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C. Walsh and J. Phelan
The people who are most in need of development, the poorest, most marginalised and powerless groups in society, are often referred to as project 'beneficiaries', 'recipients' or 'target groups'. The implication is that these people cannot develop themselves and instead must depend on the 'experts', or those at the 'top'. To date, it must be said that the 'experts' have had limited success in developing the marginalised. However, the practice of a relatively new, people-led, development approach suggests that it is, in fact, the people themselves who have the greatest potential to bring about their own development.Creating development
The original public sector, or state oriented route, inherited from western countries, was over bureaucratic and undemocratic as societies elites tried to maintain their positions of power within society (1, 2, 3,). The effect on the state was unsustainable in economic terms as foreign debt increased to meet the demands of domestic spending, while the effect on the poor was their further marginalisation and disempowerment as they handed over what had been traditionally, civil society roles to the state. It is argued, by public interest view scholars, that a dominating public sector is necessary to deal with issues of market failure, to ensure equal income distribution and resource mobilisation, for the provision of public goods and as a means to securing foreign aid (4, 5, 6).
International lending institutions, seeing the need for a more efficient allocation of resources, set about redirecting the responsibility for development from the state to the market, or the private sector. While the market proved to be a more efficient allocator of resources than the state, it did so in a discriminatory manner against those with less money. The effect, once again, was the further marginalisation of the poor (7, 8, 3).
Their opponents, however in what is known as the private interest view, argue for the efficient allocation of resources, freedom of choice and self-respect (9, 10). While these are all essential elements of 'development', developing countries still exist, countries that are currently, or have at some stage, followed both a state-led and a market-led approach to development. The weakness of both approaches is the isolation of the poor and marginalised.Development: A new approach
Development practitioners and theorists, are now, beginning to look towards what has become known as the third sector, or civil society, in other words the people themselves, to fill the 'development' gaps of the other two sectors. The civil society element of Irish Aid's area-based development programme in Sidama, Ethiopia is based on the theory that, for effective people's participation in their own development, communities must organise. This is the essence of civil society-led development.
Empower - The empowerment process takes place on three levels (10, 11). The first level is the institutional level, reflecting, the community's power 'to' organise and, in turn, their ability to obtain power 'over' others in society. The second level is the individual level, which reflects the power 'within' the group, or the individual member's ability to work together as a group. Thirdly, the community level, reflects the power 'with' others, or the ability of the group or organisation to work with others to enhance development opportunities.
It is against this background that Kebelle Development Committees (KDCs), are identified, trained and established, in Sidama, to bridge the gap between agents of development, both government and donor agents, and the community. So are KDCs contributing to people's empowerment and to their participation in development?
In an attempt to answer this question, two kebeles (a kebele is a cluster of villages) were selected that had formed KDCs, (Bochessa and Bashiro Gute kebeles), which were at different stages of 'development'. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with KDC members; with community members who were not part of the KDC; with women in the community who, again, were not KDC members and with local government staff. The focus of these discussions was on indicators of KDC empowerment and community participation levels.Findings - Empowerment
KDC empowerment was been analysed on three different levels: institutional; individual and community. Box 1 below, shows the three levels and the indicators examined for each level.
Institutional Level - Power 'to' OrganiseIndicators:
Institutional Level - Power 'over' Others
Individual Level - Power 'within'
Community Level - Power 'with' Others
Fig. 1. The three levels of empowerment and indicators examined
Institutional level empowerment - One might expect Bochessa, the more experienced KDC, to display better evidence than Bashiro Gute for all the empowerment indicators, and while this has proved to be the case in most instances, Bashiro Gute did demonstrate more favourable characteristics for group processes and internal relationships. Bochessa KDC was established longer and displayed a tendency to become complacent in routine practices, such as record keeping. However, they must be credited with the evidence provided of their progress made to date, not least an impressive list of projects implemented, together with an holistic, or integrated view of development, reflected in their group objectives. The weaknesses identified in Bashiro Gute, on this level of empowerment, namely, the narrow, project oriented focus of its objectives, can be explained by its relative newness as a KDC.
Individual level empowerment - As a progression from the KDCs' ability to organise, their ability to work together without external assistance was analysed. It was encouraging to find that both KDCs have shown ability to plan and to work on their own initiative. Both groups have been, or are currently involved in building link roads between kebeles, without external assistance.
Community level empowerment - Both groups' weakest empowerment level was identified as their power with others. Bashiro Gute, the youngest KDC, have quite a good grasp of what networking should involve but have not yet put their ideas into practice, while to date, Bochessa KDC's co-operation with other organisations has tended to be selective. Analysis of KDC relationships with local government, revealed that despite evidence of some tension between the KDCs and the local agricultural office, other government representatives interviewed were quite open to the suggestion of working with the KDCs. In fact, there was evidence of where both the education and health offices were working closely with the KDCs for some of their projects.
Findings - Participation
Analysis of participation indicators, revealed that although Bashiro Gute, the youngest KDC, had achieved a significant level of community participation in its six months, Bochessa was more advanced. The implication is that community organising contributes to their participation in development. The indicators of popular participation used in this study are listed below in Figure 2, where a comparison has been made between both kebeles.
|Indicators of Participation|
Indicators of Participation within the KDC:
Concept of Participation
Practice of Participation:
Indicators of Participation within the Community:
Mens' participation in community development activities
Womens' participation in community development activities
Fig. 2. Indicators of Participation Examined
Firstly, the KDCs' concept of participation was examined, which revealed that both see it as the involvement of the community in development activities. Only Bashiro Gute members (the youngest KDC) suggested that this involvement should be biased towards the marginalised groups in society, who they see as women. While they see the community as having a primary role to play in decision making, they see themselves as being primarily involved in more technical aspects, such as, project planning, design and maintenance. In both cases women were seen to participate less than men, and this was evidenced in reality when group discussions (both men and women present) with a random selection of community members, at which women were considerably less participative than men. The implication is, that KDCs can contribute to increasing the participation of marginalised groups in society, however slow the process.Conclusions
Civil society, or people-led development, in its purest form is unrealistic. Government policy, for instance, has a crucial role to play in enabling the people to become involved in their own development. The private sector, too, has an important role to play. As an efficient allocator of resources, the private sector can, within an appropriate environment, generate sufficient capital for all of society. It is the role of the government to provide this appropriate environment as well as providing an enabling development environment, and it is the responsibility of civil society to ensure that both the public and private sectors are functioning properly. In Sidama, however, there was some tension identified between the KDCs and the local agricultural office, the root cause of which was found to be the incompatibility of simultaneously pursuing top-down, bureaucracy-led development and bottom-up, people-led approaches.References
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© 2008 The Sidama Concern