|Essays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)|
|21. Development Nemesis|
|Part Two: The actors and the future of development - The era of empowerment|
|Section IV: The non-actors in today's development|
There is no progressive politics without the masses. But not every policy intended to promote the wellbeing of the masses is progressive. (Gomez, 1988).
4.1.A. Genuine participation: what it is and what it isn'
Without genuine participation, development is like a Christmas toy: Batteries not included. (Walker, 1986, p.27).
In Third World development projects, popular participation has so far mostly been used to reinforce the patronage of the existing political apparatus. Typically, it appears first as an effort to set up a poor people's circuit in response to the aspirations raised by a populist system. It has much less been a springboard for collective mobilization of communities set up to help them master their own development.
Patronage and clientelism have been used as models of veiled political control. An example of this can be seen in the tendency of family planning workers to accept and apply crude neo-Malthusian assumptions and to preach and harangue rather than enter into dialogue with potential users.
Participation-in-the-way-the-authorities-want-it is controlled participation. It is a kind of "for them, but without them". In that sense, "public opinion" is nothing but an attempt to organize the ignorance of the community to elevate it to the dignity of a physical force.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the income distribution issue is largely ignored in participation schemes in Western development projects. Consequently, the poor never attain the power necessary to demand the share of national resources that would be compatible with guaranteeing them minimum incomes commensurate with decent standards of living, health and nutrition.
Empowerment means something more than people following instructions or being able to answer narrow questions. Empowerment is development (or vice-versa): To be empowered is to increase one's capacity to define, analyze and act on one's own problems. Empowerment is cognitive and unashamedly value-laden. It entails arriving at an understanding of the situation in which one decides for oneself that changing one's behavior is in one's own interest. Development programs, therefore, need to go beyond the technical and help empower people to overcome the structural violence they are subjected-to day-in, day-out. Why do we go-on designing programs directed at people based on the assumption that they have needs but do not have any resources, competence or views? (Kent, 1988, p.11).
In Western development, participation has actually been more an exercise of integration than of incorporation of people. Incorporation tries to make people partners in the system making them benefit from the venture(s) undertaken. This has mostly not been the case so far. The issue has rather been finding ways of integrating people into a preconceived development process. People are where they are today, not because they have been genuinely incorporated into the process as such, but because they have been integrated into the existing social formation in the country. This process has largely preserved the underlying system that appropriates and expropriates surplus value from commodity producers and workers by controlling both the supply and demand sides of the market in capitalist-dependent societies in the periphery. (Bashir, 1988).
A distinction should be made here between a reformist view and a more liberatory view of social movements. The reformist view looks at the actual conditions of an oppressed people and asks: How can we improve the conditions or lessen the oppression? A more liberatory view says: There is something about the transformation of the conditions affecting a given oppressed group that the achievement of its liberation leads to the liberation of all.
Participation as "meeting with people here and there", somebody said, is not unlike a ritual for invoking rain -and it may prove less effective... Genuine participation gives people a transformative rather than a fatalistic outlook toward the world. [Langley a), 1989]. The process of genuine participation thus calls for translating change into acceptance. (Gomez, 1988). It is about creating new community fora and meeting grounds where grievances motivate and spark effective, powerful action.
Grassroots organization, therefore, means people + leadership + ideas + a plan + taking collective initiatives + following self-deliberation + self-managing the tasks initiated; it means exercising the right to choose.
Ergo, genuine participation of beneficiaries is not to be a goal to be achieved with a project; it has to exist from the beginning, or there simply is no project! (Padron, 1990).
4.1.B. A liberating participation: why needed?
People have the right to define by themselves the kind of lives they want to live and under what conditions. (Lerner, 1987).
Felt needs should not have to wait for an opportunity. They are to create new opportunities. In other words, rights have to be taken. They are not given.
It is the poor who have suffered most in bad economic times just as it is them who have benefited least in good economic times. Therefore, why should the kind of Western development the people have been getting deserve their support? It is time to strip away the niceties of Western economic parlance and say that what has happened and is happening is simply an outrage against a large section of humanity. (Development Forum, 1989, p.15).
Historically, whenever abuses of political power have been corrected in the East and in the West, it has been through a popular movement from below. Throughout the struggles of people, these changes were made when enough people decided that the burdens of history required risks and that the demands for change could not be met by acting as if normal politics could do the job. (Falk, 1988, p.17).
Simply put, without participation, people are unable to consolidate moral outrage into political power which is the key to the type of change needed.
Constructive changes in society are almost always the product of social movements (Boyte and Evans, 1987) and only a changed society can adopt better, sustainable development strategies; Western development tends to do it the other way around... (Hatfield, 1987, p.6).
Without some modicum of political power and the ability to use it in an organized fashion, participation remains mere window-dressing. Because of this, confrontation remains a cornerstone of genuine participation. When confrontation softens and compromises begin to occur in key areas, the power base of the people tends to erode. The upholders of the status-quo play their game around these compromises.
