The issue of development aid immediately refers to assistance. Cameroon like most African countries has since independence counted on aid for several development initiatives. Yet 50 years after independence, the question remains how far the continent has gone thanks to development aid. From a macro perspective, Western nations have over the years flooded billions of American dollars in aid to Africa as assistance to various development initiatives. The practice has been perpetuated at the national level with governments coming to the assistance of the local populations to help them get out of poverty. However, most of the initiatives have been lacking in form and mode of operation. Most often, the population is hardly aware of the plans being made for them.
At a local level, officials in the three northern regions of Cameroon met in Garoua last Friday, January 22, to evaluate progress made on the project for the improvement of the living conditions in the northern parts of Cameroon code-named in French “Programme d’amélioration du revenu familial rural (PARFAR). It emerged from the meeting that the project began in 2002 and will be ending in the next six months. The officials earmarked a budget of FCFA two billion for the 2010 financial year and presented a balance sheet of achievements.
Co-financed by the Cameroon government and the African Development Bank, PARFAR had enabled the provision of 15 tonnes of seedlings by December 31, 2009; helped in the education of 14,875 women as well as provided 101 potable water points, 138 latrines among other social amenities. With the 2010 budget estimated at FCFA 2,283 billion and a call for the project to continue, the signal being given is that the initiative is laudable. But several basic questions remain. Do the financial figures reflect the improvement that the people have witnessed in their living condition thanks to PARFAR? Are the people concerned effectively involved in decision-making on the projects since they are the target? And finally, has development aid been the best approach to lift Africa out of poverty?
Some scholars have been quite cynical about development aid as a whole arguing that such an approach to progress is not just a way to baby seat the continent but it also “weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need.” This position by the Kenyan economist, James Shikwati might not satisfy everybody, but it reflects, to a larger extent the difficulty that Africa continues to face since independence.
Tonnes of speeches have been heard about poverty alleviation and the improvement of the living conditions of the population. Yet the gap between what is said and what is effectively done remains wide. The Millennium Development Goals still remain a pipe dream in several aspects.
No matter the form that development can take in any context, the implication of those concerned cannot be undermined. Participative development has been recommended by many as panacea for meaningful development to take place. Consequently, gatherings such as the one that held in Garoua last week will be perfectly in place if the local populations are associated. Otherwise, it will be a meeting on development and not for development.
The local population must be given the possibility to ensure their own survival through a system of decision-making that has them at the centre. Holding white collar gatherings in sumptuous hotels to reflect on the future of the rural masses can hardly yield meaningful results.
Richard KWANG KOMETA