The appropriation and dismembering of development intervention : policy, discourse and practice in the field of rural development in Benin

R.L. Mongbo

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>This book concerns a Community Development Programme which provides a vehicle for a theoretical discussion of the reproduction of the discourse and practice of development intervention in general, and the concept of rural development as a field of social interaction in particular. The actions on which the theoretical discussion is based took place in various settings: in ministry offices, within the development intervention institution (the CARDER) and at village level. The Community Development Programme ran in all the six provinces of Benin from 1989-1993 and involved five to eight villages in each province. The programme was implemented by the CARDERs, which held a quasi-monopoly over development interventions in Benin from 1975 (when they were created) until they were disbanded in the early 1990s with the demise of the Marxist-Leninist regime<p>The programme's goal, as formulated in the policy statement, was 'to turn our dying villages into dynamic places'. It was presented as an open ended participatory type of programme, meant to be an original approach to improving the living conditions of rural people, since, according to an assessment made of the village situation, all previous projects implemented had failed to lift rural peoples from their poverty. But looked at closely, the programme seemed more an attempt by the Minister and his close staff to contribute to the general campaign launched by the regime to win back the people's enthusiasm and support, then at its lowest ebb due to the particularly severe socio-political and economic crisis in Benin at the end of the 1980s. The sharp drop in state earnings following the persistent crisis in Nigeria, together with, among other things, the weak management of state resources, had made it difficult for the government to meet its running costs, the most visible aspect being the delay in paying civil servant's salaries, sometimes by as much as five to eight months. A structural adjustment programme was being negotiated with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, together with a restructuring of agricultural services under which staff were to be reduced by more than 50 percent. This was to extend to all civil servants. The Community Development Programme, as with other aspects of the regime's campaign, failed to win back people's confidence. There were street demonstrations and various political and economic pressures, from within and without the country, that finally brought the regime to an end at the famous National Conference of February 1990. This context was neither outside nor above the people but was a part of the everyday reality of intervention institutions and villages alike, and contributed to the making of the socio-political landscape surrounding the programme.<p>In the CARDERs, the Minister's policy statement - that was to launch this new approach - was incoporated into a state intervention framework and culture that dated back to or had its roots in the colonial administration. It had been reproduced continuously in the process of creating a nation state out of what was a heterogenous Dahomean colonial territory. In the Zou Province, the implemenatation of the programme started with an initiation phase that resulted in almost standard development plans for all the eight villges concerned. Yet the plans had been formulated and presented with a participatory rhetoric that had matched the Minister's orders and the development intervention language then current, while giving to the CARDERs structure and functioning an image of coherency. But behind the coherent image, the programme both reflected and generated many conflictive situations. Ad hoc as well as more stable groupings and leadership emerged or were reproduced out of unspoken criteria and preoccupations as varied as people's regions of origin, ethnic affiliation, religion, patron-client relations, career perspectives, private (family) problems and sometimes purely technical matters. The social interactions in which the actors involved in the Community Development Programme were engaged, generally guided by the various groupings, criteria and preoccupations mentioned above, were determining for decisions which afterwards were presented as state policy. Such interactions were also an integral part of the process of policy transformation to which the Community Development Programme was subjected. They helped to produce both formal and informal I charts' for the implementation of the programme, which were at odds with the official ones. Nevertheless, the process showed itself to be efficient in reproducing the hidden social realities within the Zou CARDER while at the same time giving it the image of being up to date in the latest fashion of development language and practice.<p>In the villages, the programme was variously implemented, with very little connection to what had been planned or to the regular injunctions and instructions from the General Director and his monitoring staff. Activities developed in the name of the programme, and particularly the everyday life of these activities, differed from one village to the next depending on a multiplicity of factors, such as the balance of power between local political forces (the socio-political landscape), recent intervention adventures in a village, the particular interests of the village agents appointed to the programme, etc. In Togoudo (the case documented in this book), a significant factor in the implementation of the programme, and a factor that might have played some role in other villages too, was the settlement patterns of the local population. This factor contributed to producing the existing socio- political landscape, to the pattern of the local economy, and to individual and household income generating activities.<p>In fact, Togoudo, a residential composite of Idaca people who had arrived from villages in the surrounding Dassa hills during the early years of the colonial administration, enjoyed a dynamic and diversified economy. It was linked to the national and regional economy through the market of Gbomina and by frequent short and long term migrations of its inhabitants to Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The main income generating activity of the village was agricultyural production, on land over which the settlers held only insecure and problematic ownership rights, a situation typical for the relatively recent farm settlements of the Idaca, Fon and Ditamari cultivators on Nagot and Mahi territory of central Benin. But for men, the most successful survival and self-achievement strategies in the village were those in which agricultural production was combined with animal husbandry and, in some cases, the trading of agricultural products. For women, in addition to agriculture and animal (pig) husbandry, activities such as food processing (mainly <em>cakpalo</em> from millet and maize, and oil and <em>kluiklui</em> from groundnuts), trading of agricultural products and petty trade were important for economic and social success. These activities were combined in different ways and in varying degree, depending on several factors relating to the capability and organisational skills and strategies of individuals and groups of actors for mobilising productive resources - chiefly land, labour and credit. One further asset, crucial to self-achievement strategies, was the mobilisation or insertion into the networks of people in different geographical locations. This was instrumental to people's access to labour, credit, market and other external opportunities and depended on (but at the same time protrayed) the local ideologies on development and the different ways in which the people individually and collectively conceived of and worked to improve their own well-being (the local definition of 'rural development').