Unfortunately, grassroot popular leadership is too often regulated, controlled and manipulated by the central political level thus, by definition, leading to a weak organizational base. What is needed for a liberating participation to flourish is a political process through which an independent local leadership can be built. There still prevail powerful dependent-dominant relationships in organized rural grassroots groups. In most places, the same dominant group controls the political and economic powers from the national to the village level. There is thus no real polarization of power between the rural poor and the elites, i.e. the power-deprived and the power-users. Such a polarization needs to be fostered through the process of participation, mainly because the silence of powerlessness keeps the needs and desires of the poor (especially rural) from being part of national political agendas. (Khadka, 1988; Daly, 1990).
On social issues, national governments do not move until they are pushed by a substantial grassroots movement. (Langley b), 1989]. Only then do they feel compelled to pay more attention to the claims of the numerically strong but economically weak. (Woodward, 1989).
Voting and other traditional social participation patterns are weak and misleading expressions of popular control in capitalist-dependent Western-type democracies. Only with a stronger de-facto control by the people comes hope.
Political participation in traditional forms of Western democracy is limited; it mostly allows to express a citizen's preference for one (or various) candidates. New forms of people's participation are thus being tried by grassroots organizations (e.g., slum dwellers associations), they all practice a much more adapted, responsive and accountable form of democracy. (Padron, 1990).
Hence, the development process's role is to help create the necessary support systems among participants for a genuine, liberating participation to emerge and for it to nurture the spontaneous local sparks of awareness into concrete actions. It is both the consciousness-raising and the actual mobilization of people that ultimately help create these necessary support systems anchored in a strong sense of identity with each other and with an emancipatory cause.
Since Third World governments/elites manifest a distressing tendency to imitate their more powerful allies, change will have to come from non-governmental sources, from those willing and able to break the spell and penetrate the mystifications that the governing class has purposefully created and perpetuated everywhere. (Woodward, 1989).
Any NGO-organized participation has to achieve what grassroots groups want, i.e. the type of actions that bring about the desired changes. The act of organizing has an instructional role per-se. Knowledge by itself does not transform reality; it is essential that it be linked to organized activity. The dialectical unity of knowledge and action must be an essential aspect of the development process.(Gianotten and de Wit, 1983).
For this to happen, the goals of development must arise from within a society and cannot be imposed by external forces. Only then does participation help the individual to understand his/her own society, turning him/her into an active agent of social change by providing him/her with a way to analyze society from within and thus with better ways to tackle its problems. (Kaci, 1990, p.4).
It is becoming more and more evident that the hope for dealing with the global development crisis rests not with the development industry, but with the great social movements of contemporary society; it rests with people who are driven by a strong social commitment rather than by the budgetary imperatives of huge global bureaucracies. (Korten, 1990).
Because only a liberating participation promotes social change and organizes the oppressed into an economic/political force, development professionals should be compelled to reject, and not just be indifferent about, projects with a passive role for people. (Gianotten and de Wit, 1983).
In summary, people have to be present at the historical processes shaping their future as thinking activists and not be maneuvered by the Establishment thinking for them. The latter only leads to the all-too-well-known pattern of resentful participation. (Paulo Freire)
Furthermore, fundamental change is not possible without conflicts with the powers-that-be. The timing for this inevitable conflict with the vested interests can often be chosen: Either the organization decides to precipitate a crisis or it faces it when times of crisis come along.
4.1.C. Participation: what it takes
To succeed, participation needs to paint a picture of the world that has inner cohesion in the eyes of the participants; it needs to offer a roadmap for purposeful and consistent action. But above all, genuine participation needs to and does legitimize outcomes. [Langley b),1989; Laursen, 1989, p.35].
I am aware that true democratic social change cannot be based solely on the mobilization of the people for their immediate concerns and anxieties and on their present, often faulty, interpretation of the world. It also requires resources and management skills! Self-reliance cannot do without resources (material, financial and organizational). It also requires a commitment to social-philosophical principles and to the effort that is needed to link political activity to those same principles. A working coalition of people has to amass independent power and bring together organization, leadership, ideas and a plan. (Posner, 1987). Participation, therefore, takes learning, agenda setting, bargaining and fostering a strong sense of collective identity. (Schuftan, 1983). Achieving this, surely requires a concerted struggle and, in today's world, it is almost a redundancy to say that the existence of established "democratic" institutions does not by itself guarantee that the poor and the disposessed are able to fight for their basic economic and social rights. (Kothari, 1988).
But the choice of social policies cannot be grounded in the values of liberal individualism only, as vital as these values may be. The emphasis must be on policies that express values of social responsibility rather than some vague commitment to community. The task is to create a broad movement or coalition based on important social values. (Posner, 1987). Only thus can development retain its deep roots in the community. Otherwise, it loses its energy and spirit. Ultimately, organized individuals have to strive for visibility in their political universe based on relevant issues, sometimes at considerable risk (e.g., a strike or a mass demonstration are acts of defiance). (Boyte, 1987).
