the last couple of years, leading newspapers in more than one
European country have launched frontal attacks against development
aid and agencies, accusing them of misleading pretentions, a majority
of failed projects, money going down the drain, quite simply,
bad use of public as well as private funds. Allegations like "amateurism",
and "political action in the name of charity" have been
among the least severe blows in the face of many who thought they
were working hard for an honourable purpose : solidarity with
the poor and the powerless.
Although many of the accusations were not entirely untrue as such,
the truth happens to be part of a much more complex reality. Instead
of calling for better financial control by the Auditor's Office
of Western governments and political control by their Ministries
of Foreign Affairs as a solution, it seems highly necessary to
stop dancing around the fire and openly to put the question whether
perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with the mechanism
that directs the financing system of development aid.
What, in one of the more respected newspapers in the Netherlands,
recently was called "uncontrolled hobbyism of development
aid" is much more serious than just lack of control on the
spending of development funds. It ensues from the Rostowian vision
- still present under the white skin - that "developing"
countries only develop when they follow the evolution of the "developed"
world. Although the most beautiful phrases of governmental, inter-governmental
and non-governmental policy documents alike excel in making us
believe the opposite, the practice of development co-operation
provides more than enough evidence that donors from the North
set the agenda of development agencies in the South, be they governments,
churches, NGOs, farmers' movements or women's organisations. Material
means for development are only given when development initiatives
fit into the criteria which the donor has put for himself and
for others. Donors - after all is said and done - take the final
decision on which development initiative is financed and which
is not. This choice is determined by the cultural frame of reference
of the specific donor concerned. What he understands by poverty,
progress democracy, emancipation, participation, justice, human
rights, in short "development" determines what is accepted
as valuable and therefore as credit worthy. The problem is not
that this happens out of ill will, but that one is mostly unaware
in what respect one's own vision is culturally biased.
power of money
aid is tied to the power of money and the power of money is identified
with the right of intervention. This intervention is geared at
changes to be made in the situation of countries and local population
groups in a way and a direction which makes sense to the donor.
The ethical question on which grounds this right is based, is
as yet unanswered.
of the main reasons why the majority of development projects are
not sustainable is that they are projections of ideas and interests
of those who intervene. In doing so, intervenors try to keep their
space for manoeuvering as large as possible by reducing the selection
of alternatives of those who are the object of the intervention.
This is one of the characteristics of the culture of Power (which,
by the way, is exercised just as much by external donors as by
internal rulers). An additional problem is that ideas and interests
of intervenors are often contradictory and so people at the "grassroots"
level become a human football.
power of culture
interesting thing however is that, in the long run, these interventions
very often fail. For not only people in the North consider themselves
capable of judging situations in other societies than their own.
People in developing countries, in particular the powerless, prove
to be capable of applying their value judgement on Northern proposals
for development. Thankful receivers of material aid appear to
be silent refusers of culturally alien ideas from the "developed
world". The development thinking and practice of the last
three decades has neglected the most obvious reality in other
continents : the cultural diversity of solutions which humanity,
throughout centuries, has found for the challenges of its natural
and social environment and which provide sense (meaning and direction)
to her thinking, acting and existence. People in the non-Western
world have been and still are defined in terms of which Western
"goods" they do not have : no civilisation, no Christianity,
no industrialisation, no technology, no democracy, no economic
growth, no free market, etc. They have not been and still are
not approached in terms of who they are and would like to be.
People resist this threat of loss of identity by using their own
armoury of means of protest. Politeness or self-interest make
for rare outright refusals of project proposals which imply receiving
funds. After this is settled however, people "participate"
not so much in order to implement the objectives of the intervening
agent, but to deviate these towards their own priorities : by
using project means for forms of "social security" which
are embedded in the social networks they belong to; by deviating
techniques for "rationalisation" of agriculture to what
in their own cosmology is acceptable in the relation between man
and nature; by adapting project objectives to the risks one can
or cannot take in the pattern of power relations in one's own
society. By these and other devices, the culture of power and
the "development hobbyism" of development agents from
the North is controlled by the power of culture of people in the
analysis of the terms of references for most evaluations of development
projects instigated by donors show that these are based on questions
which donors ask themselves and receivers of aid : Are the original
objectives that made sense to me, achieved with my money ? In
most cases, the answer to this question is not very satisfactory,
which, in turn, leads to superficial conclusions that clearly
too many projects fail. If feasibility studies and evaluations
of development projects were based on questions which receivers
of aid asked themselves and others, projects would probably take
another form, another pace, another direction and the final judgement
of those concerned might make for a different evaluation of the
partnership : a hollow concept ?
most arrogant aspect of the interventionist nature of development
co-operation is that, in this relationship, the economic, social
and political situation in the receiving countries as well as
the behaviour of aid-receiving agencies is constantly put into
question. However, not so those of the donor. This is the essence
of the hollow nature of the much cherished concept of "partnership".
