Community participation critical for economic development

THROUGHOUT the era of the pre-classical, classical and neo-classical economists, individuals, societies and governments and other stakeholders in the economies have steadily pursued economic development.

By George Masvovi

Early development economists equated economic development to economic growth. Around the mid-1950s and 1960s, developing countries experienced economic growth in the midst of poverty.

Although many decades have passed since the acknowledgement of poverty as a core component of development, poverty continues to persist in developing countries such as Zimbabwe. This reality challenged the “stages of growth” conjecture of economic development, which regarded underdevelopment as a short-lived stage in development (Rostow, 1960). This has led to a focus on the contemporary community participation growth model.

Community as a set of households who live in close geographical proximity such as a ward and a constituency and commune with one another implies community participation as the process by which individuals, families, or communities assume responsibility for their own welfare and develop a capacity to contribute to their own community development.

Sustainability is the ability of an implemented project to endure and be healthy past the project period. Development as accumulation of goods and capabilities that impact positively on the sustenance, freedom and self-esteem of members of a household entail sustainable development is therefore development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Community participation supposition is premised on top- down management approaches, mobilisation of human capital, capacity development and community knowledge (Botterill and Fisher, 2002: 2-3).

Top down Management of Impacts implies decisions made by top officials of government, institutions and experts without direct grassroots involvement. The model hence advocates for a “bottom up” approach to solving problem.

Secondly, mobilisation of human capital and resources posit that all people have very vital abilities and capacities that can be harnessed effectively to bring about required levels of development in the community
Thirdly, community knowledge of problems and their solutions means development initiatives or programmes cannot be developed with community in isolation. Lastly, capacity development, which entails developing the capacities of people, is one major and surest way to help people to manage and deal with major development problems. This is because it helps equip people with the skills and abilities to deal with problems, setting aside dependence on external help (UNDP, 1997)

Research conducted by several development agencies including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund explains the benefits of participatory development (PD). These studies also found that community PD projects address local needs relevant to locals than traditional development projects. Participation can also contribute towards more equitable outcomes so long elite capture is absent. Chamala (1995) identified efficiency benefits from participation, stating that involving stakeholders and empowering community participation enhances project effectiveness.

Despite arguments that participation makes no difference, the importance of community participation is well established in the literature. PD is criticised for reaching a smaller population than traditional development projects. PD projects are accused of enabling tokenism, where a few “handpicked” local voices are allowed to speak as a “rubber stamp to prove…participatory credentials”. This view suggests that politicians, government and organisations only include local voices to improve their image.

Other things being equal for sustainable economic development type of PD matters. Passive participation is the unsustainable of the four approaches where primary stakeholders of a project are informed about what is going to happen or has already happened. People’s feedback is minimal or non- existent, and their participation is assessed through methods like head counting and contribution to the discussion.

Exploring passive participation in rural development projects of small dams rehabilitation in Zimbabwe Chazovachii et al. (2014) findings revealed that the level of community participation is not only minimal, but it is also top down and passive. This has much to do with the negative perceptions by facilitating agents viewing local people as passive recipients of externally crafted models of development. Based on these findings, and consistent with wider literature, primary stakeholders should be in active participation.

Secondly, participation by consultation stakeholders provides answers to questions posed by outside researchers or experts. This consultative process keeps all the decision-making power in the hands of external professionals who are under no obligation to incorporate primary stakeholders’ input.

Participation by collaboration enables primary stakeholders to take part in the discussion and analysis of predetermined objectives set by the project. This level of participation does not usually result in dramatic changes in what should be accomplished, which is often already determined. Although ward health teams exist at local government level in both urban and rural areas, the health centre committee must exist to provide for collaborative participation in the functioning of the health centre in Zimbabwe’s catchment areas.

Finally, empowerment participation entails primary stakeholders who are capable and willing to initiate the process and take part in the analysis. This leads to joint decision making about what should be achieved and how. While outsiders are equal partners in the development effort, the primary stakeholders are primus inter pares, i.e., they are equal partners with a significant say in decisions concerning their lives. Ownership and control of the process rest in the hands of the primary stakeholders.

A testimony is in the Chibememe Earth Healing Association (CHIEHA) a community-based conservation and development organisation in the rural south eastern Chiredzi, Masvingo province. In 2004, CHIEHA was awarded the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Equator Initiative Prize, an accolade that recognizes “outstanding local initiatives that work to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.”

Through a US$50 000 grant from UNDP, the association scaled up activities that promote conservation in the Sangwe communal lands. Among these were agro-forestry, multi-cropping and water harvesting. This has allowed them to define and determine their own development path and destiny. More recently, the community share ownership schemes in Zimbabwe have seen community members being active in decision-making in resource allocation on development issues.

In conclusion, the first step for active community participation is to identify the “community”, understand their problems, assess community interest and identify all stakeholders keeping elected officials informed while explaining preliminary information about the project. Next, one should review the project proposal with community members before detailed development of the project while organising and coordinating face-to-face meetings with community members to obtain their concerns, needs, perceptions, insights, issues requiring resolution and potential solutions.

Fourthly, one should prepare options to address community concerns by summarising community issues, feasibility, incorporate the results of community participation into the design and implementation of the project. Finally, there is a need to plan for ongoing community involvement to demonstrate that there will be ongoing community involvement.

Undoubtedly, Zimbabwe has since independence crafted some novel development plans centred on passive participation,
with the objective of reducing poverty. I therefore recommend the active participation community development model and its basic premises to Zimbabwe’s economic sectors and angles like education, mining, health, local governance, service delivery and conservation, among others.

The common belief that the active participation of communities in development delays decision making is based on limited information.

As the Zimbabwe government is out to tackle poverty as outlined in the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy paper for the period 2016-2018, it is vital to note that in the past, there has been a danger in allowing the voices of the “elite” to drown those of the poor, thereby allowing the “elite” to act as the voices of the voiceless.

Musvovi is a development economist at the instistute for Sustainability Africa (INSAF). These New perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. Email kadenge.zes@gmail.com and cell +263 772 382 852.

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