Can Local Governments Be Effective? Case Studies of Post-independence Ghana
Aikins, Kenneth Shelton
University of Kansas
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Many African nations use both statutory and customary laws in governing their countries. This suggests an apparent mix of formal and informal rules. For example, the 1992 Constitution of Ghana did not abrogate customary law, but protects chieftaincy, a corollary of customary law. The situation becomes even more complicated within a democratizing country attempting to decentralize and allow for greater local autonomy. It also creates a struggle for space between state and chieftaincy, which naturally ensues in areas that may intentionally not be codified, such as succession rules and traditional land management. This fray has sometimes sparked violent disagreements and conflicts, with a likely spillover into national politics. These conflicts can compromise effective local government if they are not successfully resolved. Without formal laws that provide mechanisms to combine formal and informal rules, the customary laws will always be parallel with the formal rules rather than a mix. I placed Ghana within the larger context of sub-Saharan Africa to investigate this notion of parallel operation of formal and informal rules. From interviewing 55 key elites, and through opinions of 60 focus group discussants that I sampled over three districts (counties) in Ghana, I show that it is only when there is a high level of government interference and a low level of acceptance of institutional bargaining that violent conflicts emerge requiring successful conflict resolution strategies. This necessitates a refinement of the existing theory that contends that conflict occurs when there is an interpenetration of formal and informal rules. Parallel operation of formal rules comes about in chief selection process when state actors and institutions (formal) marginalize the traditional process (informal). This is a result of lack of a history of institutional bargaining and no mediation processes. It appears formal rules are differentially accepted by local political and traditional elites, more so in traditional land management than succession rules. The parallelism seen in formal and informal rules is potently expressed in dual systems of governance, where the chieftaincy institution is strong, and "Little Man politics" - mimicry of "Big Man" politics at the local level is prevalent in local government.
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