Cover Image
close this bookCommunity Leadership and Self-help Housing (HABITAT, 1988, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentI. Why analyse community leadership
View the documentII. The nature of community leadership and decision making in low-income settlements
View the documentIII. Why do leaders emerge and how do they relate to society at large?
View the documentIV. The impact of leadership upon low-income community development
View the documentV. Leaders and external agents: cooperation or conflict?
View the documentVI. Reaching the poor through community leaders; an agenda of points for consideration
View the documentReferences

IV. The impact of leadership upon low-income community development

1. The impart of leaders upon settlement improvement

96. Several authors have emphasized that leadership is a key variable in upgrading.(11,20,21,24,27,42,77) One reason for this is that effective leadership may get the settlement on to the servicing or legalization agenda (or prevent it from being dropped from it). Often this is done through the leader enlisting the help of patrons or contacts in government agencies.(2,20) Alternatively, if the leader is perceived by the authorities to be doing a good job of maintaining order and control within the community, then they may implicitly legitimize the settlement's activities, even if they do not formally recognize its legality, as was found in a study of Mathare Village 2, Nairobi.(77) A second reason is that effective leadership can maintain a momentum of pressure on agencies, and/or speed up the acquisition of goods and services through "jumping up" the servicing queue. This happens either through leaders soliciting help from their patrons,(20) or by mobilizing their communities to demonstrate an obvious show of support for powerful political parties. Thirdly, certain leaders may win concessions such as a reduction in taxes, legalization fees or service costs.(104) In the Baldia Township Regularization and Improvement Scheme in Karachi, Pakistan, local leaders fought for lower lease rates and achieved a slight modification in the prices originally recommended by the Metropolitan Corporation. They also succeeded in getting a clause of non-transferability in their lease documents amended.(108) Fourthly, effective leadership can minimize the need for widespread and ongoing mobilization by the majority of residents.(21,27,28,78) Indeed, participation in efforts to pressurize public agencies for services and infrastructure can be very time-consuming and to some extent it is desirable to channel community objectives through local leaders, especially where personal contact is the conventional mode of bargaining. However, a monopoly by a leader over the making of demands is not always benign. As observed in the preceding chapter, it may be a mechanism by which leaders further their personal interests and subordinate the community's objectives to those of the government or a political party.(7,28) Finally, "good" leaders have the ability to stimulate and heighten participation where required, such as during the implementation phases of a project.(11,21,55) For example, the most successful villages within the Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea were those in which leaders were able to encourage cooperation and activity in building and improvement works among residents.(11)

97. Despite the alleged importance of local leaders in the physical aspects of community development, experience suggests that even "effective" leadership often achieves only marginal returns over those settlements where leadership is either non- existent or ineffective. It may well be that the relative success of development projects depends primarily on the following three factors, each of which is largely unrelated to leadership.

(a) The government's commitment to providing resources to low-income communities. The scale of resources dedicated to the improvement of low-income communities is often very limited and fluctuates over time.(75,103) Furthermore, a "development programme" itself may not have been established as the result of a genuine desire to improve low-income settlements. Often upgrading and improvement programmes are only a "front" to give the appearance of activity, while covertly the intention is to reduce social unrest.(l0,34) For example, the Baldia Township Regularization and Improvement Scheme was initiated as a means of securing grass-roots support for the Government during a period of intense activity by an opposition political party. However, the programme got no further than that of a policy statement before the Government was over-thrown.(l08)

(b) The nature of the socio-political system and the rationale that underpins leadership-government relations also act to limit the effectiveness of strong leaders (see table 3). Where the political context is characterized by personalism and the patron-client relationship, authoritarian leaders may be more effective than others in securing benefits for their communities.(28,35) Alternatively, in situations where service allocation is established on a technical, "routinized" basis, everyone waits their turn and leaders may only be effective insofar as they sustain momentum, coordinate residents and stimulate the process of implementation.(34) In instances like these, elected leaders who do not derive their legitimacy from patrons in government positions may be equally if not more successful than those who rely on personal contacts with officials to maintain their support base. Under a situation of competitive party politics, "positional" leaders who are either placed by, or affiliated to, the governing party are likely to achieve greater returns than those who are in opposition.(66) This may also apply to "traditional" leaders where the party in power has an important ethnic or tribal dimension. The period immediately before elections may result in the quickening of improvements, but the effects are usually shortlived.(5,28,57)