<p>In Togoudo, the activities within the programme fell broadly into two categories: the building of socio-economic infrastructure in the village, and the formation of men and women's groups whose objective was to create income-generating opportunities. Socio- economic infrastructure had already been initiated by villagers before the arrival of the RDV. These included a storehouse for agricultural inputs (mainly cotton), a maternity centre, a classroom for the village school (with the assistance of a German donor) and the maintenance of water pumps and wells. The buildings were funded, and expected to be funded, entirely from the resources of the CV - the cotton grower's association - and from the cash and labour contributions of villagers. The RDV, taking advantage on his arrival of the pressure put on the CV board by young Communitst Party members, introduced himself as a specialist in peasant cooperatives (which he indeed was) and managed to gain access to the village scene. He smuggled himself into village affairs and was given authority to look at the management of CV resources. This allowed him to secure a significant share of these resources for what he called development work in the village. But this authority was resented and frequently challenged by groups within the village, as well as groups in the CARDER, who felt the RDVs intervention was a threat to their own professional prerogatives and hierarchical position in the village and within CARDER. For the CV Secretary, for individual members of the CV Board and for some CARDER agents who had interests in the existing state of affairs, the involvement of the RDV in the management of the CV was intolerable. These people made various attempts to divert CV resourses to usages other than those agreed upon at the CV general assembly or as dictated by CV byelaws; they favoured an increase in the share of CV revenue distributed to board members; they allocated credit to individual cotton growers; they increased the running cost of the CV etc. In doing so, even though their actions solved the critical problems of some growers, their motives were more to hamper the plans of the RDV than to serve the best interests of village development.<p>The income generating men and women's groups were formally presented as the cooperative or pre-cooperative ventures of groups of poor peasants working together and sharing the produce on an equitable basis. But in fact they were either family groupings, or made up of members coopted selectively by their leaders on the basis of a number of criteria. Such groups rarely included people from the lowest rank of the locally constructed socio- economic ladder. Furthermore, collective activities were limited to a minimum, while sub-groups were informally constituted within the groups around activities and concerns not disclosed to the RDV (at least he seemed not to know of them) but considered more relevant to the survival needs of the members. In some ways, as had occurred in its incorporation into the CARDER, the Community Development Programme helped reproduce the conflicts, groupings and leadership already existing among actors at local level. Here too, the RDV smuggled himself into the existing village trends in group formation, which were based on a mixture of logics and principles derived from various previous intervention fashions and operations, and all somehow deviant from what were considered good cooperative ways and practice. But the RDV had his reasons for embarking on such trends. Through his contacts with the head of CARDER and potential donors he appropriated the activities started by the groups, using his rhetorical skills to bridge the gaps and presenting all as ligitimate attempts on his part to implement the Community Development Programme in the village.<p>These activities, supposed to turn the dying village into a dynamic place, actually covered only very marginal aspects of the local economy. Moreover, many of them served only a limited range of the socio-economic categories present in the village, excluding those barely surviving or keeping their heads above water, while including those considered to be the well- off. In fact, the rhetorical presentations of CARDER and the programme in various settings, drawing on different bits of the programme, served more the self-reproducing ends of the intervention itself than they did the development they sought to bring about. They processed old jargons and permanently created their own realities and problems. Within the village itself, and within the CARDER, the programme as such was considered to be irrelevant. People were prone to forget its existence. Any social changes occurring in this context derived from dismembered pieces of the package being incorporated and utilised by individuals to serve the aims of their own daily preoccupations and survival strategies. The pieces were made concrete as they were taken up in the local 'field of rural development', in the arenas and grounds that emerged from putting into practice existing normative conceptions of well-being in rural areas, and developed historically into a specific field of social interaction where policy makers, development practitiioners, social scientists and rural producers engage, as stakeholders, in struggles and negotiations over individual and collective interests. The various pieces are to be found, therefore, in various arenas and grounds where people meet over issues that are important to them but that seem to have nothing to do with the programme itself. In such conditions, structural ignorance, gaps and discrepancies become normal and attempts to bridge them or document the process turn development practitioners and social scientists into stakeholders themselves in the field of rural development.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    • den Ouden, J.H.B., Promotor, External person
    Award date13 Dec 1995
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789054854821
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


    • rural planning
    • rural development
    • socioeconomics
    • development projects
    • planning
    • community development
    • public services
    • benin
    • economic planning
    • cum laude

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