Why CDFs in Africa?: representation vs. constituency service

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University of Cape Town


CSSR Working Paper Series ; 337

Since 2002, constituency development funds (CDFs) have been established in nine African countries, and another two countries have created “approximations” of CDFs in that they address the perceived need by members of the legislature for budgeted funds to spend on the development of the districts they represent. Thus, just under one-quarter of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted some type of CDF. In this paper, we consider three alternative explanations for the apparent popularity of CDFs. Using data from the African Legislature Project and Afrobarometer, we find that the best account of the rise of CDFs is that while MP rightly perceive the need to maintain close contact with their constituents, they wrongly believe that their constituents look to them mainly for “pork.” Instead, African constituents’ primary expectations of their MP is that they regularly visit the district to learn what is on their minds, and to then quite literally “re-present” or transmit these views back to the central government via the legislature. In other words, while citizens desire stronger representation of their needs at the centre, MPs respond by delivering services and favours at the periphery (i.e. the district) thinking mistakenly that the CDFs are the answer to what the public wants. We also find little evidence of “good governance” advocates that CDFs lead to increased corruption or entrench MPs in office.