Of the limited recent literature that considers the political economy of sub-national (state and provincial) government, the case of Afghanistan is prominent. International support to sub-national governance in Afghanistan has been relatively well documented, with much of the literature emphasising that reform efforts have often neglected to account for the political economy of centre-province relationships, and in particular failed to understand the duality of governance – that is, how patronage operates through formal bureaucratic rules. In particular, the system of relationships between the state and provincial governors (sometimes described as ‘gatekeepers’) has played an important role in determining their influence and power. In spite of the prevalence of patronage systems, Bijlert (2009) argues that the dynamics of centre-province relationships in Afghanistan, and in particular the system of provincial appointments, are more a question political strategy than deep seated culture. Provincial appointments in Afghanistan have historically been used to control and co-opt the disparate and often armed ethnic and factional groups in the country and to tie or subordinate them to the centre.
In other cases, the literature similarly describes the evolution of sub-national government as a means for central government to accommodate or subordinate local power centers. Another recurring theme is the contradictions between formally assigned roles and the actual power that sub-national actors are able to wield. This situation appears to be exacerbated where there are ambiguities surrounding formal roles. Some of the literature considers the incentives of sub-national authorities in engaging with central government, particularly in relation to accessing central government resources. Aiyede (2009) argues, in reference to Nigeria, that in the context of prevailing incentives to obtain more resources from the centre, public accountability and state effectiveness carry little importance with state-level authorities. Others similarly stress that central-local relations play an important role in influencing whether decentralization achieves service delivery and democratic outcomes (Brinkerhoff, 2008).
Evidence from Peru, South Africa, and Brazil suggests that central governments can make strategic and tactical decisions in intergovernmental relations to favor one level of sub-national government to the detriment of another. In these cases, central government has transferred revenues and expenditure responsibilities to municipalities in order to bypass and reduce the authority of regional and provincial government (Dickovick, 2007).