In the 1990s, Senegal and South Africa undertook decentralisation reforms that caused a considerable stir in academic and policy communities. But how much decentralisation actually occurred, and how autonomous are subnational governments in two of Africa's leading democracies? This article assesses the mix of decentralising reforms in these two countries. Subnational officials are now elected and receive revenue transfers, but remain limited by other measures, including low tax-raising capacity, tight central control over spending, limited access to capital markets, and even insecure legal rights in their own jurisdictions. While the decline of governing parties provides incentives for decentralisation in some areas, central states successfully resist attempts to devolve fiscal decisionmaking authority to subnational levels.