Most development theories have focused on socio-economic and political aspects of development with the exclusion of human centred development.However, this paper seeks to analyse the importance of participatory development in many african rural areas and the role played by local people in their own development. Most African governments due to pressing political and economic hardships have abandoned development of rural areas and this in turn has left different aid agencies playing the front role of developing these areas. Recent research has proven that if local people are involved in their own development through empowerment, sustainable development can be achieved.Different development aid agencies like NGOs tend to implement a top-down approach which excludes involvement and participation of local people and in turn leads to a dependency syndrome.Therefore, this paper emphasises rural development as a process that includes mass participation of local people in decision making processes and development of their local areas.Over the years development has mainly focused on the urban sector and lack of state provision of health, education, clean water and sanitation is restricted, exposing poor rural people to health risks, reducing their productivity and opportunities. Underlying this is the very fact that people do not participate in their own development and as such they are not in a position of authority to provide information on what they regard as important and necessary. The major problem in this regard is that government, aid agencies and other stakeholders that implement programmes to deal with rural development impose programmes on local authorities and communities creating a dependency syndrome due to non-participation of the community.
Most government institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders seem to be implementing a top-down approach in their national development strategies and as such poverty persists in most rural communities in Africa. As such policies implemented by these various stakeholders are ineffective and have made overall poverty alleviation rather fragment and uncoordinated and much short of dynamism required to acheive desired results. In other words non-participation of local authorities and communities means that community mobilisation and participation is not being viewed as both a goal of development which requires that national resources and opportunities be equitably distributed, and as a way of facilitating and energising the development effort by means of popular involvement in developmental decision making.Lack of empowerment amongst rural people leads to their vulnerability and thus most development projects tend to benefit the benefactors rather than the beneficiaries.In light of this sustainable development is not achieved because non-participation of local people means that rural development is not self sustaining.Therefore, local rural people play an important role in rural development because they understand their situation and problems better than the government, aid agencies and other stakeholders.One of the biggest problems or upsets in most African rural communities is poverty which has detrimental effects on the socio-economic lives of local people.Participation and involvement of local people at grassroots level is important in curbing this phenomenon.
Participatory development in Africa
The current challenge facing development circles is to search for human centred development strategies which emphasise active mobilisation and participation of the people of the grassroots level. Attempts in this field in most countries are increasingly focused on evolving an approach to development based on bottom-up initiative and self reliance. Such endeavors have resulted in transformation from welfare-oriented approach with masses as passive beneficiaries to a community development approach aimed at helping communities to help themselves through active participation.1
Sloganeering about mobilisation and participation in development no longer goes without challenge. Tallying up the once-hidden voices of participation alongside its known virtues, concluded that participatory development is an essentially contested concept.2 Yet it is clear that delivery of sustainable, equitable and affordable rural services is helped if users are involved in choices about priority of delivery options. They tend to be more prepared to invest in their own resources and sometimes though not as often as hoped, this involvement makes those services more accessible to vulnerable sections of the population.3
In developing countries, it is often argued that this kind of participation is constrained by the represenative political process. In response it has been argued that intensive community consultation techniques (such as found in the PRA toolbox much popularised by Robert Chambers and associates) can greatly improve the quality of local service planning decisions.4 Most donors now insist that these techniques adopted and many are supporting network training programmes, manuals and guides to help install them in routine planning practices in developing countries.
Although central to contemporary analysis and prescription for the African environment community is one of the most vague and elusive concepts in social science and unlike all other terms of social organisation (society, state, nation state etc) it seems never to be used unfavourably.5 The combination of ambiguity with virtue has made the term popular with policy makers and planners everywhere, but in Africa its appeal is associated with images of tribal community governed by tradition. As such most communities strive to engage in participatory rural development. Rural development can be defined as improving the living standards of the low income population residing in rural areas and making the process of the development self-sustaining. This simple definition has 3 important features with substantial implications for how rural programs are designed and implemented but however, the most important that links and relates to this study is mass participation which requires that resources to be allocated to low-income regions and classes and that productive and social services actually reach them.
