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Democratic Decentralisation Through A Natural Resource Lens
Since the mid-1980s, most developing countries launched decentralization reforms. At least sixty claim to be devolving some natural resource management functions. These reforms are lauded for their potential to increase efficiency, equity, democracy and resource sustainability in the local arena. But what is taking place in the name of decentralization? Is the discourse on decentralization being codified in law? Are the laws being translated into practice? What are the effects of the reforms that are taking place? Natural resource decentralizations provide powerful insights into these questions-for natural resource decentralizations and for decentralizations writ large.
Natural resources are a major point of conflict and cooperation between local people and national governments and elites. They are an important source of both national wealth and local livelihoods and, hence, a historical a point of struggle between rural people and elites. As such, they are a lens into the contentious relations and negotiations that constitute decentralization reforms. More significantly, because of their significance to local people, natural resources are also key to the success of decentralization reforms. They provide powers to local authorities that can help to make these authorities relevant and legitimate. But, their devolution meets resistance because it threatens central authorities and elites who fear losing income or patronage resources.
This volume queries the state and effect of the global decentralization movement through the study of natural resource decentralizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The case studies presented here use a comparative framework to characterize the degree to which natural resource decentralizations can be said to be taking place and, where possible, to measure their social and environmental consequences. In general, the cases show that threats to national-level interests are producing resistance that is fettering the struggle for reform. They also, however, show that even these fettered reforms can be pulled along by local demand.
Where do we go from here? Though the particular circumstances and needs vary from country to country, the authors conclude that an important first step forward would be to implement the decentralization experiment; open public dialogues with governments, development institutions, NGOs and local communities about the appropriate division of powers; build representative locally accountable institutions; and create multiple channels that grass roots movements and individuals can use to influence the authorities who wield power over them.
This volume was previously published as a special issue of the "European Journal of Development Research."
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