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FOCUS - Il federalismo in tempi di transizione N. 2 - 22/06/2018

 African Federalism and Decentralization in Action: Evidences of a Blurred Story from Kenya and South Africa

Since the last decades of the past century, almost all African States have introduced federalism or other forms of distribution of power at local level. These institutional arrangements are designated by different terms, notably ‘federations’, ‘decentralized systems of government’, and ‘devolved governments’. Like a number of broad legal and political concepts, as “constitutionalism”, “participation” or “democracy”, federalism and decentralization may assume different meanings for different people in different contexts. The proliferation of legal systems that claim to be federal or decentralized contributes to the indeterminacy of the two notions. Moreover, when applied to the African continent, they assume an additional “African flavor”, which increases the indeterminacy and makes the analysis even more complex. Despite the tendency to blur the perimeter of significance of the two concepts and make them converge, federalism and decentralization remain different: the former designates a system characterized by a vertical division of powers between the national government and sub-national entities entrenched in the Constitution, whereas the latter indicates a system in which there is a transfer of responsibility from the central government to sub-national entities, which may be simply provided for by ordinary legislation (even though a constitutional provision for decentralization is frequent in decentralized systems). Furthermore, decentralization can assume a political and/or administrative and/or fiscal character and it acquires diverse connotations according to the different degrees of transfer of responsibility: 1) deconcentration, which is the weakest form of decentralization where the center maintains the control over sub-national entities; 2) delegation, which is a more extensive form of decentralization, where central governments transfer the responsibility for decision-making and the administration of public functions to semi-autonomous organizations not wholly controlled by the central government, but ultimately accountable to it; 3) devolution, when central governments devolve functions to quasi-autonomous units of local government with corporate status… (segue)

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