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Connect and the world makes sense

Bringing different development players together around a common agenda to promote joint action in Tanzania


02 / 1999

Past development strategies and donor practices in Sub-Saharan Africa have done little to promote cooperation between different actors. If anything, there has been a tendency to "put all the eggs in one basket" (i.e. central government agencies until the late ’80s, the market in the 90s)or to adopt a "sliced approach" to development, with special programmes and budgets for different set of actors. Take local governments and NGOs. For decades they have tended to work in "splendid isolation" from each other, sometimes even in direct competition. This is a luxury Africa cannot longer afford. Pressing development challenges call for the full mobilisation of different domestic actors, resources and capacities. No single actor can do the job alone. Success will primarily depend on an appropriate blend of public and private action. This means exploring the scope for new public-private partnerships ("joint action")based on comparative advantages ("who is best placed to do what?").

This approach is gradually gaining support on the ground. Thus, in Eastern and Southern Africa, the idea of "joint action" was fully embraced during a regional conference in Windhoek (June 1995), which brought together a wide variety of actors to reflect upon implementation strategies for "Local Agenda 21" (i.e. the follow-up to the Rio Summit). Participants agreed that public-private dialogue and joint action were pre-requisites for progress to be achieved. Four countries (including Tanzania)decided to set up a "National Focal Point" (NFP)which would stimulate joint action, with support from the Municipal Development Programme (MDP, a regional organisation aimed at strengthening local governments), Towns and Development (TD, an NGO specialising in joint action between local governments and NGOs)and the respective national "Associations" for local authorities.

Unfortunately, this promising construction proved less solid than expected. The "National Focal Points" were too much of a loose thing, dependent on the commitment of a few individuals. They lacked political clout, strategic alliances, institutional linkages and financial resources to effectively promote joint action. The supporting institutions were also not in a position to play their role, partly as a result of their dependency on (erratic)donor funding.

The different agencies involved decided to adapt their strategy, using Tanzania as a testcase. First, they opted for a much more "bottom-up process" to implementation. Regional conferences are fine to create awareness, but they are not helpful for setting national agenda’s. For this to happen, extensive preparatory work is required on the ground. To this end, it was decided to re-start the process with a consultative study on current experiences with "joint action" between local governments and NGOs ("does it happen"?; "what works, what doesn’t work?", etc.)The study proved instrumental in "mapping": the potential for joint action and in catalysing the interest of different actors for this approach. Second, a strategic alliance was sought with the European Commission unit responsible for promoting decentralised cooperation. The unit took interest in the notion of "joint action" as it seemed pretty much another label for the concept of "decentralised cooperation". Some co-financing from the budget line for decentralised cooperation was mobilised to support the Tanzania process while providing a mutual learning opportunity. Third, it was decided to organise a "Consultative Meeting" with key local actors and stakeholders (identified during the study). From the outset, it was agreed that the workshop would not be a "one shot-event" but a step in a process leading to a more institutionalised approach to promoting joint action. A specific methodology was designed to ensure "ownership" of the process by the different actors and stakeholders.

These changes in strategy proved useful, at least if one considers the success of the "Consultative Meeting" organised in Dar-es-Salaam (March 1997). The meeting provided an opportunity to "connect" a wide range of ("disconnected")Tanzanian actors (local governments, NGOs, different central government officials, donor agencies, etc.)with each other around concrete experiences with joint action that had a direct bearing on their own work. This had an "eye-opening" effect and facilitated the joint formulation of four strategic prioirities for follow-up action (ie. awareness raising; influencing policy; launching new experiments; convincing donor agencies). A light, informal and participatory institutional mechanism ("steering committee")was set up to take the process further, with funding from participating local agencies (rather than from donors)and with a duration initially limited to one year (if levels of ownership prove sufficient, the process could continue).

Recent echos from Tanzania suggest the process and structure is still very much alive, fuelled by the commitment of its most active members. Paradoxically, the most difficult hurdle to take seems to be convincing donor agencies (especially the European Union)about the potential benefits of joint action for the formulation and implementation of aid programmes...




This experience confirms the critical importance of linking up different development players around common agenda’s. If properly done, the public-private divide can be bridged at mutual benefit. However, this case also suggests that making these "connections" is a labour-intensive business, requiring carefully designed strategies, methodologies and tools, as well as the active involvement of "process facilitators". One should also not forget that this type of processes remain fragile constructions, that need appropriate forms of support. Donor agencies in particular, should not hide away behind bureaucratic arguments to stay on the sideline, but at least consider the opportunities of these local dynamics for the realisation of their own development objectives.


[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]



BOSSUYT, Jean; VAN HOVE, Kathleen, ECDPM=European Centre for Development Policy Management, Promoting joint action and decentralised cooperation in Tanzania. Summary Report of a Consultative Meeting, ECDPM, 1998/05

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