African State Legislatures

African State Governance: Subnational Politics and National Power

Edited by A. Carl LeVan, Joseph Fashagba, and Edward McMahon (Palgrave, August 2015)ASG book cover

Despite a rich literature on political institutions, and a well-established empirical relationship between legislative
capacity and democratic consolidation, scholars have virtually no comparative foundation for understanding state legislatures in Africa.  This raises several important questions related to contemporary African political development: First, how do state legislatures affect the balance of power between governors and the national executive? Second, how much influence do state legislatures have over budgetary spending at the state level, especially in countries with low levels of subnational revenue generation? Third, what factors affect the capacity of state legislatures?

Seminar co-convener, Professor Joseph Fashagba of Landmark University

Seminar co-convener, Professor Joseph Fashagba of Landmark University

Our edited volume entitled, African State Governance: Subnational Politics and National Power, just published by Palgrave in August 2015, provides some preliminary answers to these important questions. Research for the chapters was funded thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which enabled scholars from Africa and the United States to present drafts at a workshop at Landmark University in Kwara State, Nigeria on January 7-8, 2014.

The table of contents is as follows:

Introduction: A. Carl LeVan, American University, USA – “Subnational Politics and African Democratic Development (excerpts)”

Section One: Nigeria in Comparative Perspective

1. Rotimi Suberu, Bennington College, USA – “Lessons in Fiscal Federalism for Africa’s New Oil Exporters”
2. Olufunmbi Elemo, Michigan State University, USA – “Taxation and Determinants of Legislative Representation in Africa”
3. Joseph Olayinka Fashagba, Landmark University – “Subnational Legislatures and National Governing Institutions in Nigeria, 1999-2014 Parties”
4. Yahaya Baba, Usman Danfodiyo University – “Executive Dominance or Subnational Democratization?”

Section Two: New Institutional Frontiers in Federalism

5. Westen Shilaho, University of the Witwatersrand – “Devolution Under Kenya’s 2010 Constitutional Dispensation”

6. Solomon Gofie, Addis Ababa University – “Central Control and Regional States’ Autonomy in Ethiopia”

7. Majuta Judas Mamogale, Limpopo Legislature – “Provincial Paths to Democratic Accountability in the new South Africa”

Conclusion: Joseph Olayinka Fashagba and Edward R. McMahon – “Subnational Politics and National Power in Africa”

This edited volume makes several important contributions to our understandings of democratic politics in Africa. It explores the interests of politicians in order to understand when state legislators advance democratizing reforms, and when are they merely enablers of Africa’s already powerful executives. Referencing recent work on national legislatures, it also utilizes a multifacted analytical framework for assessing legislative capacity at the subnational level.

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Dr. Yahaya Baba, Usmanu Danfodio University, Nigeria

Our findings suggest that state legislatures possess greater independence when they face less meddling from national party leaders, when they do not depend on executives for future career prospects, where subnational revenue collection is greater, and where the courts are prepared to defend local politicians. The workshop identified some additional institutional conditions that have democracy-enhancing effects, and building on these insights, the book’s conclusion explores relevant recommendations for democracy activists and donors. Click here to purchase a copy from the Publisher’s website, and email me for a 30% discount coupon good until October 2015.

Research Questions

One set of questions relates to the independence of legislatures. How do state legislatures affect the balance of power between governors and the national executive? Chapters explore, for example, whether certain periods of time punctuate tense relations, such as annual budget negotiations, election cycles, civil service appointments, or political party primary processes. This helps identify moments that generate opportunities for political reform. When states exercise control over spending priorities that differ from national policy priorities, this provides a new picture of pockets of subnational political reform within Africa’s new political structures. This changes the way we think about how and when state politicians successfully assert agenda control in the context of competing policy demands.

