The Changing Face of Local Government? Community Development Councils in Afghanistan

Hamish Nixon


What role do Community Development Councils (CDCs) play at the community level in Afghanistan? This working paper from the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit presents findings from research on subnational governance in Afghanistan. It finds that CDCs have made a significant contribution to the welfare and representation of community members. It is now important to consider the future of CDCs, their role in achieving improved development outcomes and their position in the local governance system.

The creation of CDCs under the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) has introduced a dramatic change in the development resources available to many communities in Afghanistan. Where these resources have been converted to successful sub-projects, the acceptance and legitimacy of the programme, and by extension the government, has been expanded. However, the position of CDCs as newly introduced institutions within the local governance system as a whole is complex and varied. While a distinction is drawn between development and governance, CDCs already function as institutions of both governance and development. In this capacity, CDCs have made considerable contributions to the immediate welfare of community members and the inclusion and representation of marginalised groups, particularly women.

Several key conclusions can be drawn from analysis of CDCs to date:

  • Community acceptance of CDCs is conditioned by past experience, comprehensiveness of resources available for facilitation and local implementation patterns. It is also heavily dependent on the delivery and use of resources.
  • The implementation of all phases of the NSP has been carried out in varied ways. Local norms and customs are important in determining outcomes, but resources, creativity and the depth of involvement of the facilitating partner are also important.
  • While many CDC members claim to be involved in other governance functions, these governance functions are not universal. Where these functions are carried out it is often in combination with customary structures and individuals.
  • There are barriers to genuine participation of women in both the development and governance functions of the CDCs. This participation is less in governance functions than project selection and appears to depend on the quality of facilitation.

A policy for the future of CDCs must answer several key questions:

  • Should CDCs be formally recognised as state institutions? Stressing the formalisation of CDCs pays insufficient attention to local variations in CDC functions. At the same time, institutional means for supporting CDCs should be considered.
  • What resources, both material and in terms of technical assistance and facilitation, will be available to CDCs after the end of the NSP? Consideration of the future role of CDCs must include discussion of the range of resources available and their provision.
  • What will be the appropriate scale for the delivery of resources? CDCs in some areas are combining efforts through joint projects. This raises questions about the organisation of development representation at the district level and below.
  • Should CDCs perform administrative governance tasks? Mandating a single universal governance role for CDCs would produce mixed outcomes. Governance improvements linked to CDCs are often achieved through recognising existing governance patterns.
  • How will the impact of CDCs on the representation of women and other marginalised groups be strengthened? As the NSP comes to a close, consideration of how to support the broadened inclusion seen in the context of CDCs must continue.


Nixon H., 2007, 'The Changing Face of Local Government? Community Development Councils in Afghanistan', Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), Kabul, Afghanistan