Local Government, State Capacities and Public Policies in Federal States of the Global South: Cities and the Environment from a Policy-Politics Perspective

Dr. Klaus Frey
Closed 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. The focus of this panel is on how local governments in the large cities of the global South cope politically with the challenges of urban development and the environmental crisis in the current context of neoliberalisation, democratic crisis, increased environmental risks, social vulnerabilities, urban violence and civic unrest. What strategies are being pursued in terms of public policies and governance? What strengths and weaknesses can be discerned?