The Green Uprising in Mozambique: How Decentralization Supports Democracy in an African Country

Training Attended

African Studies Association annual Meeting, Philadelphia Nov. 2022

Training Date

Winter 11-17-2022

Training Location


Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 11-20-2022


Democracy and development are positively correlated,1 and no democracy has ever suffered a substantial famine.2 Integration of rural masses into national politics is necessary for political stability,3 arguably a precondition of democracy and political development.

Decentralization may deepen democracy, and to the extent that it does, it may increase human and economic well-being, though this relationship must be complex. Decentralization may also more directly effect social and economic development by putting resources into the hands of those on the front lines of providing public services. But there is a paradox in positing decentralization as a development measure because, as many observers have noted, lower levels of government can be overmatched by the demands of complex public policy and large-scale projects. Under what conditions is decentralization good for development?

Analysts have found it difficult to answer this question, and the difficulty of the answering the question has led to an agnosticism on normative issues related to decentralization and development. Instead, analysts have focused on institutional variables affecting decentralization and typologies of forms of decentralization. However, development is not value neutral as we want to see people live more healthy and fulfilling lives through access to basic and extended set of public services. It should be the goal of political science to better relate its findings on decentralization to questions of human well-being.

If decentralization is understood as an institutional measure designed in part to integrate rural areas into national politics—in contrast to more abstract institutional conceptions of decentralization—the paradox of whether decentralization is good or bad for development is lessened. Indeed, some current political science institutional literature on decentralization places mega-city urban municipalities and rural municipalities into one institutional category—‘the periphery’—and contrasts this periphery to the ‘center’ of the political system. This conceptualization perhaps incorrectly lumps together a six-million person mega-city with that of a rural town six hours by bus from the nearest large city. The experiences of these two is, however, very different, and getting this conceptualization right can lead to a better understanding of the relationship of political decentralization to human social development.

Political scientists have provided a useful conceptualization of the integration of rural areas into national politics. The ‘green uprising’ refers to intentional efforts by competing national elites to integrate rural massed into national politics, and there are known patterns of rural/urban political integration.

This article compares decentralization in Mozambique and Colombia, two countries that decentralized in the 1990s. The ‘green uprising’ provides a useful heuristic to understand decentralization in Mozambique and Colombia, and data from fieldwork in each country and ethnographic description can shed light on decentralization and its effect on human well-being, particularly in rural areas. Data from Bolivia and Zambia complement that from Colombia and Mozambique, and the analysis is based on fieldwork in all for countries.4