The problem of marginalistion of the people as a result of them being excluded from decision-making processes for development is pervasive throughout Africa and the Third World. It is a negation of the principle of the democratisation process. The people’s involvement in participation in decision-making results in the democratisation of the development process.6 This necessarily results in the reduction of authoritarian phenomenon for which Africa is sadly noted.Empowerment of the people must necesssarily result in the reduction of power held and exercised by a few executives whether they be politicians, managers or administrators. Empowerment must therefore lead to a meaningful self-reliant development of the economy and self transformation of the people. The extent to which these processes have occured in Africa is virtually negligible.7
The concept of participatory development in African rural communities
The UN Conference on Popular Participation held in Arusha In Tanzania 1990 observed that the political extent of Socio-economic development in Africa has been characterised by an over-centralisation of power as well as by various impediments to meaningful and effective participation of the majority of the people.8 This according tyo the Africa Charter for Popular Participation has resulted in the demotivation of the majority of the African people and their organisation to the extent that they are not able to contribute to their best to the development process and to the betterment of their own-well being.9 This in turn has led to the curtailment of collective and individual creativity of the people.For example in Zimbabwe 70% of the population stays in rural areas and little development has taken place since independence due to the non-involvement and participation of people in their own development and planning process.
It is important to note that this concept has been on the agenda of most developing countries as this is an empowering tool for most rural communities. The UNECA Executive Secretary during the UN Conference on Popular Participation held in Arusha, Tanzania (1990) observed:
” The process of marginalising the participation of the people in the formulation of public policies, which has tremendous negative impact on their well being and even on their survival , has been exacerbated by the persistent socio-economic crisis which Africa faced throughout the 1980s with the consequential ever-growing concern and pre-occupation by governments with short term crisis management”10
This statement one way or the other shows the increasing narrowing base for decision making and the lack of popular debate on national development policies.11
Fred G Burke notes that the capacity of African political systems to be sensitive to and then respond to the demands of the people is very low. It is low because the inherited colonial system was not egalitarian or democratic on participatory but rather authoritarian-sensitive not to the needs and demands of the masses but to those of the colonial office in London or Paris to a settler community.12 Thus according to Burke the likelihood that politics will successfully manage this growing conflict is problematically right.13 In relation to this, most scholars note that a human centred development approach should be pursued and this call is further reinforced by the need for Africa to realise that it is becoming increasingly marginalised in world affairs both geo-politically and economically, and that its greatest resource is its people.14
Therefore, people have been realised to be at the forefront of most development programmes. People must be empowered to determine the direction and content of development within an environment of social and economic justice.15 However, this empowerment is not taking place in most African countries because of the abject poverty in which the majority of Africans live and furthermore the absence of an environment which is conducive to meaningful development is as a result of inter-alia, the exclusion of the majority of people from the development process.16 In most cases people are expected to be passive recipients rather than active initiators of change and in addition there is widespread repression in most African countries and a perfect recipe for economic stagnation and civil strife emerges.
Poverty persists alongside development largely because poor countries are developed from, by and for people in cities, people who, acting under normal human pressures deny the fruits of development to pressure less village poor.17 On the other hand some sholars note that the desire for control of local initiatives by local rural people may remain a distant dream because poor peasants in rural Africa are disorganised and powerless because they have been unable to capture the local level organisations of the African party-state and make their own and neither political parties nor development communities that have been built from below.18 In addition to this observation Robert Chambers also notes that centralised urban and proffessional power, knowledge and values have flowed out over and often failed to recognise the knowledge of rural people themselves.19
Given the limited support of state and civic institutions poor people often turn to their own organisations.20 Research has begun to provide evidence at the grassroots level that participation is necessary for a fully effective, society wide development transformation. Public participation in development projects has been shown to bring the project information that outside agencies are unlikely to have and it also brings greater effort-the kind of effort that is required to make a project successful.21In essence government, aid agencies and other stakeholders should work hand in hand with rural communities through wide consultation, involvement and participation of the rural populace for development projects to be fully effective.
According to Joseph Stiglitz a comprehensive pardigm is emerging that sees development as a transformative movement from the traditional to the modern and where traditional societies accept the world as a modern society that seeks change and recognises that individuals and socities can affect that change, reducing infant mortality, raising life expectancy and increasing productivity.22 If development therefore requires a change of mindset, it is clear that attention needs to focus on how to affect that change, the change cannot be ordered or forced from outside, it has to come from within and the most effective way of ensuring that it reaches deep down in society is arguably through the kinds of open and extensive discussion that are central to participatory processes and indeed there is a whole tradition that identifies government by discussion as key.23Therefore, open discussions and wide consultation by government, aid agencies and other stakeholders is an effective tool in participatory development.
