Do host governments necessarily “do development” better than foreign donors?

A common complaint you hear against donor-driven development projects is that they are typically at variance with local priorities; and make no attempts to work along the grain, or build upon existing systems. It turns out that governments in developing countries aren’t any different.

Take the example of the slum upgrading project in the infamous Kibera slum in Nairobi:

A keen look at the Open Street Map for Kibera and Mathare Valley before the NYS initiative started reveals the existence of services such as education, health, water and sanitation points. In Korogocho, Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera self help groups had emerged even before NYS Initiative start to earn daily income from activities such as urban farming, garbage collection and water delivery services. It is a fact that most toilets are not connected to the main sewer and private clinics are either not registered or managed by quacks, while illegal power connections abound.

The NYS Initiative would have scored big by establishing connections with already existing services providers in poor neighbourhoods by either improving their capacity to offer quality and affordable services to the urban poor or by trying to create an enabling environment for slum entrepreneurs to be part of formal and legal business entities. It is a mistake to assume that  there are no service providers within poor neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of basic services is an urban reality which has motivated the establishment of civil society groups to initiate health, education and income generating activities for women and youths as a supplement to government efforts in meeting its obligations. No government in the world can be able to solve the complex community problems of the poor by itself.

And there is an interesting twist to this story…

Experience from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Urban Poverty and Slum Upgrading Project funded by the World Bank might be instructive. The project has some similarities with the NYS project in terms of targeting poor neighborhoods but was able to achieve more success because it worked more closely with local communities and partnered with Dar es Salaam Municipal Council officials from conception to implementation and monitoring stages, a situation which is totally lacking with the National Youth Service projects. The NYS Initiative seems to be a duplication and competition with the mandate of mandate of Nairobi City County.

I do not know about the veracity of the claims about the Dar slum (and I think the NYS budget is fully domestic — after the initial Chinese boost) but right now it’s hard not to feel like Tanzanians are doing everything right; while Kenyans are perennially running around in circles. The Mara Derby is on.

Read the whole thing here.

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