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The long-term effects of development aid - Empirical studies in rural West Africa

Listed author(s):
  • Bierschenk, Thomas
  • Elwert, Georg
  • Kohnert, Dirk

This article is based on field studies in rural West Africa. It concentrates on the socio-structural effects of development aid in the long run, in contrast to numerous available evaluation reports on the short-run effects of development projects. The study reveals that superficial generalisations or condemnations of development projects, like the big farmers benefit at the expense of the smaller ones, or the men benefit at the expense of the women, do not hold up to verification. Quite to the contrary one observes a wide range of specific adapted forms by which the target groups react to the demands and offers of development projects, and thereby transform their own social structure. In short, one observes a great diversity of social self-organisation. The bureaucratic structures of the development administration do, however, unfortunately - more often than not - ignore the social dynamic of their target groups which they nevertheless sustain unconsciously. Development aid has become an important political and economic factor in most African countries. Its financial impact often exceeds that of the national budget. It contributes, therefore, significantly to the development of a bureaucratic class and of its clients: the project development degenerates into a project nationalization / bureaucratization. This contrasts vividly with the strategies of the peasants. Men and women at village level do not accept any longer the paternalistic development approach. They just select what they need out of the packages of solutions that are offered to them, while they develop their own solutions, like a variety of seeds adapted to their specific resource endowments, diversified sources of income, different strategies of accumulation and risk prevention. All this allows for a gradual evolution by variation and selection. The dynamic of the rural society is to a large extent due to a competition of different (strategic) groups, opposed to one another, about the partitioning of the cake of development aid. Normally this struggle between different vested interests is covered up by the rhetoric of development planning. Planned development has up to now proven to be to rigid, to be able to take account of the complex and subtle fabric of self organisation. Aid sometimes appears to be a second best substitute for a vision of a democratic society. This is due to the fact that the structures we are aiming for in the long run - which are to allow for open markets, an orientation of the producers at the resources and needs of the nation, and last not least, the growth of indigenous structures of self-help - would require a responsible and democratic government, as well as the guarantee of civil rights, accountability, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, etc.; up to now, however, all these elements are still oppressed by the commando state itself, well nourished by the various forms of technical and financial aid.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 4217.

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Date of creation: 1991
Date of revision: 1993
Publication status: Published in Economics, Biannual Journal of the Institute for Scientific Co-operation, Tübingen 1.47(1993): pp. 83-111
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:4217
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  1. Kohnert, Dirk, 1988. "Socialism without liberation: Land Reclamation Projects in Guinea-Bissau," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 161-175.
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