By Sarjo Bayang
Part 9: Politics of Development
Using development projects to gain political capital is common tactic for capturing votes. In the absence of proper consultation to determine real needs of people, politically motivated projects will not put food on the table or bring much needed better living conditions.
Deprived and hard-to-reach communities are not always enjoying much from the government. Quite often they are not consulted in fairest deal of development partnership.
Instead, projects are conceived without them knowing what is going on. Whenever some government and Non-Governmental Organisation NGO agents begin their treks word goes around that another project is about to come.
Fleet of project vehicles and motorbikes are seen running around blowing more dust and leaving behind people hoping for what may never come any time soon.
White elephant projects are glaring symbols associated with politics of mass deception that government and NGOs come up with.
Everything turns out to be development politics or politics of deception where real felt-needs are not fulfilled. What follows relates to how that is schemed.
People are sick, hungry, and without good clothing. Their immediate felt-needs and highest in priority ranking would have included preventive health services, nutrition, and perhaps education for the young.
Experts think they know what is best for communities. Based on their wrong perception and failing to make proper consultation, projects are designed and presented as book knowledge dictates.
At end of one project cycle other projects line up. Nothing seems to work while the blame game shifts all fingers on communities lacking knowledge.
Development agents representing government and NGOs compete for recognition as they seek to make their presence felt at various deprived communities.
Eventually most projects fail. Even when you think they have succeeded, it takes very short time before everything comes to complete stop. Community facilities and producer schemes diminish over time leading to final closure.
Nobody takes responsibility as initial community engagement fails to include succession planning, Failure of one community project provides the occasion for others to be identified.
Unless experts consult communities as key partners in development, any projects implemented on paper work without ascertaining real felt-needs will fail like others before and those after them.
Felt-needs of the people
Priority ranking of genuine needs is different from drawing up a wish list of so many wants. People have insatiable desire for possession and will pile up so much even what is good for nothing.
To ascertain the felt-needs of communities and individuals requires asking them. No expert has the superior gift of genius to determine what people really need without seeking to know from them.
Asking communities and individuals to talk about everything they want will end with a long roll of wish list nobody can provide for. It is therefore most helpful to give some guidelines regarding how felt needs are separated from numerous wants.
Through sensitisation and group thinking, communities and individuals requiring project support will undertake their realistic needs assessment.
By engaging people and communities in the task of identifying their own needs, the journey to delivering projects in response to those felt needs begins with right steps.
Expression of felt needs by people and communities does not readily make a case to conclude project feasibility. Other variables are taken into consideration. To determine feasibility is measured along key lines of enquiry.
Getting the right mix is crucial not only in determining feasibility. Questions on viability arise where everyone is challenged to consider how viable the project venture becomes. Key to that line of enquiry is all about sustainability.
What happens in the long run after the project is implemented and delivered at completion stage requires clear mind mapping from the beginning.
Whether the project succeeds or fails, resources would have been committed and not retrievable. In that respect sustainability issues need to be given proper care and serious consideration.
Material, money and human capital inputs are required in right proportion. This is considered in the wider context of technical feasibility.
Before any further moves feasibility needs to be established on solid findings. When a project is not feasible due to deficiencies in material, money or human capital it means there is no point the venture. Getting the right balance of these key components is critical success factor in determining feasibility and viability of projects.
Human capital contribution is considered from various dimensions. Is there the required calibre of capable persons handling this project venture? That question refers to project agents and the people at community level who eventually ensure sustainability by their competent handling from start onwards.
In some communities, certain people of influence always take leading roles even where they may not be the most competent. There arise occasional conflicts of interest leading to bad results. It is therefore important that right people take up rightful roles based on competence rather than compromise. That is not always happening unfortunately. Wrong hands handling even the most readily feasible projects can lead to failure. Opinion leaders may have political influence while lacking the ability to deal with development schemes.
During needs assessment priority ranking of competing demands can be helpful. With brain storming and clear mind mapping by focused group exercise project planning identifies needs. Participants may come up with very long list of what they initially identified as needs. In guided discussion, it may emerge that some of the items listed are more of general wants than genuine felt needs.
Participants are encouraged to rethink and see if everything listed will be considered as needed. That is when they will get to narrow down their demands in priority ranking of needs. Politically motivated provisions that communities don’t need amount to white elephant projects
Without succession plans, repeat failures become common in the experience of projects provided for mere political gains.
To prevent the situation of misplaced priorities, communities need to be consulted from early planning stages onwards. Thorough cost and benefit analysis will ensure that priorities are at the same giving people choices based on their expressed felt-needs.