When the inhabitants really manage their city (Senegal)

The experience of the participatory budget of Porto Alegre in Brazil seen from Senegal

Sidiki Abdoul Daff, febrero 2001

This sheet was produced on the basis of the seminar organized by CERPAC (Centre de Recherches Populaires pour l’Action Citoyenne) and the CAPACITATION CITOYENNE Network (Senegal, France and Brazil) on February 15, 1999 in Dakar.

It looks back at the participatory budget of Porto Alegre (Brazil), recognized by the UN as one of the best urban management practices in the world. Based on this experience, the author puts it into perspective with the case of Senegal.

Presentation of the participatory budget of Porto Alegre

During the World Summit on Human Settlements ("Habitat 2") in Istanbul in 1996, which addressed the implications of uncontrolled urbanization, the United Nations declared the participatory budget (PB) in progress in Porto Alegre, Brazil, since 1988, as one of the best urban management practices in the world. This experience was used to launch a reflection on local government management during a seminar that the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Populaires pour l’Action Citoyenne (CERPAC) organized in February 1999 in Dakar.

The participatory budget is a process of direct democracy, where the population and the mayor’s office discuss and decide together on the revenues and expenditures of the municipality, opening the way to a democratization of relations between the municipality and society. Indeed, once elected, they often escape the control of the voters who can only sanction them at the end of their mandate. Thus, in order to renew the dialogue between voters and elected officials, it is necessary to invent and combine multiple forms of direct democracy in which the citizen can not only participate in public management, but also control the elected officials.

In the PB, not only is a process of co-management between the population and the municipality instituted, but also a mechanism of social control of elected officials. The Participatory Budget Council set up by the population manages, together with the municipal executive (the mayor and vice-mayor), the entire process of drawing up the draft budget that will be submitted to the municipal legislature for adoption. The population is organized in two ways :

The aim here is to counteract the sectoral trend by making it possible to decide with the municipality not only on investments in sectors or neighbourhoods, but also on structural or global works on the scale of the whole city.

The process is open to all citizens regardless of their political, associative or religious organization.

In order for popular participation to be more than just a consultative process, the decisions that are co-developed and taken by the population and the municipality are explained, informed and published in documents that are published every year and widely distributed (Regulations and Investment Plan booklet). Municipal officials and the mayor are required to provide all relevant information by participating in sectoral and thematic assemblies.

Another important mechanism is budgetary control. The mayor is obliged to provide the elements for an evaluation of the executed budget. Transparency is therefore central to the process.

Putting Senegal in perspective

This is the experience that the Director of the Planning Office of the Municipality of Porto Alegre told to 80 elected officials, representatives of the grassroots movement and Senegalese NGOs during the Dakar seminar. The experience is seen by the participants as a way that should be explored in the conditions of Senegal where local authorities do not want this participation, especially in the management of the budget. Indeed, municipal politics in Senegal is marked by total opacity in the management of public goods and by the personalization of power with an omnipotent mayor who distributes roles and benefits.

But at the same time, there is a very active associative movement taking over from local authorities unable to respond to popular demands. If in Porto Alegre the Participatory Budget stems from a political will of the municipal executive, in Senegal the demand for participation comes from below through grassroots associations whose forms of expression can be: a refusal to pay taxes, the partial assumption of public services (management of garbage, for example) or, on the contrary, the deterioration of public works (digging up the road to force vehicles to slow down, modification of road traffic, etc.).

The junction between the associative movements and the municipalities is unavoidable if we want to avoid the implosion of cities full of conflicts. This linkage will be the result of popular pressure on the local authorities until a balance of power emerges that is favorable to negotiation. At this level, the decisive force remains the associative movement representing the populations and the elected residents (municipal councillors and leaders of grassroots associations) who could relay the popular pressure to the municipal council.

Comment :

The councillors of all the political parties in Senegal, at the February 1999 seminar, made the same speech: «  We represent the people, we defend their interests  ». This program, affirmed by all the political actors, can be a basis for creating a public space for elected officials and associations to meet and innovate in local management by placing citizen participation at the heart of the process.

You can find the declaration in its entirety here


GENRO T., DA SOUZA U. 1998. When the inhabitants really manage their city, FPH, France

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