The other night I was talking with an intelligent and diligent friend of mine about the nature of community development programs. She was telling me that although she had originally felt that community development programs were more about making communities a effective part of the capitalist order but she was starting to see the potential for self sustaining communities becoming an alternate power base to the state.
We then started talking about who gets to the determine the goals of the development project, usually it is the state and in that case the result is not to make the community more resilient but to make the people in it more efficient cogs in the capitalist social order. Obviously we felt that community development projects needed to be community led and for goals that were determined by the community.
A few days later my thought turned to what this means for international development. In previous centuries (and far to often today) development of underdeveloped countries was often used as a justification for colonialism with the primary agents of this development being the church and the colonial governments.
Now we are supposed to be more enlightened, development is done through a combination of NGO’s and the IMF/World Bank etc. The problem with these organisations is that they do not always develop the undeveloped countries in a manner that the people in those countries would desire. The IMF and World Bank in particular are often credited with using economic blackmail to force countries to alter to their economies so that they become more like the North.
However even the NGO’s are more dependent on the North than the people of the South. Their finance comes from the wealthy countries and they need this money to do the good work that they do, to get this money they have to present their programs as being something their funders want. The most obvious example of this phenomena is the Bush government demanding that family planning NGO’s in Africa not promote the use of contraception.
In a more theoretical sense there is also the question of what development means. It often means modifying the traditional social institutions to make these societies more like the North, even if the NGO’s do not do the large scale economic blackmail of the IMF their objectives are sometimes still about bringing underdeveloped communities into the international market. When the people are thrown on the mercies of the more powerful economic entities around them and hope for the day something like Fair Trade can be become the dominant economic paradigm.
However many of the development NGO’s do very good work and improve the lives of people living the the third world. I just feel that this development needs to be directed by the people of the countries that want development. Sometimes this could be government, although in many third world countries it is really apparent that the government is separate from the people and follows its own interests rather than that of the people. More often I think the primary decision making agency has to be the communities directly involved.
The chances of this happening on a large scale though are probably quite slim, the people that fund these programs would demand what they see as being appropriate development, which will not necessarily be what the communities want. In a world where NGO’s have to compete with each other for the money the ones that value the people of the third world more than the funders of the first will struggle to survive