Africa aren’t you tired of being cheated? — Part 11……another top-down approach to development


UNLIKE the Rostow and Harrod-Domar classic theories which looked at only economic indicators such as the GDP, GNP, per capita index and industrial productivity, the Basic Needs Approach was concerned with social development.
This shift saw the foregrounding of other social indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, employment levels, freedom of speech and degree of popular participation in Government and decision-making.
The approach is quality-of-life-focused, that is, it is defined in terms of the extent to which the basic needs of the population are met – these include clothing, shelter and access to social amenities such as health and education.
The Basic Needs Approach was also a response to estimates such as those by FAO in its Fourth World Food Survey of 1977.
The emphasis of the approach was the importance of projects leading and granting improvements in nutrition, health, water, sanitation, housing and education.
World Bank loans for urban sites and services, social forestry and improvements in the productivity of small farmers were meant to tackle the problem of widespread poverty in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
As a theory it repudiated the ‘trickle-down’ theories.
However, the methodology used for the new lending procedures marked very little change from the World Bank’s established focus on commercialisation, market integration and expansion.
Besides, to raise productivity, the small farmers needed credit. The credit and the attendant high interests entangled them further in the market nexus.
They literally produced for their lenders.
Similarly, the sites and services programmes increased rentals of urban slums, thereby reducing the urban poor’s access to housing as they could no longer afford.
Apart from their emphasis on commercialisation, anti-poverty programmes have remained silent on structural changes that directly address inequalities in land ownership or other resources. Gita Sen and Caren Grown (1987: p.39) observe that in many Third World countries, national economic plans are often no more ‘than a collection of bilateral and multi-lateral aid projects supervised by donor agencies’.
These agencies exercise considerable control over actual economic policy in the same way as the IMF through its control of finance and the balance of payments.
As a result, what the Basic Needs Approach espouses in theory is, in reality, not what happens – it falls short of promoting reductions in the inequality of asset-holding.
Another aspect of these programmes is their continued use of a top-down approach to project identification, planning and implementation.
This does not make the approach new; neither does it make national governments any less culpable than the multi-lateral institutions.
According to Sen and Grown’s (1987:39) observation:
“Indeed, the recent history of ‘development’ processes is replete with the struggles of the poor against policies that reduce their access to resources, destroy and pollute their environment, or mortgage their jobs and food consumption to the requirements of debt requirements.
Surely, those programmes meant specifically to improve the quality of life of the poor ought to listen to their voices (my emphasis).”
From Sen and Grown’s argument, it can be further noted that the Basic Needs Approach’s focus on ‘people-centred’ approach to projects only addresses the projects without taking full account of the overall development policies within which they are framed.
It is therefore, in actuality, still a prisoner of the classic theories – only that indicators such as foreign aid are now masked in linguistics or popular garb.
One cannot escape this deduction given that overall policies (monetary, fiscal, agricultural, industrial, social services, employment etc) which must be directly oriented to meeting people’s needs are driven by macro-economic forces.
As a result, planning for food security, employment creation, health and literacy are mostly popular catch phrases, yet in reality these are relegated to secondary status.
Also crucial to observe is the fact that linkage between people, bureaucrats and intermediaries like NGOs in project choice, planning and implementation are hardly mutually participatory.
The locally powerful classes and groups tend to dominate decisions and bias them to their own interests.
In fact, bureaucrats and state functionaries usually side with the rich and powerful in both the local and international community.
This top-down approach obviates even the possibility of a local voice for the poor that may exist in local bodies.
The study of the Indian experience with anti-poverty programmes run by bureaucrats in a top-down manner proved that ‘they are poorly co-ordinated and tend to be insensitive both to the poor people’s needs and unsuited to the local resources, since they are often not accountable to the local population’ (Sen and Grown: 1987:40).
In fact, such programmes are often rife with corruption and considerable leakages of resources targeted for the poor towards the rich.
This consequently fosters dependency rather than self-reliance. One can conclude, therefore, that a focus on project implementation without beneficiary participation in policy formulation makes people’s basic needs peripheral to the main thrust of policies, plans and programmes.
Hence the Basic Needs Approach is essentially a sugar-coated version of the classic theories where the Developed Countries (DCs) prescribe development patterns for the LDCs.
This reality is confirmed by the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).
SAPs were introduced in the 1980s as a response to ever-growing budget deficits by LDCs.
The Basic Needs Approach had proved not sustainable in the face of declining economic growth.
SAPs were also a result of new conservative governments in US, Canada, Britain and West Germany, all of whom were neo-classists with direct control of the World Bank and IMF.
Their quest for privatisation of public corporations in LDCs coincided favourably with the simultaneous erosion of the influence of such organisations as International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Develpoment Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which had earlier supported the cause of LDCs.
The new counter-revolutionists called for the permission of competitive ‘free markets’, privatisation of state-owned enterprises, promotion of free trade and export expansion, welcoming foreign investment from developed countries and eliminating Government regulations and price ‘distortions’ in financial markets.
These steps were logically based on their belief that LDC governments were squarely to blame for their underdevelopment due to high handedness, corruption, inefficiency and lack of economic incentives.
What was needed, therefore, was restructuring of dualistic developing economies through increase in foreign aid and foreign development patterns – a clear adoption of the modified Modernisation and Structural Change and Development Patterns of development theories.
SAPs focused on free market analysis, public choice theory and market-friendly approach.
The first aspect argues markets alone are efficient and provide the best signals for investment and that, therefore, any Government intervention is distortionary and counterproductive.
The second component argues political bureaucrats act solely from a self-interested perspective and use Government resources to consolidate their personal interests.
The third component is a product of World Bank economists who argue LDCs’ products have many imperfections, hence need to be controlled.
The key to development in LDCs is seen as liberalisation (opening up) of national markets, and drawing from domestic as well as foreign investment to increase the rate of capital accumulation. This is a direct echo of Harrod-Domar who emphasises GNP growth based on raising domestic saving rates to enhance capital labour ratios.
SAPs, too, stress the centrality of savings.


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