Speech - Regional Conference on Federalism and Decentralisation

Feb 25, 2013

- Delivered by UNDP Ethiopia Resident Representative Eugene Owusu


H. E. Hon. Kassa Teklebrhan -Speaker House of Federation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia


Excellencies, Ambassadors


Senior Government officials


Ladies and Gentlemen,



It is indeed an honour and a privilege to be invited to this conference to engage in a consultative dialogue on federalism and decentralisation. I am delighted to see that we have this impressive array of people to come this conference, a topic that probably 60 years ago would have been viewed as a substitute for divide and rule and a convenient disguise for government to abdicate its responsibility. Indeed times have change and Africa is changing.

As Africa continues on the established positive growth path, the next challenge is not just how to reconcile growing inequality, but how the center interacts with the periphery. The established progress should not mask the fact that local development efforts are increasingly dependent on centrally allocated public funds. Sub-national development remains increasingly dependent on the centre.

Allow me to preface my remarks by affirming that it is most fitting that the conference takes place in Ethiopia, representing as it is, Ethiopia’s leadership and commitment to popular participation, self-determination and poverty eradication. These bold ambitions articulated in Ethiopia constitution indeed constitute a shared value that has provided the platform for stability and a positive growth.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Speaker of the House of Federation, H.E Hon. Kassa Teklebrhan for his vision and leadership in convening this conference. Mr. Speaker, UNDP is privileged to work with you and learn from your vast and immense experience of the distinguished delegates assembled here.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen

This conference is held against the backdrop of concurrent calls for regionalization and decentralization. How can African states integrate and decentralize at the same time? Whilst these may seem contradictory policy orientations, they are merely efforts towards strengthening central and local governance in order to support the critical objectives of national unity, democratization, greater efficiency and equity in the use of public resources and service delivery.

As demonstrated by the recent AU call for a continental position on local government, decentralization is increasingly being favoured by many African countries as the most suitable mode of governance through which poverty reduction interventions can be conceived, planned, implemented, monitored and evaluated. This conference therefore provides an opportunity for regional leadership in shaping and influencing continental reflections on decentralisation.

Despite widespread advocacy and praise for decentralization, the varying degree of its implementation suggests different appreciation of its scope and transformative power. The variation in progress is attributable to the unique diversity of countries in terms of key factors including the socio-economic status, the prevailing national legal and institutional framework and ultimately the political will to implement decentralization.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen

Our experience supporting countries to strengthen popular participation for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development have thought us that decentralization is not a panacea to the development challenges Africa faces. It is not a static, but an evolving and dynamic process whose form and pace of implementation are shaped by each country’s unique political and institutional arrangements, capacities as well as resources. 

Decentralization is only the first critical step in a lengthy process requiring continuous political will and commitment.  In order for decentralization to succeed, it must empower the local people, establish arrangements where local communities work together in partnership with the Central Government, private sector and civil society, mobilise and allocate sufficient resources to participating institutions as well as establish reliable mechanisms for resource utilisation, transparency and accountability. 

Against this backdrop, without pre-empting the outcome of these reflections, allow me to highlight some of the issues that  are central in enhancing  to successful implementation of decentralisation as a means to eradicate poverty. These suggestions are not exhaustive, rather, they are indicative of the areas that could improve the transfer of authority and responsibility for service delivery to the local level:

1.   Capacity Constraints: the Inability of local government to account for Central Government transfers, human resource and revenue collection constraints. Institutional Co-ordination: Weak institutional coordination at all levels leading to the duplication of roles, overlapping mandates, conflicts between policy and implementation, resource waste and inadequate standardization of donors. Local Government Structures: The existing decentralized local government structures, systems and procedures need to be effectively consolidated. Economic/Revenue Base: The need to enlarge the economic/revenue base of the local governments and to strengthen their revenue mobilization mechanisms. Gender concerns:  The need to effectively mainstream gender concerns into the planning process, to strengthen participatory planning and develop skills in preparing integrated district development plans and budgets.  Legal/Policy Gaps: The need for consolidation of legislative provisions on local government in order to facilitate efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery.  In some cases (Botswana, Namibia), it is noted that some of the legislative provisions are designed to protect the interests of Central Governments, and the national political elites in particular, resulting in a mosaic of legislation that does not sufficiently take into consideration the interests of citizens.  Decentralization and Democracy: While there is widespread evidence that decentralization fosters democracy, it should also be noted that in poor, underdeveloped countries with little or no tradition of democratic practice, decentralization may work against democracy.  This happens, for example, when decentralized government is captured by corrupt non-accountable elites. Recentralization:  Recentralization is also emerging as a threat to local governance given the persistence of actors at the centre trying to retain control over authority and resources. Sometimes there are also pockets of resistance to decentralization among line ministries where a misperception about reform and the consequence of change seems to prevail in all the countries in the sub regions.

Decentralization Implementation Strategy:

Decentralization  policies and programmes in Africa are designed more often on the basis of ideological instruments rather than an analysis of the empirical reality of what exists on the ground.  This is further aggravated by the paucity of information on local political issues.

These are just some of the critical issues that I urge this distinguished group of participants to reflect on in the next three days.

 On this note, I wish to once again express my own  appreciation and that of the UNDP for the opportunity to be part of this very important conference. UNDP looks forward to the conclusions of this conference and stand ready to explore partnerships on decentralisation.

I thank you

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