Table 3. The impact that local leaders are likely to have in securing of community improvements according to the conditioning relationship between State and leader

(c) The internal characteristics of the settlement itself can also influence success in physical development, and specifically whether or not the settlement has a relatively homogeneous population in terms of ethnicity, class, tenure and income. Several investigations have shown that when communities are fairly homogeneous and well-integrated, leadership is usually very effective.(11,21,22,27,38,60) Alternatively, somewhat ironically, those settlements which really need effective leadership, in order to mediate between different social or ethnic groups, often have weak or divided leadership and low rates of community participation.(27,46,103) For example, in communities in Kamataka in India, inter-caste rivalries led to intense factionalism and multiple, opposing leadership.(32) Similarly, leadership was ineffective in the village of Lukenge in Morogoro District in the United Republic of Tanzania, owing to bitter political struggles between the dominant tribes in the community.(60) Therefore, internally homogeneous settlements are likely to give rise to strong leaders with a wide support base, but since these communities are probably united in their objectives for, and committal to, community development in the first place, the leader himself may not be the critical catalyst of participation.

98. So it may he concluded that in terms of tile physical impact of leadership upon the settlement, the effects of strong leadership may he negligible, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. Indeed, leadership is more likely to have a far greater influence in terms of its impact upon the shaping of inequalities within the community.

2. The impact of leaders upon socio-economic inequalities

99. Socio-economic inequality may increase as a direct result of the control by leaders over development programmes, with resources being channelled to favour the better-off segments of the community. This is especially likely where leadership legitimacy is not widely-baled; for example, in cases of authoritarian or traditional leadership structures.(l6,32,37,76) Here resources may be directed to those of the same class, ethnic group of lineage and, in some cases, to the leaders themselves. In Uttar Pradesh, India, for example, wealthy village leaders are usually high-caste Thakurs or Brahmins who generally succeed in capturing the benefits of development programmes for themselves and their immediate followers.(37) In Mathare Valley, Nairobi, local landlords monopolized a development programme which was assisted by the National Christian Council of Kenya and took advantage of the opportunity to develop open plots at the expense of the poorer groups within the settlement. They ended up creating a sharply stratified community composed of rich landlords, vulnerable squatters and exploited tenants.(88)

100. Radical and collective readerships may succeed in lowering inequality, such as was the case with the leaders of Movement of the Revolutionary Left in Chile between 1970 and 1973.(15,38) In some cases this may reflect the ideology of the development programme itself. For example, one of the main objectives of the Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea was to reduce class and income inequalities by stressing joint participation in national development. Within this programme strong emphasis was placed on dual-leadership whereby leaders were to work alongside the traditional village eiders. One of the main selection criteria for leaders was an ability to mediate between the very rich and the very poor.(11) In situations where a political party seeks support and legitimacy, leaders may have an incentive to spread the benefits of a programme to more rather than fewer people in order to capture potential votes.(15) However, examples of leaders who have genuinely or consciously attempted (let alone succeeded) to reconcile class differences are few and far between.

101. Inequality of gender roles is another area in which local leadership may have a considerable impact. As was pointed out in chapter II, the majority of local leaders are male, and their position may he reinforced through active cooperation by an external agency, thereby deepening gender-ascriptive roles and ideology. Since most agencies choose to work with existing leaders, women do not get an opportunity to participate. For example, in several development projects, women are assigned to passive, non-participatory roles and rarely occupy leadership positions. Male control of projects not only reinforces the status quo of gender inequality, but also means that women are often excluded from the benefits of development programmes.(14,59,76)

102. In circumstances where women become leaders, this may lead to a questioning of gender roles and to an opening of opportunities for women.(58) For example, women who are trained as voluntary health workers often end up taking responsibility for the broader aspects of community-development programmes and in many cases assume leadership of elements of the project.(70,91) However, female leadership poses several problems. Married women not only face opposition from their partners, but also from other women. The latter is especially true where the leader in question has children, since it is interpreted as a sign of neglect, and they are often alienated as a result. In many respects the resentment felt by other women conceals a deep-rooted envy of the greater freedom and mobility gained by women leaders as a result of their involvement in the public life of the community.(58)