On the other hand people should identify their own needs and problems; however, in a development situation where they come into contact with ideas and techniques beyond the scope of their traditional knowledge, outside assistance is often necessary.24 Assisatnce means giving help, not controlling and so when planning is being undertaken it should be with the full participation of the community. It is sometimes assumed that rural people are not very clever and have to be told what to do all the time and the facts are really rather different. Failure by government authorities to consult the local populations causes great resentment, hostility and suspicion whilst from a psychological point of view people need to be involved in the planning of their own lives and activities because if they are not involved in this way they cannot be expected to co-operate.25
It is paradoxical to talk about people’s participation in their own development or even in sustaining livelihood. Instead people should rather talk about the development agent’s participation in people’s efforts to create a firm base for their livelihood which will not be liable to collapse when the first calamity sweeps over them.26 People are expected to participate in development which is largely planned from outside by wiser experts and well wishers who think they know better than the local people what is good for them.27 Yet working from the bottom-up with concepts that arise from the everyday economies of rural people makes it possible to take into consideration people’s non-quantified and socially significant ways of maintaining their livelihood.28In addition to this local people at grassroots level should be given the platform to actually participate in development projects which are planned and initiated by them. At times some development projects implemented in rural areas are of minimal importance and significance. For projects to be viable communities must participate from the planning stage up to the implementation period rather than participate in the implementation phase.
John Makumbe notes that popular participation is both a means and an end.29 As an instrument of development, poular participation provides the drivivg force for determination of people based development processes and willingness by the people to undertake sacrifices and expand their social energies for its execution. As an end in itself, popular participation is the fundamental right of the people to fully effectively participate in the determination of the decisions which affect their lives and at all times.30
The role of NGOs and CBOs in participatory development in Africa
Authoriries on rural development are largely agreed that NGOs do a better job in faciliating beneficiary participation in development than government, international donors and the private sector . NGOs seem to adopt more effective approaches in mobilising the rural populace to participate in development activities which result in the alleviation of poverty, squalor, hunger and ignorance.31National economic hardships have often forced governments of developing countries to reduce their committment to rural activities or projects.32 They have however,allowed NGOs operate in these areas in order to improve the living standards of the rural people.Such ba situation exists because of the lack of committment by the government to enforce rural development. International donor agencies have also resorted to channelling thaeir assistance to needy communities through the work of voluntary organisations. This has reduced the administrative costs for the donor agencies and has also ensured that assisatnce gets to the needy without too much bureaucratic delays or resource diversion. NGOs thus have been viwed as effective instruments of empowerment of the less advantaged people of developing societies.
NGOs are reputed for effectively facilitating popular access to basic human needs such as clean water, health, training and credit facilities. Their proximity to the needy people compared to that of central government, for example, enables them to respond quickly to local situations. NGO training and education activities improve the level of awareness and skills base of the less advantaged people. Their simple organisational structures and systems have the advantages of versatility which tends to be lacking in complex governmental organisations.33
Also present beneath local government structures are a number of structures and interest groups formed by the communities with the direct assistance, in most instances, of various donors and NGOs. These include Community Based Organisations which primarily serve as initiators of development activities. CBOs are also formed to play a crucial role in participatory development as local people are able to engage in their own development.
However it is worth noting that the very same institutions are not fully effective in implementing the concept of participatory development.NGOs also have a role to play in implementing participatory development. The concept of community-based planning has been used by some NGOs working within the continent as part of the programmes to engage people’s participation. The programme, however, has not been effective. People are not actually fully equipped with the necessary skills to engage in their own decision making process that would lead to rural sustainable development. In most cases these are only short term programmes that try to equip communities with the relevant skills to engage in their own development. Therefore, NGOs should focus on more than providing short-term material benefits to beneficiaries. Instead, they should aim at programmes and projects which do not have a long term impact on the living standards of the beneficiaries, but will increasingly make the beneficiaries less dependent on outside assistance.
A dependency syndrome amongst local communities has also emanated from some of the programmes or projects that NGOs implement.Programmes that pertain to food relief have vastly created a huge dependency syndrome as most local people wait for NGOs to come and give them food and this in turn has created an attitude of laziness amongst rural communities.It is also important to note that NGOs should involve people in identifying development projects which are of high priority to them. Needy people are sometimes taken advantage of by organisations which will have made up their minds about what development activities they would be willing to finance or undertake. The people’s high priority needs can easily be overlooked under these circumstances and such projects which do not have the full committment of the beneficiaries tend to collapse as soon as the benefactors have handed them over. Therefore, the need for NGOs to work closely with the people at the outset cannot be emphasised.
Beneficiary participation in development is widely beleived to be an essential ingredient of the development process. It enables beneficiaries to influence the decision and policy-making processes and facilitates the designing and enhances the implementation of plans, programmes and projects. It basically centres or hovers around people. In essence participation results in the development of a feeling of ownership and belonging among beneficiaries which in the long run ensures the success of a project or programme.
One of the strategies for enabling rural communities to plan, implement and manage poverty alleviation on sustainable basis, using local resources and their culture is empowerment. Community empowerment is a process of enabling people to understand the reality of their environment, reflect on factors shaping it and take steps to effect changes to improve the situation. One way or the other it is a process that encompasses people deciding where they are now, where they want to go and developing and implementing plans to reach their goals, based on self-reliance and sharing of power.
