Jeff, I loved this — both the content and the approach of how you assemble a quilt of multiple perspectives tackling the same issue from different contexts and disciplines. I sense an implicit argument in that quilt that you don’t make explicit that goes something like:

1. Politicians and activists justify their own self-interest to accumulate local control by using malleable, abstract narratives like “neoliberalism” and “gentrification.”

2. When in fact it all comes down to a competitive game of influence for who gets to make decisions: what gets permitted, how budget is allocated, who gets credit.

3. Cemeteries can tell us how local control, migration, and belonging evolve over time.

4. When “development practitioners” criticize and circumvent “traditional leadership,” they sometimes exclude constituencies that don’t have access to newer, invited spaces of democratic participation.

5. And yet, the hereditary structure of chiefs and many religious institutions is not democratic or easily held to account.

In my reading, your implicit argument stops there. It’s a compelling diagnosis that I think will resonate for most readers. But for progressives advocating for inclusion and rights through democratic decision-making and a culture of accountability, we’re still left with now what? (I’m mindful that you suggest political decentralization as one structural reform to buffer outsider overreach of local control and to mitigate the influence of dictatorships … but it strikes me that Uganda, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda offer cautionary tales about the illusion of local control that, in fact, consolidate the power of federal autocrats/authoritarians.)

I’m curious if 1) my suggested outline of your argument above reflects your views, 2) the implication, then, for advocates of inclusion and accountability like me, my colleagues, and the organizations we fund.

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