay by Fourchard and Ayodeji Olukoju on city markets in Lagos and Ibadan, in Nigeria, shows that small retailers have organized self-help measures and private mechanisms to compensate for the growing failures of city government to maintain key health and security standards in the markets. The authors conclude, however, that, in the end, these actors cannot provide such public goods as basic urban infrastructure and that market development has suffered as a consequence.
The wide variety of situations and dynamics described in these two collections serves as a reminder of how hard it is to generalize about the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Still, two broad observations can be made: first, African citizens are demonstrating considerable resilience and imagination in finding ways to make up for the failures of public authority, and second, neoliberal myths notwithstanding, this redress is never complete -- state failures do continue to exercise a substantial cost on Africans' quality of life.
Source URL: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2008-03-02/twilight-institutions-public-authority-and-local-politics-africa