Comparative Federalism in Africa: Implications for Theory

29 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 12 Sep 2012

Date Written: 2012


Recent years have seen major advances in the comparative study of federalism around the world. Improvements in our understandings of federalism have come from studies ranging from North America to European cases, and across the developing world, with a particular emphasis on Latin America and emerging Asia (Diaz-Cayeros 2006; Gibson 2004; Rodden 2006; Montinola, Qian, and Weingast 1995; Wibbels 2005). At the same time, there is a growing literature on the decentralization of power in Africa, as countries from Senegal to Kenya to Mozambique have undertaken processes to elect subnational governments (SNGs), often at the regional or district level as well as the local level, and ensure some degree of expenditure responsibility and fiscal resources for these. Nuanced analyses of these processes have emerged from studies that treat distinct countries, historical time periods, and public service sectors (cf. Boone 2003; Fessha and Kirkby 2008; Ribot 2002; Olowu and Wunsch, eds. 2004; inter alia). Surprisingly, however, there has been little systematic comparison of federalism in Africa. While a robust literature treats each of Africa's main federal countries in isolation, scholars have barely begun to leverage these cases comparatively to examine what federalism has to say about African politics or what African politics can contribute to the federalism literature. Some efforts have been made - often in edited volumes - to offer comparative glances by examining individual cases in detail and then engaging in comparative checking or using shadow cases (Turton, ed. 2006; Gana and Egwu, eds. 2002, inter alia). Yet structured comparison between Africa's main federal polities is rare. This paper begins to address this shortcoming by offering a preliminary structured comparison of the three countries - Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa - where federalism can be said to exist as a stable institutional set.

Suggested Citation

Dickovick, J. Tyler, Comparative Federalism in Africa: Implications for Theory (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

J. Tyler Dickovick (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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