The political economy of decentralisation in Zambia

This project will examine the constraints of implementing decentralisation policies in Zambia and enhancing the capacities of local government.

Capable, autonomous, and democratic local governments theoretically offer a mechanism for redressing socio-economic inequalities by identifying citizen concerns, allocating resources accordingly, and being held accountable for service delivery. Zambia’s Seventh National Development Plan (SNDP), known as Vision 2030, emphasises that decentralisation will provide a critical framework for redressing economic and social inequalities:

“The contributing factors that have led to inequalities include the inability to effectively implement the Decentralisation Policy to an extent that resources and decision-making have precluded people at lower levels from effectively participating in the planning and implementation processes” (GRZ 2017: 91).

The 2013 Decentralisation Policy envisions achieving the most extensive form of decentralisation, rather than a more limited form of delegation or deconcentration. However, despite some notable steps in recent years, there remain significant challenges to enhancing local authorities’ capabilities in Zambia.

In exploring these dynamics and identifying ways to address them, this project adopts a political economy perspective to analyse the incentive gaps that may impede decentralising the country. It analyses incentive gaps between both central and local governments, as well as between politicians and bureaucrats. Importantly, the project will provide both a structural analysis that examines incentive gaps across different types of councils (city, municipal, and district, new and old) and a sectoral analysis that identifies how service delivery in two areas of exclusive domain for the councils.

To do so, surveys will be conducted with civil servants in approximately 16 councils across four provinces (Copperbelt, Eastern, Lusaka, and Southern). Potential policy interventions derived from other African countries, such as performance contracts, will be explored as ways of addressing the incentive gaps that are uncovered in the research.