The extent and impacts of decentralization reforms in Ethiopia
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Devolution of power, responsibilities, and resources from central to local governments has been the foundation of decentralization reforms in developing countries like Ethiopia. The most recent decentralization reforms in Ethiopia began in the early 2000s at the woreda (district) level, focusing on strengthening local governments as institutions of democratic governance and efficient service delivery. Until now, decentralization in Ethiopia has attracted very little research; this study aims to fill that knowledge gap. The extent of decentralization is examined from a holistic framework, including the three dimensions of decentralization (political, fiscal and administrative), while its impacts are explored by focusing on access, equity, efficiency and quality indicators of education service delivery. Using a qualitative case study approach, this research consists of semi-structured interviews of key informants in government and educational administration, field observations, and review of relevant documents. Four local governments and twelve schools within two regional states of Ethiopia were selected as the sample frame. This dissertation argues that the implementation of woreda decentralization reforms in Ethiopia has proven problematic, as the official establishment of devolution operates within centralized structures and practices. Regional governments have established political, administrative and fiscal decentralization, as evidenced by the existence of legal authority and mechanisms of accountability, expanded functions, and significant allocation of unconditional grants transferred to woredas. Despite much progress, the further deepening of decentralization reforms has been hampered by centralizing practices, including the dominant roles of the ruling party, weak administrative capacity at the local government and school levels, and limited resource base of local governments. The link between decentralization reforms and improved local service delivery has been inconclusive. This study suggests that the impact of decentralization on primary education has been mixed. While decentralization reforms may have facilitated the impressive expansion of access to primary education, quality indicators such as dropout rates and student learning assessments have shown little to no improvements. This study lays the groundwork for continued research into the vital link between decentralization and basic service delivery in Ethiopia and beyond.