Who is at the centre of development? The Swaziland experience

On paper, our pursuit of economic growth, self-reliance, and social justice in Swaziland is very much in line with the Busan principles. In practice, there is another story.

In 1988, the Swazi government embarked on a comprehensive planning system designed to meet emerging and serious challenges such as poverty and economic instability. Now complete, the Swaziland National Development Strategy (NDS) articulates the country’s development aspiration for 25 years, from 1997 until 2022. To inform the NDS, detailed analyses and views collected from the general public were translated into various policy documents and frameworks. Commendably, the strategy embraces the vision and strategies presumed to advance the country’s socio-economic development process.

In its 15th year since Swaziland’s adoption of the NDS, the outcomes of the strategy seem to reveal to us that there is something we missed as a nation. Instead of decreasing the impact of the social challenges it seeks to address, the poverty rate has increased to 63%[1]. Post adoption of the NDS, the national HIV prevalence is at 26% and the unemployment rate 40%[2].

These problems can be attributed to the cycle of poverty. Perhaps more importantly, they are also due to the erosion of our social capital. Unfortunately our approach to development still largely excludes the intended “beneficiaries” of our interventions, and thus may even be damaging our people’s existing and shared coping mechanisms.

It is something we come to again and again. Development “cannot be done for the people but should be done with the people.” The community members are the ones who, on a daily basis, bear the brunt of poverty and feel the pinch of marginalization. Yet what prevents us development practitioners from listening to them?

Inclusive consultation with communities that enhances partnerships demands a change in aid and the methodology of project-specific service delivery. It requires that local leaders are present from programme design, all the way to evaluation, and not only roped in when pressure mounts to meet goals and report to the global community.

Donor-driven, top-down approaches to development can be altered if we put people at the centre of change processes and make proper consultation with communities a core component of every development initiative. Communities’ ownership of development priorities will challenge governments and donors to dig deep into their resources and ensure that monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are in place.

Local ownership of development priorities and inclusive partnerships, as enshrined in the basic principles from the Busan meeting, are very critical in the move towards aid effectiveness for our nation. From where I sit, this can only happen when we can go beyond lip service, merge policy and practice, and finally put community members at the heart of the decision-making processes. 



[1] Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (2010)

[2] Swaziland Demographic Health Survey (2007)

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