Local Government, State Capacities and Public Policies in Federal States of the Global South

Dr. Klaus Frey
Open Panel

Federalism has proven a highly attractive form of state structuring above all in the case of large and/or culturally and ethnically heterogeneous countries in the global South, as it apparently allows reconciling local or state autonomy with the advantages of being part of a major, more powerful national community. Yet, with the globally implemented neoliberal reforms in the 1980s decentralisation has become a major reform strategy, advised by international agencies as the World Bank. It was generally assumed that strong subnational governments, particularly local governments, could compensate for the hollowing out of the state on the national level. Despite the relative strengthening of local governments by transferring political power and financial resources to the local level, and despite innovative experimentation with political participation, as happened in many countries of Latin America, the local state due to its limited state capacities revealed a limited capacity to deal with the extensive demands related to infrastructure and public services in a context of general economic decay.
As a consequence, in the 1990s and 2000s federal governments tended to reassume political protagonism in public policy-making. The role of local governments has been often limited to the execution of public policies centrally conceived and designed, therefore eventually reducing the possibilities of local governments to pursue policies in accordance with their locally identified priorities. Currently, new challenges related to the refugee crisis, environmental degradation and climate change related disasters, high unemployment rates, and the increase of urban violence, amongst others, enhance pressure on local governments to actively face these challenges reassuming political protagonism. For this panel we invite papers presenting findings from case studies and comparative national and international studies able to contribute to a better understanding of the possibilities and limits of local governments in federal states of the Global South to effectively assuming local protagonism in public policies. Contributions could focus on explanatory variables like institutional arrangements, state capacities, coordination mechanisms, state-society relations, local democracy, governance and decentralisation, inter alias. We hope this panel may contribute to trigger an effective long-term cooperation between researchers related to local governments and federalism in the global South.


No accepted papers currently in this panel.