Decentralization, Development, and Conflict in Central Mali: Examining the Role of Local Governance


Andrew Korn

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




A.H. Peter Castro


Anthropology;Decentralization;Democracy;Institutional Bricolage;Mali;Participation


This study examines how citizens in a rural Malian municipality perceive and participate in local governance and development after reforms aimed at establishing decentralized democratic government. From November 2016 to November 2017, I conducted research in Central Mali utilizing ethnographic methods and informal interviews. Participating in daily life and talking with citizens, elected officials, and NGO workers provided insights into the extent and ways citizens are able, and choose, to participate in local governance. Despite being heralded as a democratic success story by the international community, citizens in Dugu municipality largely perceive decentralized municipal government as ineffective. While municipal government is supposed to promote participatory processes which enable citizens to drive the development agenda, citizens claim participation in municipal government accomplishes little. Instead, they largely avoid paying taxes and rely on other governance options to meet their needs, including customary village governance and international organizations, which they view as more effective than municipal government. However, a reliance on international organizations to provide needed finances and resources for municipal government operation and development may further diminish the legitimacy of municipal government. Instead of a municipal government that improves livelihoods, citizens view international organizations as fulfilling much of the development agenda. Although citizens frequently perceive international organizations and centralized systems as more effective than the municipal government, this also raises questions about participation. Despite international organizations promoting participatory processes, they often pursue their own agenda. Ultimately, meaningful participation touted in municipal government and projects implemented by international organizations is unfounded. Since the early 1990s decentralization in Mali has been viewed as a way to diminish violence, encourage solidarity, and reinforce territorial integrity. Amidst on-going violence since 2012, this continues to be the case. However, my anthropological field research shows citizen perceptions of decentralization suggest the former decentralized system did not accomplish its goals. Considering these factors, some citizens suggest decentralized government, as currently structured, is ineffective at promoting meaningful citizen participation in municipal governance and development processes. Although most Malians continue to support decentralized democratic governance as the best system of government, a winner take all democratic model promoted by western governments is not supported by many citizens. Incorporating existing governance systems and practices into state government will likely result in a more effective and legitimate decentralized state government than the previous system.


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