Strong Nation Versus Powerful Individuals: My Favor towards Federalism instead of Decentralization

My experience seems to express that building a strong nation does unnecessarily go through a path of creating powerful individuals. It would sound as a contradiction so long as it is well known that a nation is composed by individuals; hence expecting them to form a coherent nation. However, a long list of individuals may not often form a nation as it happened to have them dispersed across the same territory, within the recognized boundaries, called a country. Specifically, a nation has to do with a community or group of people, a population sharing the same history, culture, economic and linguistic ties.

For the period of 5 decades, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had powerful individuals, political and military leaders whom we thought by illusion that they will never die. Unfortunately, though strong and rich, the fact is some of them have left us amid the journey in a dramatic series of events that occurred in the country. The country has had leaders who were outspoken to the extent listening them on radio tends to expect the breakup of a device. Nevertheless, the “nation” can still be spotted as fragile; while its population has had their economic and social conditions drastically worsened. There is an imperative need to review the approach and think about what can make the nation strong considering the specific context of the country.

The DRC went through individual management, colonization, dictatorship and currently what is called “decentralization”. Surprisingly, positives changes have slightly occurred; though the country is potentially rich. The origin of these contradictions can be tracked back by checking the country’s administrative and political systems; and of course including the current one, decentralization. The article discusses briefly decentralization versus federalism for establishing a ground of the blogger favor.

Decentralization is defined as an administrative and political scheme by which central government delegates some of its powers and responsibilities to local communities, called decentralized entities. On the other hand, federalism is a political system allowing a constitutional power sharing of the state sovereignty between the central government and local entities, namely regions or provinces. In some cases, levels are called national government referring to the central one; while provinces are identified as federal states. Federalism is established on overlapping jurisdictions where each level has its own judicial, legislature and executive powers. The two Systems, decentralization and federalism are regarded as devolution of powers and responsibilities from national level to sub-national ones. Their differences lie in the manner power, responsibilities and competencies are devolved.

On one hand, decentralization relates to a power transfer from an elected body at national level to local entities in order to empower and incentivize them and targeting the strong involvement of local communities. Thus, decentralization is narrowly captured at policy level than a political system. In a nutshell, the drawbacks of decentralization are embedded in a process relying on a willingness of the rulers. However, if well implemented, it is widely agreed as being advantageous than the full centralization of power as the later involves local communities into their own management. Decentralization is also considered as enhancing democracy, community representation, accountability and public policy effectiveness. As it is a wide area of study, the article wouldn’t describe the whole field; but it is worth to underscore that decentralization is unlikely free of patronage, nepotism and despotism. The explanation might be found in the fact that power exercise at local level emanates from the rulers not form the sovereign people.

On the other hand, federalism is established by the state fundamental law and it is grounded on the willingness of sovereign people. The safeguard of the political system is commonly found within the clear demarcation of two levels’ autonomous areas of action. The reader will recall that these autonomous domains are free of interference from any of the levels, central or provincial. By devolving constitutionally power, federalism can be analyzed as an upgraded layer to the decentralization. Despite constitutional power sharing and autonomous areas of action, experience has shown that federalism structures can strengthen democracy and state’s rights. The belief on strengthening democracy is supported by the fact of having provincial rulers whose power originates from the people rather than being subordinated to the central government. Hence nepotism, patronage and despotism can wisely be avoided.

Moreover, federalism allows the establishment of an independent court aiming at solving disputes that may occur between the central and provincial levels. The existence and functioning of bicameral chambers where provinces are equally represented within the upper (Senate House) can dilute an imbalance of representation at central level. As the system permits provinces to manage autonomously their areas of actions, it can ease the mechanisms of handling regional specific issues, features or problems. The existence of different provincial policies fitting their contexts can constitute an added value of the federal system to handle some socio-cultural diversity. It is also believed that minority representation within the federal system is manageable than in centralized system; easing the struggle around their rights.

In the specific case of questionable regionalism and decentralization[1] in DRC, it is worthwhile to recall that the confederation or multinational state[2] had been plagued with instability, community or provincial-based interests’ divergence fuelling collective actions discontents. Most of the regimes in DRC have used power as a source of pulling their illegal wealth accumulation; leaving their subjects dependent to them. The power’s exercise remains the tool of appointing or deposing someone depending on his loyalty to rulers. Surprisingly, socio-economic conditions of the ordinary citizens are far from being the primary concern of most of rulers and politicians. Rulers behave as free riders; hence, the people become subordinated to the ruling elite, raising the fear of a generalized patronage, despotic decisions and nepotism. A solution to these misbehaviors can be traced within a political system that sustainably restrains them to become more powerful than the people.

Nonetheless, federalism is not a perfect model. Its implementation requires to think about challenges around it; but I still believe that nothing is valued than the wellbeing of ordinary citizens. That is, federalism’s challenges around distribution of national resources, 60s experience of secessionists cannot stagnate the country to rethink the appropriate political system. It has also to be pointed out that exercising power out of patronage can improve the provision of public services, especially as long as federalism can be combined with decentralization at territorial and local levels in DRC. Achievements of the current governor of Katanga province can express a lot in terms of incompatibility around power exercise, patronage and public service delivery. Additionally, since 60s the Congolese’s mindset might have changed to the extent of enabling all state stakeholders to fairly undertake a discussion on burning issues instead of using guns. Thus, federalism’s challenges wouldn’t overwhelm us for the simple reason that it has questions to clarify before its implementation. Furthermore, as federalism system remains a process, it can still be run into phases.

It may also be agreed that federalism can narrow power confrontation in Kinshasa; while many politicians would be willing to play great role at provincial levels as they can still serve and prove their abilities to delivery. Provincial levels can be a starting point where runners for political appointments will seek to refer to what they have practically done in the past. Currently, we do follow and adhere to political movements if we have ties with political leaders or as a result of being convinced by speeches that are sometimes populists. Federalism would possibly change these considerations as it can be expected that the service provisions from the public sphere will be a benchmark to evaluate our leaders. Do you think federalism would enhance public service provision than decentralization?


Ntanyoma R. Delphin

Twitter account @delphino12




[2] A multinational state is a sovereign state which is viewed as comprising two or more nations and such a state contrasts with a nation state which is usually comprises the bulk of the population


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