In North-South relationships (and - history repeats itself - the
same pattern is taking shape in the relationship between Western
and Eastern Europe) people from the North present themselves most
often as people without needs who have next to nothing to receive
or learn from people from the South, forgetting to say that the
development model they propagate creates gigantic social and ecological
problems. These problems are to a large extent caused by the absence
of an imperative principle of self-limitation. This attitude and
this fact do not induce a feeling of respect nor admiration on
the side of "beneficiaries" of development aid, but
rather an attitude of grabbing whatever there is to grab.
co-operation as mutual enrichment
co-operation is no co-operation as long as this relation does
not consist of real interaction (which is more than dialogue)
between the co-operating parties. This interaction must be geared
towards changes in situations of injustice in both societies.
To bring this interaction about, taking time is indispensable,
time for analysing together culturally determined visions and
solutions to world problems.
As all societies in the world are part of the same humanity that
has demonstrated its capacity for an immense creativity in finding
an immense variety of solutions to problems, it is a matter of
well understood mutual interest to conceive of development co-operation
as a mutual enrichment and a common responsibility.
It will depend mainly on the mentality of the actors in this co-operation
whether the masks which, until today, have characterised development
aid relations will be replaced by co-operation concerning problems
of the South, the East and the North-West which urgently need
(First published in
sub-titles are ours)
" Cultures and Development ", n° 8/9, March 1992.
NEO-LINEAGES AS SURVIVAL MECHANISMS IN URBAN AREAS
The booklet "Dynamique urbaine d'une Société
en grappe : un cas, Dakar" (Ndione, Emmanuel Seyni, Enda,
Dakar, 1989) is a fascinating piece of work based on a series
of case studies. It offers a honest and illuminating conclusions
drawn by the author. Emmanuel Ndione, a friend of the South-North
Network, is a Senegalese practitioner in community development.
His rich experience in suburban and rural Senegal, combined with
a thorough academic training (PhD in social sciences) allows him
to write one of the most challenging studies on education-consciousness-raising
work in Black Africa. The study shatters any illusions about the
universal validity of community development theories based on
ideals of equality, democratic decision-making, people participation
and equality, and its methodology based on setting up new associations
for collective upliftment by and for the poorest.
Grand Yoff area of Greater Dakar is the place where the author's
NGO called Chodak, an off-shoot of Enda (Environnement et Développement
du Tiers Monde, an outstanding INGO) launched various projects,
whose failures are analysed with unusual frankness and lucidity.
It appears that these failures are not primarily due to the oft-mentioned
causes such as ill-will of the powerful, exploitation by rich
merchants, corruption and inefficiency by government departments.
These factors are present in some cases but the root-causes of
Chodak's repeated failures is its ideology and methodology. And
yet Chodak faithfully followed the best theory on community development:
enquiring about "felt needs" as expressed by the local
population; stimulating an attitude of collective promotion in
a spirit of equality and solidarity; setting up groups which would
gradually take over the initiatives in a spirit of self-reliance
and ever-increasing social justice. To this purpose Chodak brought
together the poorest sections of the population : all those who
are most marginalised and exploited (e.g. women, youth) so as
to remove them from their surrounding social context considered
oppressive. Then Chodak organised them into autonomous groups
so that they would become counter-active powers, and thus promoters
of social change. Projects were launched according to this spirit
in the areas of woodwork/carpentry, mother and child health-care,
sewage, vaccination and family planning. All of them failed, more
social workers critically evaluate their own community development
lesson drawn from many years of repeated downfalls of theoretically
excellent projects is that suburban societies live according to
very strong traditional or neo-traditional patterns, and are closely
knit according to rules of mutual aid, reciprocity, patronage,
quid pro quo and hierarchy. They are "sociétés
en grappe" where neo-lineages control all aspects of life.
These neo-lineages and their institutionalised off-shoots, such
as "tontines" (mutual service associations) are the
locus of dynamism and allegiance. Chodak attempted to set up associations
of a new type, without reference (and indeed sometimes in open
opposition) to existing social interaction, deemed unfair or inadequate
for development purposes. These attempts met with formidable resistance
in the form of inertia, half-hearted participation, deviation
of project funds for other purposes (responding to interests negotiated
within the neo-lineage), and a remarkable smoke-screen strategy
whereby Chodak's activists were left ignorant of the participant's
real intentions and expectations. Chodak's own democratic groupings
could not alter social reality because they were artificial, a
mere creation of Chodak workers. Chodak's aims, such as encouraging
saving among women, or equipping each house with its own sewer
came up against unexpected rationales. In the case mentioned here,
women preferred to accumulate on one occasion a large sum of collectively
controlled money (the "loans" from Chodak, interpreted
as a gift, and immediately redistributed according to age, kinship
and social status) rather than to save. As for the case of the
sewers, these were only installed by people who owned their house
and who had their own kin in the Chodak-promoted "Sewage
Committee". Mere tenants (who refused to invest money and
energy in a house which they did not own) or people without family
members in the said Committee were not interested.
only did organisations set up by Chodak according to alien principles
fail to succeed, Chodak's social workers soon found themselves
caught in a web of relationships of reciprocity whereas they liked
to look on themselves as mere outsiders providing services for
the peoples' benefit. It later dawned upon them that this altruistic
stance was never the way in which the local people regarded Chodak.