103. Finally, inequality may be heightened by the existence of leadership factions in which the less successful leaders (and their followers) miss out.(21) For example, the Farmers Service Cooperative Society Programme in Kamataka, scarcely aided the low-caste groups in the village of Seshagirihalli where leadership consisted of five people from three different castes. Although one leader was from a low caste, he was very unpopular, and exploited the Harijans and the lower castes. As a result they received no benefits from the Programme. In Uttar Pradesh, an educated, low-caste leader who was an obvious rallying point for other low castes, did not stand as a candidate in the village elections for fear of reprisals from the local elite.(37)

3. The impact of leaders as catalysts of participation

104. The broad argument in this section is that the propensity for participation, like the nature of leadership itself, is an outcome either of external processes, such as the nature of the government's relationship to low-income groups, or internal settlement characteristics such as socio-economic homogeneity. To some extent leadership exercises an independent influence. This may be achieved through the ability of leaders to organize and the closeness of their relationship with residents. For example, the most successful development villages under the Saemaul Undong Movement programme in the Republic of Korea were those where the leadership was most able to mobilize participation. This was particularly the case where there had been a tradition of communal labour long before the Movement had started.(11) Similarly, charismatic leaders who inspire trust and confidence are well-equipped to inculcate the belief that participation is necessary or desirable, especially where the community is relatively homogeneous.(27,76) The chairman of the committee of Mathare Village 2, Nairobi, was a very effective and dynamic leader; he not only had good contacts and actively participated in community work efforts, but also had great personal integrity.(77)

105. Strong leaders may also shape the nature of community participation in accordance with their main goals. Where their covert motive is to demobilize residents to reduce pressure on government, or they want to mobilize their communities for political purposes, the outcome is likely to be nominal and ineffective participation, accompanied by high levels of cynicism and disillusionment from residents.(l7,21) Alternatively, where the leader has genuine overt goals for community improvement, then if residents perceive him as honest they may raise their level of participation. (See table 2 for the extent to which different types of leader are likely to raise or reduce participation.) It should be borne in mind, however, that the success of any community development programme will also depend on: (a) whether the programme is relevant to people's needs; and (b) the community's understanding of the programme. (27) Indeed, Olesen (66) suggests that convincing leaders of the need and appropriateness of an upgrading scheme offers relatively small advantage. Ideally the people themselves should be reached.

4. The impact of leaders on opinion and political awareness

106. It has been widely acknowledged that the urban residential context is an important forum for political learning.(6,8,20,21) In low-income neighbourhoods local leaders may act as key opinion leaders and exert considerable influence over the "consciousness" of residents. For example, they frequently play a major role in shaping people's perception of the political/governmental system and actors within it, including agencies.(21) The critical significance of local leadership in interpreting policy to low-income groups was recognized and capitalized upon by the Government of the Republic of Korea in the Saemaul Undong Movement. A National Saemaul Training Institute was established by the Ministry of Home Affairs which ran a compulsory programme for potential Saemaul Undong leaders. The training course comprised a great deal of ideological indoctrination of the principles of self-reliance and diligence - the comer-stones of the new Movement. It was also intended to increase grass-roots support for President Park.(11) Leaders are also important in terms of the extent to which they identify a class struggle of the poor and raise consciousness of key political issues. For example, the female leader of the San Judas Barrio Project in Managua, Nicaragua, attempted to demonstrate the fundamental interrelationship between class and gender inequalities during the implementation phase of a post-revolutionary, "bottom-up" housing project which raised major problems of cooperation between men and women.(99) However, many leaders do not try to raise consciousness of wider issues among residents. Instead, they focus attention on specific problems and personalized, local struggle. This perpetuates their legitimacy, and helps to take pressure off the State. which thereby further demonstrates their allegiance to their patrons.(7,20,28)

107. Leaders may also play an important role in the community's interpretation of events, by relaying their perceived reality of the situation, either in support of, or against, agencies or individuals. For example, they might exaggerate the significance of past claims and demands for services that have been received by the community in order to win support for themselves and their contacts. Alternatively, and particularly in cases where there are rival leadership factions, they may play down the achievements of other leaders and their patrons.(21) For example, in Santo Domingo Los Reyes, a low-income community in Mexico City, rival leaders frequently denounced each other, threatened the supporters of opposing factions and vilified the outside agencies with whom the other had connection.(103)

108. To conclude this analysis of the impact of local leaders on community development, although it is argued that leadership only exerts a marginal effect upon the actual physical improvements to low-income settlements, its importance is critical in many other ways and cannot therefore be ignored.