This is the thesis I wrote in my pursuit of honors at Dickinson College. It concerns the effect that decentralization has on corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa.
A decentralized government is one that is “closer to the people.” So, for example, the US government is very decentralized. You can vote for a government not just at the federal level, but at the state and county level. All those levels of government can raise funds, make laws, enforce them.
There’s a debate whether decentralization makes corruption more prevalent. If you see your local politician at the bar on fridays, that means there’s a higher chance you can engage in graft with him — but you’ll also see him drive off in that Porsche, which makes it more likely he’ll be voted out.
Most of the literature says that decentralized governments are less corrupt. But in much Sub-Saharan Africa, we’re dealing with a vastly different context, both instititionally and socially, from other countries. But no study has looked at that context. So that’s what I tried to do. I ran some regressions, and then compiled case studies of Uganda and South Africa. Conclusion: it’s not always clear what the connection is (of course!)
Check out the thesis here. (PDF).
Here’s the abstract:
This paper examines the impact of decentralization on political corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the recent literature finds that decentralization reduces corruption, an outcome which is often attributed to the ability of citizens to hold local officials accountable through the democratic process. However, no studies focus on this region in particular, a gap given the prevalence of neo-patrimonial politics, weak institutions, and a lack of democracy in many countries. Multiple regressions found no significant results, but indicated that decentralization might reduce corruption – albeit only slightly. Case studies of Uganda and South Africa illustrate difficulties in implementation. In Uganda, decentralization led to a decrease in corruption, because local democracy proved somewhat effective in disciplining corrupt officials. In South Africa, decentralization has increased corruption levels due to an overburdened bureaucracy and the lack of democracy at the local level. Seeing as the problems experienced by South Africa are common problems for many Sub-Saharan African countries, this paper argues that the enthusiastic embrace of decentralization by many international organizations might be somewhat overeager, and that findings on decentralization and corruption should not be generalized across contexts.