Accepted paper:

Hybridity or struggle? Legitimate representation and everyday politics at the local level in Zambia


Alastair Fraser (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how competing claims to legitimate political authority are contested at a local level in Zambia. It focuses on three Parliamentary constituencies (one in a densely-populated city, one in a rural setting, and one in a small-town).

Paper long abstract:

The research mapped the range of actors contesting responsibility and credit/blame for public administration functions, resources and public leadership in three parlianmentary constituencies. It involved process tracing local political controversies, media ethnographies and a survey. The actors include MPs; local party branches; provincial representatives of central government; district-level civil servants; ward-level councillors; residents' and traders' representatives; traditional chiefs; NGO workers; participants in local radio talk-shows; and religious figures. The paper analyses how these actors deploy mediatised performance to make claims to speak for the people, to seek credit for development projects, votes, and public professions of loyalty, and to navigate accusation of failure to deliver. It understands variations in the language and theatre of politics in relation to patterns of sedimentation of the rules and norms of constituency politics. These result from, amongst other factors: successive waves of decentralisation reforms; post-socialist legacies of 'one party participatory democracy'; the re-introduction of participatory national development planning processes and constituency and ward development funds in the 2000s; and the ever-more competitive and partisan character of electoral politics across the country. These processes have thrown up a dizzying array of local committees, planning processes and channels for the distribution of resources and the regulation of economic and social activities. While these embody varying rules about who makes decisions and how they might be held accountable, some actors seem able to leverage influence across different processes, thus claiming legitimate authority. What is harder to say is whether there are clear patterns across cases.

panel Anth16
Contesting legitimacy in Africa: accountability, transparency and responsibility