Participants in the workshop on "African State Legislatures" at Landmark University (Nigeria) in January 2014

Participants in the workshop on “African State Legislatures” at Landmark University (Nigeria) in January 2014

Another set of questions concerns capacity. Besides political experience, what other factors impact the capacity of subnational legislatures? The book’s contributors consider the self-interest of state-level politicians, and focus on some combination of the following areas as metrics for assessing subnational legislative capacity:

(1) Autonomy within the party structure – In many countries, voters have little influence over the selection of candidates who will appear on the ballot.  How much control do parties at the state or provincial level have over who gets on the ballot?  Do parties regulate or control other barriers to entry for candidates, such as registration fees, help with petitions to get on the ballot or other qualifiers? We believe these are important questions that engage both the emerging skeptical research on political decentralization as well as some of the classic research on federalism, which notes that parties at the state level can exert a great deal of influence over candidates.  Chapter authors gathered evidence from electoral commissions or judicial appeals dealing with disputes over candidate selection, ballot access, or election appeal processes.

(2) Projected career paths – some research explores how the career path of politicians shapes the incentives they have to challenge executives, and thereby promote inter-governmental accountability.  Whether they plan to pursue the private sector, national politics, civil service appointments, or judicial positions, subnational public officials are often dependent on the goodwill of national officials.  How do pressures to leave after a single term due factors such term limits or ethnic power rotation practices, shape the behavior of politicians?  Though this logic is essential for understanding the strategic basis for checks and balances, few scholars have systematically explored this within Africa.

(3) Internal revenue effort – the literature has long considered countries in which states do little to internally raise their own revenue examples of very weak federal systems.  Countries with high levels of natural resource revenues adopt elaborate revenue sharing systems that redistribute federal grants to lower tiers of government.  Nigeria has begun to pose a curious challenge to the literature, however: when the federal government has little discretion in determining state allocations, how does this affect the political authority of state executives? Does it make them more powerful?  With oil now online in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Tanzania, and a variety of other African countries, core questions of fiscal federalism will become very important in the next few years.

(4) Judicial enforcement of constitutional guarantees of state authority – When states have disputes with federal authorities, what role do the courts play? The chapters inquire about this with key leadership figures, such as the speakers of the State Houses of Assembly, judges who handle such cases, and civil society proponents of decentralization.

(5) Institutional congruence – in some federal systems, subnational institutions largely mirror national institutions. In other cases, subnational political units look or operate quite differently. This could be important in cases such as Kenya, where 7 provinces recently grew to 47 counties, and in Ethiopia, where decentralization preceded new subnational institutions in the 1990s. How important is institutional congruence between different levels of authority? Are the political dimensions of interaction between the different levels of government compatible with the formal, constitutional expectations of interaction?

Panel at the NED on March 26, 2014 with Shaheen Mozaffar, Amb. Robin Sanders, Carl LeVan, and Joseph Fashagba.

Panel at the NED on March 26, 2014 with Shaheen Mozaffar, Amb. Robin Sanders, Carl LeVan, and Joseph Fashagba.

The workshop in Nigeria was followed up by a roundtable on March 26, 2014 at the National Endowment for Democracy headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was moderated by former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, and Professor Shaheen Mozaffar from the African Legislatures Project served as a discussant. We also want to thank the American Political Science Association  for co-sponsoring the NED event with American University’s Comparative and Regional Studies Program, and for an APSA Africa Workshop Alumni Grant. This provided funding for LeVan and Fashagba to spend a week at Bennington College editing and revising the manuscript with Edward McMahon and Rotimi Suberu.

Carl LeVan, Rotimi Suberu, Edward McMahon, and Joseph Fashagba (L-R) at Bennington College, Vermont.

Carl LeVan, Rotimi Suberu, Edward McMahon, and Joseph Fashagba (L-R) at Bennington College, Vermont.

Vote of thanks

We wish to thank Dr. Agaptus Nwozor, Olanrewaju Ajakaiye, Bukola Oluwande, Chris O’Conner, and Vice Chancellor Rotimi Ajayi, and Landmark University’s staff for helping to make the workshop a huge success!

2 thoughts on “African State Legislatures

  1. Pingback: African State Legislatures Workshop in Nigeria | Local Democracy Community of Practice

  2. Emeka Ononamadu

    It is apt for the discussion to commence. We are happy that this work will provide a regional, national and sub national platforms to expand the discussion and put the legislatures in the front burner of development discourse. The expectation for the CSOs is that the research work provides more concrete advocacy points to improve on governance which has be a major issue in Africa and Nigeria. The recommendations will be interesting to follow.

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