The Dangers of Localizing Development

by Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa on December 13, 2012

In the past, I have written about the values of participation and localization in development. These two elements have, over the years, taken a prominent place in debates and discourses on what could possibly be an effective route towards economic stability and equality.

However, a new report from World Bank economists Ghazala Mansuri and Vijayendra Rao says otherwise. In Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?, Mansuri and Rao closely examines whether local aid and participation and the practice of decentralization really works for development. Decentralization is defined in the report as ‘efforts to strengthen village and municipal governments on both the demand and supply sides’.

One of the key points underscored in the report is that like general and centralized development, localized development is not impervious to the threat of corruption, abuse, and misuse of resources. Throughout the years, the World Bank has been consistent in initiating research projects that aim to determine the most pressing development issues that need to be addressed, and one challenge that has been persistently showing up in these reports (and one which I have previously written much about) is corruption. Now that the new World Bank report has revealed that some forms of corruption may be present and even encouraged by giving local authorities and units control over development projects, it seems as if corruption and abuse has inundated every crevice of developing societies, even those that once seemed as the ‘apt’ channels for development.

The problem that this new Localizing Development presents is troubling: local participation and control, something that was once considered as one possible way to combat corruption, now appears susceptible to the very same evils we thought it was against. Note that the report was birthed to address the question as to whether several innovative trends of “doing development differently” really work. One of these emerging innovative ideas is Jamie Drummond’s concept of ‘crowd-sourcing’ the new Millennium Development Goals by using mobile and internet technology to conduct “the first ever truly global poll and consultation on “What the World Wants””. The thing is that this idea is neither the only nor the first of its kind. In fact, it is highly representative of how the world today values public participation as one of the most essential, if not the ultimate, tools for development.

However, according to the World Bank report, one common mistake or illusion among development organizations and institutions is that it is relatively easy to mobilize and foster civic engagement among poor communities because of their ‘ample social capital’. It elaborates that more than the amount of social capital in a given community, what is imperative to fully achieve community participation is a deeper understanding of how to get the people to “act in a way that solves market and government failures”.  In light of this, the researchers add that “genuine efforts at inducing civic engagement require a sustained long-term commitment and a clear understanding of the social and political forces at all levels of society.”

Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa is an African visionary and global industrialist, heading an enterprise that spans most of the African region. In his blog HumphreyNdegwa.com, Humphrey writes about his passions and interests, namely: African economy, sustainable development, and responsible entrepreneurship.

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