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Thoughts on decentralisation in Burkina Faso

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By YAMEOGO, Luther (2000)

Characteristics which reveal the paradigms of structural adjustment, democratisation or the idea of underlying good government, are the necessity for African states to assume the elementary tasks of sovereignty that are incumbent on them and to have effective administrations.

However, this redefinition of the state's role and the structures linking the centre to the periphery, as seductive as it may sound, does not work without giving rise to many questions, notwithstanding the conviction of the backers that decentralisation is the panacea for the exhaustion of the state, and preferences leading to the application of devolution procedures of state functions to local communities which our directors have been so enthusiastic about.

Africanist researchers remain convinced that the following problems must be taken into account:

  • is the more or less organised withdrawal of central power to the minimalist position which is conceded by the dominant ultra-liberal ideology conceivable, if not realistic, in the African context which is largely characterised by the deficit in state institutionalisation, the weakness of local political structures and the inexperience, even non-existence, of local political elites?

  • This being the case, can one decentralise, that is take away from central government, the functions of regulation and redistribution to the benefit of local communities insufficiently prepared to receive them and exercise them without aggravating the socio-economic and ethno-regional in-balances and by so doing, endangering the existence even of the state?

  • the participatory (community) management inherent in decentralising politics conducted in Africa, is it a true reflection of the involvement of the people in the affairs of the city? Does it really constitute the melting pot of local democracy and the shaping of a civic conscience or is it just a palliative to the state's disengagement, a way of managing resources adapted to the rigours of re-alignment and therefore whose purpose is to deaden the effects of the budgetary austerity at the heart of the most disadvantaged social classes by giving them the illusion of participating in the decisions which will affect their future?

As far as the Burkinian experience goes, it seems to have found an original way to deal with decentralisation. As other countries in the Southern Sahara, it takes justification in state insolvency but is also relies on incentives from international backers. In spite of these shortcomings, the process takes into account the national and local socio-political and economic realities.

One notices, amongst other things, an increase in forms of expression and of very diverse organisations ('agreements', managing committees, village groups, religious groups) which weaves a dense relational network on which the process relies.

Surely, the National Commission for Decentralisation (CND) carries out serious and prudent work over the long term but the process must not degenerate into a process of complete breakdown of state law of which the need has been forcefully restated. To respond to our preceding interrogations, the CND attempts to regulate the apportionment of financial resources without which the parishes are condemned to stagnation, to see to it that the gap between Ouagadougou and the rest of the country decreases and therefore reduce the disparity between the centre and the outskirts.

In other words, the concentration of the essential administrative, financial and political resources must be corrected, failing which there would be a risk of seeing a worsening of the conflict between the 'legal' world and the 'real' world, which would be prejudicial to Burkinian democracy.