Last week Marcia Luyten wrote an criticle article on development in the Dutch newspaper NRC. She argues that the main problem of the failure of development in Uganda is in fact a mentality problem. On the one hand she boldly states there is lack of an inner will to progress within the people, e.g. men are ‘busy’ drinking beer and women don’t get up early enough to make their children a breakfast. On the other hand they are all part of a system that doesn’t allow for efficient development, e.g. profit that is made is not properly invested, and education in a corrupt society isn’t the requisite for a good job.
According to Luyten this is to a large degree due to the Dutch development policies. The huge amounts of money that the Netherlands are donating each year to assist in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, made possible for free education, free health care and an omission of local taxes. But the counter effects are serious. People are less motivated to earn money because crucial things are paid for. And, no taxes for the poor majority means difficulties questioning the spendings of government money. The advantage of paying tax is that the people in charge can be accounted for their spendings, and exactly this is the accountability that is necessity for a democracy.
The point here that Luyten makes is that we have a wrong idea of the complex workings of this other society. We are imposing our liberal democratic perspective on a society that isn’t an open society, but a closed society that derives its stability from a system of patronage. This doesn’t mean that it is a wrong system, but it is different, and this should be taken into account when Western modernization policies are being shaped. We should have more realistic expectations about what our ‘help’ could establish.
Luyten states that the real change should come from within, but that we also should not forget that most development countries are trapped in a system where they can’t get out of by themselves. Therefore we shouldn’t stop with development aid, but we should transform the development focus on quantity into a focus on quality. The principal of ‘do no harm’ is essential in this, not only in aid, but also in trade. African countries need to be able to export their products without having to open their borders for the mean machine of mass production from the West. Then, the development workers we send to bring about change have to be professionals, not students accomplishing their internship. This is simply because African societies aren’t simple; because of this complexity, we need a sharp focus on initiatives already going on that do work on the ground. Step two is to try these ‘change agents’ out elsewhere to see if it will work or not. Trial and error, step by step.
If we, the ICT4Uganda group, put our research in context of Luyten’s argument, we have to admit that for now we still belong to the students finishing their internship more than to the professionals. But a start is to be made somewhere. Our blog is not only accessible for students, but functions as a platform for professionals too. Effort in sharing knowledge over time without restrictions is our tool in getting a better insight in the complex society and the ways in which projects rise and fall.
Our bottom up approach is in the light of the argument a very useful manner in understanding the society as opposed to the top down perspectives of large NGO’s and Western governments. The anthropological fieldwork that we will conduct in spring and summer 2009 will encompass the experiences of the local people. The assistance of the Makerere University represents the will and input of local organizations accompanying us in the direction of the local needs.
Now the fact that we have a focus on ICT seems odd. We are missing a lot of steps one might argue. Fact is that these steps in between are not taken and new forms of media are implemented massively by telecom corporations, knowledge of the effects though are nihil. Citizen use of new media could be a strong tool in establishing an open and democratic society. Though we have to keep in mind that these tools can and will be used in ways we cannot imagine. This in mind we focus on specific groups in specific areas in effort to create small insights in complex issues.