In light of this participation is a two way process which requires that both the beneficiaries and the benefactors interact at all levels of the development process. As such community participation is an essential component that helps in facilitating rural sustainable development.Participatory development to be effective and meaningful has to be accompanied with well thought-out conscientisation campaigns. These will enable participants to make rationale decisions or choices whether or not to participate in a given project. Wherever possible, beneficiary participation should be solicited from the outset of a given programme or project. Planning is at the centre of all development initiatives. Socio-economic development planning conducted in a multi-stakeholder and participatory manner gives communities the opportunity to determine their destiny. The history of socio-economic development planning shows that more is acheived when the target beneficiaries are involved in all the steps of the process.
1. Deepa Naraya and Patti Petesch, Voices of the Poor from Many Lands, Oxford University Press, London,2002, Pg 413
2. Tina Wallace, Development and Management, Oxfam, UK, 2000, Pg 104
3. Ibid, Pg 104
4. Ibid, Pg 104
5. Philip Woodhouse, Henry Bernstein and David Hulme, African Enclosures: The Social Dynamics of Wetlands in Drylands, James Currey, Oxford, 2000, Pg 14
6. Fred G Burke, Public Administration in Africa: The legacy of Inherited Colonial Institutions, Journal of Comparative Administration, 1969, Pg 345
7. Ibid, Pg 346
8. John Mw Makumbe, Participatory Development: The Case of Zimbabwe, UZ Publications, Harare, 1996, Pg 1
9. Ibid, Pg 1
10. Ibid, Pg 2
11. Ibid, Pg 2
12. Fred G Burke, Public Administration in Africa: The legacy of Inherited Colonial Institutions…………………Pg 345
13. Ibid, Pg 345
14. Ibid, Pg 345
15. Pekka Seppala and Bertha Koda, The Making of a Periphery, Economic Development and Cultural Encounters in Southern Tanzania, Nardiska Afrikainstutet, Uppsala, 1998, Pg 164
16. Ibid, Pg 164
17. Tina Wallace, Development and Management……………Pg 104
18. Ibid, Pg 104
19. Robert Chambers, Rural Development: Putting the Last First, Longman Scientific and Technical, UK, 1983, Pg 82
20. Chris Roche, Impact Assessment for Development Agencies Learning to Value Change, Oxfam, UK, 1999, Pg 116
21. Ibid, Pg 116
22. Joseph Stiglitz, Participation and Development in Democracy, Market Economics and Development, Farrukh Iqbal and Jong-ll You, The World Bank, USA, 2001, Pg 50
23. Ibid, Pg 50
24. Ian MacDonald and David Hearle, Communication Skills for Rural Development, Evans Brothers Ltd, London, 1984, Pg 1
25. Ibid, Pg 1
26. Pekka Seppala and Bertha Koda, The Making of a Periphery, Economic Development and Cultural Encounters in Southern Tanzania……………..Pg 164
27. Ibid, Pg 164
28. Ibid, Pg 164
29. John Mw Makumbe, Participatory Development: The Case of Zimbabwe……………Pg 5
30. Ibid, Pg 5
31. Ibid, Pg 74
32. Ibid, Pg 74
33. Ibid, Pg 74
Burke F. G , Public Administration in Africa: The legacy of Inherited Colonial Institutions, Journal of Comparative Administration, 1969
Chambers R , Rural Development: Putting the Last First, Longman Scientific and Technical, UK, 1983
MacDonald I and Hearle D, Communication Skills for Rural Development, Evans Brothers Ltd, London, 1984
Makumbe J.M, Participatory Development: The Case of Zimbabwe, UZ Publications, Harare, 1996
Naraya D and Petesch P, Voices of the Poor from Many Lands, Oxford University Press, London,2002
Roche C, Impact Assessment for Development Agencies Learning to Value Change, Oxfam, UK, 1999
Seppala P and Koda B, The Making of a Periphery, Economic Development and Cultural Encounters in Southern Tanzania, Nardiska Afrikainstutet, Uppsala,1998
Stiglitz J, Participation and Development in Democracy, Market Economics and Development, Farrukh Iqbal and Jong-ll You, The World Bank, USA, 2001
Wallace T, Development and Management, Oxfam, UK, 2000
Woodhouse P, Bernstein H and Hulme D, African Enclosures: The Social Dynamics of Wetlands in Drylands, James Currey, Oxford, 2000
Wayne Malinga is currently a 4th year student at Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, pursuing a B.A (Hons) in History and Development Studies.
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