The problem with most Western development schemes at present is that the limited participation they allow is atomized into isolated efforts effectively preventing groups with common interests and common enemies to coalesce. The need to provide rallying points for popular mobilization and for the consolidation of coalitions -e.g. linking single-issue constituencies together- should become more a part of our colleagues' agenda so as to induce them to act more decisively in this direction.
The various components of the popular movement (trade unions, small farmers' associations or cooperatives, neighborhood groups and other urban and rural organizations) find themselves too often isolated from each other: fragmented, distrustful of each other, seeing no further than their own noses... The fabric must be rewoven; social networks must be set-up to take advantage of collective past experiences. All needs to start with an assessment of what has been done so far in order to identify positive and negative experiences and salvaging what can be reproduced (the good seed) and rejecting the rotten. It is no easy task, nor will it come about tomorrow, but it must be undertaken; the sooner the better.
Participation has to foster activism within the system ("see-judge-act") and all-across the popular movement. It has to overrule the technocratic perspectives of creating a stable world by insisting on th primacy of the political process and of social mobilization over technology to achieve meaningful, lasting transformations. (Kothari, 1989, p.3). (Mind that the technocratic perspective tends to forget that people are more important than technologies, as well as being more complicated). (Lewis, C., 1988, p.6).
In sum, to be relevant, participation has to start from the people's viewpoint, from their accumulated experience and their specific present economy. (Gianotten and de Wit, 1983). To achieve this relevance, movements must also be linked to the everyday problems of people; key experiences can and should serve as a compass. (Montes, 1989).
These days, as a matter of pressure, we need popular demands to be accompanied by concrete proposals ("the problem must be solved in the following way:..."). Popular movements and actors are the ones called-upon to present positive proposals to solve the problems they know best. They should not exert pressure for the sake of pressure or in the name of empty slogans (e.g., a multi-party system). They have to challenge the context of existing policies and influence key actors and institutions at all needed levels. (Montes, 1989). From a tactical point of view, priority has to be ultimately given to the conflict most affecting the decision-makers, the one that puts most pressure on them. But this pressure has to be organized in a way that a healthy face-to-face confrontation to resolve the conflict is actually precipitated. In it, the people, effectively organized, do not only place vague demands, but offer and fight for concrete, viable alternatives.
4.1.D. Internal organization for participation
Development depends on a central source of constant renewal. The fountain of renewal spouts in a desert of sand soaking up the ground with new information as it runs from the center. Close in, the knowledge pools are constantly refilled. Further out, the new information sinks in the sand. Digging trenches to extend the flow helps little. (Brennan, 1989, p.4).
The organization of grassroots groups as pressure groups has to go through an incremental development process -developing trust, building a shared vision and, finally, establishing a strategy. By the time the strategy is arrived at, the group has such zeal and sense of mission that they are ready to take the issue to larger groups, using the same process. When organizers talk to people at all levels, people at all levels start talking to each other and problems tend to begin getting addressed before it is too late.
It is necessary for development professionals to create an excuse (or a crisis) to seek working with these groups, to listen to them, to share "secrets", build trust, share a vision and capture them in it: call this a soft revolution. In organizing movements, each of us has to use graphic vocabulary, share confidential information, share hopes and fears to create a common vision and promote trust. We have to seize every opportunity to make a point, emphsize a value, disseminate information, share an experience, express interest and show we care. Performance and contribution of as many people as possible has to be publicly recognized: ceremonies present great opportunities to do so. Use incentive programs whose main objective is not compensation, but recognition. Create the group's own culture, with its own language, symbols, norms and customs. An acculturation process begins when people get together in groups and trust and care about each other. Such a new culture is much more conducive-to and supportive-of consensus decision-making. (Hurst, 1984).
We all need to actively encourage and foster these new community fora and meeting grounds where grievances are no longer sources of defeat, but motivate effective, power-backed action, where people can learn the practices of work in common. (Boyte and Evans, 1987).
Since times have changed, we should once-and-for-all understand that participation has to be broad and has to allow participants to choose for themselves what the legitimate and important problems are that they need to be tackling.
Genuine participation has to make people feel affirmed; it has to help them deal with their real pains and with the absence of a coherent way to understand how the outside world sets limits to their possibilities. By definition, a process of participation has to provide respect and autonomy to community members. (Lerner, 1987). But care has to be taken that the organizing efforts of those seeking change do not actually mimic the views or play into the hands of the prevailing, dominant and ineffectual politics. (Moore Lappe, 1990).
Genuine (liberating) participation has to pass through a period of consciousness-raising, motivation-for-involvement and the generation of a sense-of-community and mutual-aid-support. Ergo, people have to be invited to participate in direct actions and thus practice grassroots democracy. Organizing should start as a local effort to be followed by the decision to form regional and then a national organization. [Langley a), 1989].
Practical politics, in this context, means control and empowerment for undertaking self-help actions, for lobbying and for placing concrete demands in front of authorities, even against the odds of repression. As a non-violent political duty, an organized group needs to position itself to exert active resistance to social evil. (A right exists only with a concomitant duty). [Langley a), 1989].