Adjustment and decentralization in Ghana: a case of diminished sovereignty

Mohan, Giles (1996). Adjustment and decentralization in Ghana: a case of diminished sovereignty. Political Geography, 15(1) pp. 75–94.



Decentralization must be viewed as a fundamentally political process. In an increasingly global political economy ‘national’ politics no longer exists as supranational forces shape domestic policy. This is also true of decentralization and local governance, which this paper examines. The complex displacement of political power between global, national and local levels is analysed in the context of Ghana. Ghana has been implementing a structural adjustment programme since 1983. The paper looks at its impact on national politics and internal state restructuring in the form of a decentralization programme implemented in 1987-8. The World Bank was calling for fiscal accountability across all state institutions, while lenders wanted ‘good government’ involving formalized state structures and a measure of democracy. On the other hand, the Ghanaian government which took over through a coup d'ëtat in 1981 was experiencing pressure from workers and students over the austerity brought about by structural adjustment. It too needed a political strategy to placate these pressures and avoid a legitimacy crisis. The solution that satisfied all parties was a renewal of an earlier decentralization programme involving managed local government elections. These elections were non-partisan, with the government talking of using the local councils as electoral colleges for a national assembly. The result on the ground was limited, with inadequate revenue, weak organizational support and limited political autonomy. The Ghanaian case shows that the intermingling of global and national territories produces complex effects which can filter down to the local level. Most people assume that central-local relations are an internal political matter, but this study shows that external involvement has a profound effect, both directly and indirectly. In this way the idea of national sovereignty is greatly compromised, although the nation-state remains a necessary link in the chain of causality

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