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Abstract

Decentralisation reforms are taking place across Africa. In decentralisation concerning natural resources, local institutions being chosen to receive powers and the degree and form of power transfers, however, do not establish conditions for more efficient or equitable use and management. A combination of locally accountable representation and discretionary powers are also needed. This combined condition is rarely established. Alternative local institutions are chosen even when democratic local bodies exist. This choice and the failure to transfer discretionary powers can undermine local democratic bodies and concentrate powers in the executive branch. The choices being made around natural resources appear to reflect a broad resistance of central governments to local democratisation and decentralisation of powers. Five measures may ameliorate the situation: (1) focus first on establishing democratic local government; (2) apply multiple accountability measures, in addition to elections, to support democratic local institutions; (3) engage local populations by transferring discretionary powers before transferring management burdens; (4) transfer powers before capacity building; and (5) shift from an oversight and management-planing model to a minimum-standards model in order to help create greater local autonomy nested within national objectives. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.