(Urban) Decentralization

Dernière mise à jour le 21 April 2019

Decentralization of governance : in many countries, during the last 25 years, began a process of decentralization. This process involves a transfer of powers to lower levels of governance.

This notion comes from the United States and then spread to other continents. Historically, this concept will be located in the U.S. to their strong independence from the United Kingdom. However, each country is unique: the theories do not generate a unique model of decentralization of public policy, one model would suffice to apply for more efficient public services.

The concept of decentralization, by continent and by country, considered differently. According to Dennis A Rondinelli from the University of Wisconsin and Professor Echraf Ouedrago University of Laval (Wikipedia), there exist four major types of decentralization:

  • Administrative decentralization (change in the organization of government)
  • Functional decentralization (operation by delegation – establishment of parent bodies)
  • Political decentralization (change in decision-making bodies)
  • Structural decentralization (transfer of ownership of an actor to another)

Depending sensitivities and realities on the ground, the social actors believe this as POSITIVE (strengthening local democracy) or NEGATIVE (capacity geographical inequalities).

NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF URBAN DECENTRALIZATION: Roland Benabou, in his article (economic model), explains how this phenomenon leads to a polarization-city suburbs as well as the emergence of ghettos. It starts from the idea that decentralization reinforces the importance of “social capital” existing in each territorial entity. These inequalities starting, not being “leveled” by a higher level of decision (redistribution) are increased in the context of decentralization. Some authors believe that this “fragmentation” of public power thus leaves more space for civil society, which can be achieved by simple groups of citizens, but also by organized civil society groups who assume new decision spaces. In all cases, the weakening of the public authority opens breaches in which can seep pressure groups, including private. Anne Bisang, Director of Comedy in Geneva, summarizes the adverse effects of urban decentralization: A theater is a center. since time immemorial, it is the place of gathering and exchange. Several theaters can coexist in the same center. Now multiply the centers outside the center divides the central and void.

POSITIVE EFFECTS OF URBAN DECENTRALIZATION: Many countries in the world have embarked on a process of decentralization. This is to establish a local neighborhood management or governance allows city managers and local communities to be more actresses in their city, can be put in place processes for citizen participation. This is only possible if certain conditions are met: transparency of decisions, accuracy of information, the right to be consulted, balanced mechanism for control of local authorities, etc..

Some information about the situation in the world:

AFRICA: Summit Africité of December 2012, many local officials recalled how decentralization of powers rhyme with decentralization of resources (human and financial) to lead the process positively. It started in the 90s, following the context of widespread disruption in the hope that decentralization would do better than the previous system. However the concept of decentralization is implemented differently in different countries and the realities on the ground. If Senegal and South Africa’s urban and rural communities are put at the same level, Swaziland has given financial and managerial autonomy to its urban entities but not to rural authorities: the scales of decentralization vary depending on the area. Some countries do not allow the decentralization entities capable of mobilizing a certain amount of the municipal budget. Thus, depending on the country, there is a more or less important to different statutes for local communities.

ASIA, during the conference AIMF Phnom Penh in March 2013, some local elected Asian spoke on the path towards decentralization. In Cambodia, decentralized country since 2002, a distinction is made between decentralization (delegation of political, fiscal and administrative power) and decentralization (autonomy of provinces and cities). Here also the decentralization of “financial resources” seems difficult. In some Asian megacities, the term decentralization also means a form of relocation of population and activities to relieve urban centers (eg Tokyo), which can also mean “[[definitions:u:urban_sprawl|urban sprawl]]”. Decentralization in China is one of the pillars of China’s economic reform since 1978. It means at the same time a delegation of powers from the central government to local authorities, but also the planning authorities to public enterprises. It is, for them, put them in a system of “fiscal responsibility.” Among the current findings of this policy include an increased deficit and increased disparities between provinces.

EUROPE: Some countries have historically highly centralized management (such as France) also want to enter into a process of decentralization in the perspective that In administers well “that closely.” The issue of housing, housing is now often referred to decentralized entities assumed at once better understand the specific local needs and therefore able to implement the most appropriate local responses. Some countries believe that decentralization can not be done effectively as part of an overall comprehensive plan. This means putting in place the authorities “guardianship” able to give these general guidelines as well as to resolve any disputes on behalf of the greater good. Some believe that the phenomenon of decentralization has been or is associated with the privatization of public services.

LATIN AMERICA: the concept of urban governance is relatively recent (late 90s), introduced by Brazil. Governance is understood as “the relationship between civil society and the state, between the rulers and the ruled, the local government and the governed” (Stren, 2000:4). This is the interdependence between the state and civil society is at the heart of the debate. This decentralization must be accompanied by a delegation of powers. It is probably in this context that we must understand the participatory budgeting” born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as a concrete example of decentralization.


  • French Development Agency (AFD)
  • Bénabou Roland, “Quelques effets de la décentralisation sur les structures urbaines et le système éducatif“. In Revue économique. Volume 46, n°3, 1995. pp. 595-604.
  • African Association for Public Administration and Management, sub theme : Impact de la décentralisation sur la gouvernance au Cameroun, Tanzania, 2006.
  • Bernard Jouve, “Gouvernance et décentralisation : les masques tombent enfin.”,, Travaux, 17.01.2004.
  • François Paul Yatta, La décentralisation fiscale en Afrique, Karthala, 2009.
  • Jean-François Jolly, Régir le territoire et gouverner les territoires : décentralisation et territorialisation des politiques publiques en Colombie, L’Harmattan, France, 2008.
  • Kiichiro Fukasaku, Luiz R. de Mello, La décentralisation budgétaire dans les économies émergentes, OCDE, 1999.

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