GLD Working Papers

The Dynamics of Decentralization in the MENA: Processes, Outcomes, and Obstacles

Ellen Lust, Kristen Kao, Chagai Weiss, Marwa Shalaby, Erik Vollmann, Sylvia I. Bergh, Ezra Karmel, Miriam Bohn, Intissar Kherigi, and Zeynep Kadirbeyoglu


This working paper is part of a two-year project on decentralization in the MENA, focusing on Oman. The broader project aims to make three main contributions. First, it seeks to promote policy-relevant, scholarly research on decentralization, and pave the way for further cross-national studies and analyses on the topic. Second, it will inform stakeholders in the Sultanate of Oman, focusing on how differences in community governance structures – i.e. the extent to which citizens turn to state institutions versus non-state actors for services and participate in decision processes – affect challenges to decentralization. Third, it aims to strengthen and expand networks of scholars and other decentralization-oriented stakeholders from around the world, whilst also engaging local voices. To achieve these objectives, the study employs a multi-method approach to explore how and when citizens turn to state and non-state institutions. The goal is not only to expand our understanding of decentralization in the context of strong social institutions, but also to establish sustainable scholarly and policy-relevant networks and dialogues around these issues. In March 2020, we brought together decentralization scholars from around the MENA region at the University of Gothenburg. The discussions focused around the design of decentralization reforms, obstacles, progress and outcomes. It also highlighted the goals and design of upcoming research on decentralization in Oman. Furthermore, participants discussed project design and potential points of comparison with on-going research in other MENA countries. The following compendium is the result of that two-day workshop.

Bureaucrat-Local Politician Linkages and Hierarchical Local Governance in Emerging Democracies: A Case Study of Tunisia

Salih Yasun


Despite implementing comprehensive decentralization laws, emerging democracies often achieve limited success in improving the inclusiveness of local governance. A potential factor limiting the inclusiveness is the lack of cooperation. What factors determine the inclination of mayors to cooperate, and what are their implications for transparency? Yasun answers these questions by conducting a case study of Tunisia, where mass resignations paralyze the local governance following the implementation of the Code of Local Collectives in 2018. He evaluates the mechanisms that produce divergent inclinations to cooperate based on a set of interview data recently collected among 39 municipalities in socio-economically divergent regions with mayors, city council members, civil society members, and a governor. Yasun further examines their implications for transparency based on a Transparency Index developed by an independent organization for all 350 municipalities. The findings from interviews suggest that partisanship ties constitute the most substantive factor perpetuating hierarchical relations among the elected officials and the appointed bureaucrats, as they can enable mayors to focus on large scale projects at the expense of cooperative modes of governance. A mixed effect analysis on the Transparency Index of municipalities within governorates with identified partisanship ties (n=174) indicates that the transparency score is lower in instances where the mayors and the governors belong to the same ideological family.

Caulking the Social Fabric: How National and Local Identities Promote Pro-Social Attitudes in European Diverse and Disadvantaged Neighborhoods

Peter Esaiasson and Jacob Sohlberg


This paper focuses on controversial but uncharted neighborhoods in European welfare states that feature in the general debate over alleged ‘no-go’ zones. The paper seeks to identify factors promoting pro-social attitudes among residents in these diverse and disadvantaged neighborhoods. We explore the extent to which identification with the neighborhood (local identity) and the nation-state (national identity) generates pro-social attitudes among residents. That is, to what extent is identification with the local or national communities related to social and institutional trust, as well as positive affects towards ethnic out-groups. This paper utilizes findings from an original panel survey of residents in two Swedish neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants. The findings suggest that identities are related to pro-social attitudes, but that local and national identities are distinct and have different consequences.

Choice and Choice Set in African Elections

Karen E. Ferree


This paper argues for a reorientation of how we think about ethnic voting, away from an exclusive focus on voters to one that links voter behavior to the supply side of candidates. It introduces the concept of choice set, or the set of choices a voter sees on the ballot on election day, and shows that the modal choice set in three legislative elections – Kenya (2007), Ghana (2008), and Uganda (2011) – is not the mixed co-ethnic/non-coethnic set assumed in much of the literature on ethnic voting in Africa. Most African voters in fact see ballots that consist of either all co-ethnics or no co-ethnics. These uniform choice sets constrain choice in ways that predetermine behavior. Moreover, breaking behavior into choice and choice set reveals that differences in prevalence rates of co-ethnic voting across cases is driven as much by the choices voters see on their ballots as the choices they make in the voting booth. Shifting from choice to choice set thus induces us to identify and theorize factors shaping electoral outcomes in Africa beyond those rooted in individual voter psychology: the entry decisions of candidates and parties, constituency boundaries, and the distribution of groups across geography.

Do Women Face a Different Standard? The Gender and Corruption Factors in the 2014 Presidential Elections in Malawi

Boniface Dulani, Lise Rakner, Lindsay Benstead, and Vibeke Wang


Incumbency advantage is a key characteristic of African politics. Since the reintroduction of multiparty elections in 1994, corruption has been a persistent feature of the various administrations in Malawi. From this perspective, the incumbent president Joyce Banda of the People’s Party’s (PP) loss of the presidency after two years in office is a puzzling outcome of the 2014 elections. The paper explores why the incumbency advantage did not accrue to Banda, drawing from national public opinion surveys and focus group discussions conducted after the 2014 elections. We argue that, while faced with a major corruption scandal, ‘Cashgate’, Banda paid a heavier price than male incumbents facing corruption scandals before her. Her electoral fate is consistent with studies demonstrating that women holding political offices are scrutinized more than men and, when they transgress female gender stereotypes of incorruptibility, they are judged to a higher standard.