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Public participation and policymaking in local governance in Africa

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Citizen participation as the rationale for organising the public opinion to infuence government action lies at the heart of democratic governance (Arnstein 1969; Åström 2019; Follett 1920; Roberts 2004). Public participation enriches democracy – by ensuring better decision-making, inclusivity, sustainability, evidence-based policymaking and strengthening political and administrative accountability (Cloete et al. 2014; Inter-Parliamentary Union 2015). Thus, democracy and local administration, for that matter, are inconceivable without citizen participation in key public afairs, namely, policymaking. Even though the concept of citizen participation has been commonly traced to the Ecclesia of Athens in ancient Greece (e.g. Roberts 2004), it is also endogenously African. In the egalitarian societies of pre-colonial Africa, for example, and even recently, public participation as a procedural public policy tool has become a salient feature in public afairs in contemporary Africa. The barazas in East Africa and African socialist philosophies of the 1960s demonstrate the perpetuity of public participation in Africa’s governing processes. Recent studies show that such barazas have contributed to open accountability and a sense of ownership of government programmes by local communities (e.g. Cloete et al. 2014). Also, in pre-colonial Botswana, citizen participation was, and still is, actualised through therisanyo (consensus-building) at the kgotla (public assembly); thus, it is one of Botswana’s founding principles. All public matters were debated at the kgotla with the ultimate goal of reaching a consensus. Therefore, public policy emanated from unbridled dialogue. The kgotla as a traditional system was and still is an institution serving as a forum for policy formulations, decision-making, including political and economic development activities and judiciary on litigations (Moumakwa 2010, p. 3).

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Published in: Routledge Handbook of Public Policy in Africa
See chapter on publisher's website:



  • English



Publication Year

  • 2021

License statement

This chapter is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University
  • College of Public Policy - HBKU

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