chapter  15
15 Pages

Local democracy, clientelism and the (re)politicisation of urban governance: reflections from Johannesburg stories


The local level is often perceived as more democratic than other levels of government, as it offers citizens the possibility of directly liaising with their elected representative, and therefore hold them to account, especially on local issues that affect their daily lives. Purcell (2006) has warned about the danger of worshipping the local scale, arguing it has nothing ‘inherently’ more democratic than others. However the local scale is certainly specific in the potential it offers for interpersonal contacts between residents and their representatives; for a more ‘humane’, flexible and locally-grounded state. This potentiality of a greater state accountability has been one of the key driving forces for decentralisation as well as local participation in the last decades, all around the world; the other driving force being also, especially in African societies, the globally-driven, neoliberal attempt to weaken or sideline the central state that is considered corrupt and inefficient. In African cities, this plea for both a greater decentralisation and an enhanced participation of civil society in urban governance is reinforced by the understanding that central states do not control many of the urban dynamics currently shaping African cities (Swilling, 1997) – and local democracy is seen as the way to build democracy and achieve efficient urban governance.