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Galvin, Mary and Habib, Adam  (2003) The Politics of Decentralisation and Donor Funding in South Africa’s Rural Water Sector. Centre for Civil Society  : 1-27.

Decentralisation is an inherently political process. Political and socio-economic actors favour it because it is seen to advance their interests. But the interests of the various social groups in society differ quite dramatically. Societal interest groups concerned with poverty and economic inequalities advocate decentralisation because it is seen to bring development closer to the people, promote participatory approaches, and consolidate democracy. Other interest groups, such as state technocrats, support decentralisation because of a belief that it will lead to the more efficient delivery of services. And still others, like economic elites, advocate decentralisation in the hope that it will undermine the regulatory capacity and lead to the shrinkage of the national state. This coincidence in motives, as James Manor recognizes2, accounts for the widespread support for decentralisation among political actors across the ideological spectrum.

The evolution of decentralisation as a cornerstone of development orthodoxy is most evident in its treatment as a central theme in the World Development reports of the World Bank.3 It is also evident in the development literature, which builds on this by emphasizing the importance of state-society partnerships at the local level and their synergy for development.4 Despite the almost hegemonic status of decentralisation discourse in the contemporary era, progress toward this goal has lagged in most developing countries. While making grand statements about the importance of decentralisation, new national leaders have tended to perceive decentralisation as undermining their ability to manage development and to retain control of its processes and resources.

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