The developmental history of today’s liberal democratic states demonstrates a clear parallel between liberal state practice and functioning local government institutions. This simple fact has implications for today’s policymakers interested in the political liberalization of sub-Saharan Africa’s newly declared “democracies.” Yet, among the many debates taking place in developmental politics, local governance remains – at best – a niche area that is usually brought up within the context of decentralization policy. Largely due to the recent history of Cold War patronage that focused on central over local government relations, the newly declared democracies of sub-Saharan Africa consistently rank among the lowest in the world in the yearly indexes on freedom compiled by Freedom House. Here it is argued that, if political liberalism is to be realized within these newly declared democracies of sub-Saharan Africa, a renewed emphasis on the role of local government institutions must take place. Emphasis is placed on the recent experience of Zambia, which demonstrates the kinds of internal and external policy challenges proponents of local governance have faced.
Key words: Illiberal democracy, local government, sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia.
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