Three mistakes by development mafia
Posted on November 11, 2010 | Author: M Raj Shekhar | View 321 | Comment : 1
Along time ago, this reporter was attending a gram sabha in Madhya Pradesh when some field coordinators from the MP Rural Livelihoods Project (MPRLP), a joint venture between DFID and the state government, walked in.
What followed was educative. They came in late.
Got aggressive when villagers alluded to the delay.
Lectured the villagers on how they should stop relying on the government for everything.
And on how they should create a central pool of cash, with each family contributing . 10 or so every month or week, and lend that out to whoever needs cash.
That, said one coordinator, would reduce dependence on moneylenders.
This stunning suggestion betrayed the fact that the coordinators saw villages as united communities sans power dynamics.
On the whole, the gram sabha threw up epiphanies.
How could the team so freely dole out ignorant homilies on how to improve the village?
How do they view the villagers in this part of the country? Like idiot children?
And why were they getting away with all this preaching?
The event made one feel pessimistic about the developmental process.
In that gram sabha, MPRLP fared poorly on three parameters — accountability, local understanding and respect for the villagers.
And this critique can be extended across the entire ‘development mafia’ — starting from multilateral donors like the World Bank, their JVs with Indian central and state governments, India's gazillion NGOs and MFIs.
What is the logic that underlies this pattern?
In Seeing Like A State, development theorist James Scott explains why large-scale plans to uplift the human condition so often go awry.
A lot of development programmes subscribe to what he calls a high modernist ideology.
This is a technocratic belief that science (or other development interventions) can and will make the world a better place.
There are two problems here.
One, as fellow development theorist James Ferguson argued in The Anti-Politics Machine, his study of a World Bank project in Lesotho, these development interventions are not chosen according to local needs, but as per what the organisation can deliver.
In the process, local political and power dynamics get ignored (especially when, in the case of the multilaterals, the intervention is being delivered on ascale across the world).
Adds Scott, these scientific interventions often fail to take into account “the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability” he views as essential to an effective society.
He calls this metis, a Greek word which he translates as “the knowledge that can only come from practical experience.”
Or, tacit knowledge.
The high modernist ideology also partly explains why the villagers are talked down to.
This reporter saw this at work once more, while recently travelling in Andhra.
A state bureaucrat loftily spoke about the need to educate the poor about credit discipline.
A statement that sounded condescending: as though the development practitioners were better equipped to decide what the locals need than the locals themselves.
Here lies a moral hazard. Can outsiders decide what locals want?
What if things go wrong? Which takes us to the lack of accountability to the locals.
These employees are primarily accountable internally — not to the community they serve.
This comes with being a bureaucracy. Internal deliverables become stronger than external ones.
It is the same for the organisations themselves. They are more accountable to their funders, etc, than the village folks.
The upshot? One has seen local development practitioners get annoyed with the local community for not cooperating with the developmental process.
Or heard of villagers being offered, at different points in time, different solutions to the same problem of underdevelopment.
And one hears stories like farmers starving themselves as they try to feed the jersey cows a development agency has wisely bestowed upon them.
All this raises the old question on how to bring about development.
Do shortcuts to economic empowerment work? Or did the various people movements have the right idea: Empower people politically and they will demand their other rights?