April 17, 2010 2 Comments
The interrelation or interdependence of the various areas that make up any development strategy is increasingly important, also bearing the cultural or psychological aspects of development and the partnership ideal in mind.
That the focus in the development world as a whole has widened somewhat in recent years, from a rather narrow and one-dimensional focus that saw economic and financial remedies as sufficient, to one that more willingly includes other areas such as culture and identity, is here apparent. This is so, although the overall focus is still largely upon economic remedies. Such one-dimensionality pre-supposes that all human beings behave in more or less the same way, something that seems unlikely in all but the most fundamental matters.
To me, it is therefore clear that a cultural dimension must be included in any attempted development programme or strategy. I here characterize culture as customs and specific reactions that a given group employ to deal with a situation at any given moment in time. Cultures must in this respect not be seen as insulated or unchanging, and the varied nature of cultures must further be recognized. Nor must cultural interaction be seen as a one-way street but as one of learning from each other, although I say this without wishing to embrace a cultural relativist notion of all cultures being equally valuable.
This cultural dimension additionally is not to be seen as separate from other parts of social life but as being a dimension of other aspects of development such as economics and politics. That including a cultural dimension is not sufficient in itself without understanding the interrelation between such areas should therefore also be taken into account.
I will give two practical examples of what I mean by all this: That of education and that of partnership and identity.
Universal education is often tied to long-term economic growth in contemporary development strategies, and developing countries are often recommended to increase spending in this area. Whilst such an analysis probably holds true, education must also be seen as both influencing culture and influenced by culture. Improved educational standards can serve as broadening the outlook of people and thus of culture, and a given culture can value education more or less positively.
Additionally, contemporary development strategies often demand that growth and redistribution is to be based on investment in the private sector, on trade liberalisation, and in adherence to a programmes (such as PRSP) that more or less produces the same privatisation and public spending cut-back strategies as Structural Adjustment.
Even though they advocate educational spending, these programmes therefore seem incompatible with wanting to improve educational standards. This is actually more or less proven to be the case, as experience with Structural Adjustment has verifiably led to cut backs in public expenditure, including on education.
One might here more specifically point to the more recent structural adjustment-like liberalisation policies in South Africa, a country that is often seen as a role model for other African countries. These policies have led to widespread privatisation and cutbacks on (especially higher) education, making it unaffordable for most if not all poor people. At the same time neither foreign nor local investment in South Africa has flourished as promised, growth increase has been unspectacular, and inequality has increased significantly.
There would therefore seem to be a discrepancy between in effect forcing African governments to cut back public spending, and advocating increased spending on education, and thus a lack of focus on the interdependence and multidimensionality of components of the overall strategy.
As for partnership and identity, I wish to draw attention to the contradiction between the partnership discourse commonly employed in many developmental organisations and the continuing colonialist discourse that is to be found inside the aid industry.
I am thinking here not only of development organisations as a whole but also of individual aid workers, many of whom, according to studies, still see Europeans as belonging “to a higher level of development” (Baaz: 39), leading them not to expect too much of the African partners because of their alleged “backward position on the evolutionary ladder” (Baaz: 42). The danger of homogenising the alleged backwardness of Africans and subsequently imposing cultural norms upon them by such organisations or aid workers is thus overwhelming.
Not only is a focus on culture and identity therefore important in its own right, but one should also acknowledge the link that exists between it and for instance economics. This link can be seen in identities, for example, of an active donor-Self and a passive partner that “inform the distribution of economic resources and the organisation of the economic sphere”. This in turn feeds a discourse of aid dependence that can easily lead to a “restrictive policy when it comes to financial support” (Baaz: 13) or a lack of eagerness to wholeheartedly embrace the partnership ideal.
The link between identity and economics can also work the other way round. It can be seen in that the continuing economic inequality between Africa and the West perpetuates respective inferiority and superiority complexes and in the image of the passive, starving African. Eradication of any notion of an automatic sense of white superiority and black inferiority is therefore a precondition for true partnership. Cultural factors in development are thus not simply a question of the suitability or lack hereof of African culture to whatever notions of development a given donor sees fit to employ, but also of a European culture that has historically defined itself in opposition, and above, African culture.
If such cultural and identity-related matters are not acknowledged and integrated into a given development programme, if conditionality is upheld, and if Eurocentrist ideals are continually seen as universal, the partnership ideal will prove difficult to achieve in practice.
A multidimensional or integrated approach to development is needed to avoid having contradictory or mutually incompatible components spoil the coherence and viability of an overall developmental strategy.
Baaz, Maria Eriksson; “The paternalism of partnership”, Zed Books, 2005