Its money and competence could not possibly be totally free from
secret purposes such as power, social status and various "do
ut des" tactics (litt. I give you so that you may give me
back), etc. Thus, participating in Chodak's projects was a favour
granted to Chodak, for which reciprocity was expected in the form
of individual favours, patronage and private advantages.
from what exists to build something new"
of the key conclusions of the study is that people have not only
"needs" but above all "interests". The latter
is of a more subjective and secretive nature than the former,
and revolves a lot around security (the first thing a new city-dweller
is looking for), and at a later stage social status and power
to be acquired through one's capacity to promote the well-being
and the social status of the entire group (neo-lineage). Communal
and egalitarian ideas of Western origin, as well as long-term
programming of the use and accumulation of funds (i.e. saving)
just did not conform to existing cultural realities.
Chodak people had realised this after a number of years they were
faced with the agonising question : are we to stick to our community
development theories and try at all cost to disseminate our views
until they become accepted, or are we to adapt to the socio-cultural
context, accept compromises and forsake the "purity"
of our ideals ? As one social worker says : "The people re-create
village solidarity mechanisms so as to safeguard themselves against
the aggressive hostility and the great insecurity of urban environment
and we are... "ideological trouble-makers" (des emmerdeurs
idéologiques). So Chodak then decided to try to solve the
dilemma by "starting from what exists in order to build something
new". They decided to approach already existing groups, whose
social cohesiveness would be greater than new groups set up under
the auspices of Chodak.
expected, the social cohesion sought after was found in the existing
groups. Yet it proved to be so strong that Chodak could bring
about very little change in its rationality. In fact Chodak was
challenged to become part and parcel of the neo-lineage reciprocity
(quid pro quo) system, that is to become kinsmen of the group,
or to remain alien and inefficient actors. Chodak workers felt
tired and disappointed by attitudes which they considered to be
selfish and materialistic. Some workers, however, started to wonder
whether they were not labouring under "a messianistic urge
for mass participation". Reality showed that neither the
"masses" nor "the poorest" were participating
but existing neo-lineages. Within these the interests of the most
powerful were dutifully looked after first, and the profits going
to those "notables" and/or elders were dutifully redistributed
to each one in turn so as to maintain social cohesion, allegiance
to the "notable" and overall security of the group.
project's logic is "perverted" by the endogenous logic
is impossible to summarise here all the complexity of the cases
highlighted in E. Ndione's work. Nor does his book indicate what
Chodak's final stand is on all these vexing questions. Yet we
find a number of thought-provoking ideas in his study which are
worth pondering by anyone concerned about development, eg. Chodak's
aims and objectives are being re-interpreted and finally made
use of in a different way by the local people. This process, whereby
the rationale of the project is being highjacked and twisted around
might turn out to be the local people's own path to development
!... The price to be paid is also unexpectedly high for the NGO
: it loses control over the people and their evolution, and it
must give up its very satisfying image of pure, progressive, democratic
social workers committed to justice and equality... the image
needed to obtain funds from Northern NGOs !
conclusion was to try and have a better understanding of local
socio-cultural situations and to start from existing situations,
whatever the ambiguities and risks of having their project "perverted"
by the logic of the existing group. Chodak recognised that it
was an error to start by considering traditional institutions
(the lineage chief, the elders, the rules of reciprocity, relative
inequality) as inherently evil and contrary to development. One
may see negative points in an existing culture but that should
not prevent social workers from recognising it as the starting
point and guiding dynamic.
social worker is often called "un animateur" in French
i.e. one who instils "animus", spirit, life. This widely-spread
expression illustrates the error of much development work : the
societies are not "without life" ! On the contrary,
their own life, their culture will resist attempts to impose alien
values, methods and institutions. Solidarity, selfishness, money
and personal interest have different meanings according to each
culture. When community development parachutes a single ideology,
be it generous and idealistic, it fails miserably.
Ndione's study is of vital importance. This booklet also offers
a very dense introduction by Prof. Dominique Desjeux. We may come
back to it in one of the later issues of this Bulletin.
"Cultures and Development", n° 1, January 1990.