Fifteen Years After Decentralization by Devolution: Political‐administrative Relations in Tanzanian Local Government

Published date01 December 2015
AuthorDeogratias Mpenzi,Wilhelm Mafuru,Rudie Hulst
Date01 December 2015
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mzumbe University, Tanzania
One of the professed goals of the 1998 Tanzanian Local Government Reform Program, entailing substantial decentralization,
was to provide for a democratic administrative set up in local government. Elected local councils were invested with responsi-
bilities for a wide range of policy sectors and services; the local administrative staff, formerly recruited and instructed by central
government, would be appointed by and accountable to the local councils. A well-functioning local politico-administrative sys-
tem was considered paramount to improve service delivery and ensure control of decision making by the local community. This
article reports on research into the relations between councilors and administrators in two Tanzanian municipalities. Overall,
these relations were found to be tense and full of discordance, caused by clashing role perceptions and mutual distrust. The
research suggests that the main factor underlying the behavior and attitudes of councilors and administrators is the very system
of public administration, which despite the ambitions expressed in the Local Government Reform Program remains very
centralistic in character. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
key wordslocal government; politico-administrative relations; decentralization; Tanzania
After a period of central rule, local governments were reintroduced in Tanzania in 1982. But it was not until the
implementation of the 1998 Local Government Reform Program that general powers to make policy, legislation
and operational decisions consistent with national legislation and policywere transferred to local government
(URT, 1998: 17). As part of the program, local government councils were also to be granted full responsibility
for the recruitment and management of the local administrative staff (URT, 1998: 26). Explicit objectives of the
program were, among others, to provide for government by elected councils and establish a democratic adminis-
trative set-up in local government (URT, 1998: 13).
At f‌irst sight, the assumption that decentralization will lead to democratic local government seems to be built on
f‌irm ground. One of the core tenets of theories on decentralization is that if local governments dispose of a general
competence to decide on policies and services, this will have a positive impact on local democracy. The proximity
between citizens and local government puts the latter in a good position to inform itself about the preferences of
citizens; citizens can monitor government policies and services from nearby, and hold elected councilors account-
able for their policy decisions and for services rendered; this is assumed to result in a vital local democracy where
active citizens articulate their needs, and participate in politics and where local government gives account of its
deeds. The argument draws on classic political philosophy (Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, De Tocqueville) and
has been reproduced by many (cf. Rondinelli, 1989; Burns 1994 et al. 4; Crook and Manor, 1998: 1; Treisman,
2007: 12; Grindle, 2009: 7).
*Correspondence to: J. R. Hulst, Departmentof PoliticalScience and Public Administration, Facultyof Social Sciences,VU University Amsterdam,
The Netherlands.E-mail:
public administration and development
Public Admin. Dev. 35, 360371 (2015)
Published online in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/pad.1743
Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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