A Network of Useful Interfaces which still has to be Organised for a Better Coordination of North-South Cooperation
01 / 1999
Since the national conference was organised in February 1990, Benin has taken the first steps on the route towards democracy, aimed at removing restrictions on the social, political and economic life of the country. For many Beninese, the process of democratisation means speaking out and freedom of expression. Associations and NGOs were quickly set up to defend this fundamental right. But many of these were created by managers in public administration to provide stable jobs for their relatives and friends, and above all, to obtain funding. From this standpoint, the Association and NGOs claim to represent the people and position themselves as the necessary intermediaries between governmental and even foreign institutions and the population. In so doing, the NGOs form a kind of wall around the population, keeping them from taking initiatives and speaking out. Thus, everything is done in the name of the people without the people. The needs of the people are then determined at the NGO offices in the major cities, far from the realities in the field.
This NGO logic has found a favourable terrain in EU co-operation, which is often implemented through a network of interfaces. It is the rule, by the way, that in order to obtain financing from the EU, national NGOs have to find partners in Europe. European NGOs are familiar with this procedure and come to the field to market themselves. Thus, an artificial partnership network is set up, with the sole objective of conquering new markets. Far from being effective, this working method has only increased the effect of assisting the people, for the mechanisms allowing their participation are often made to disappear. The people are not given information on the projects to be carried out, they are rarely consulted, they do not collaborate efficiently, they are never involved in decision-making mechanisms and they often have no idea where the funding comes from. As a result, completed projects seem to be a gift"from the heavens", which the people refrain from appropriating.
Overcentralised governmental powers in Africa are one of the contributing factors in the failure of co-operation on the continent for the last thirty years. One might imagine that a new era is on its way with the choice of democratisation, which is generating hope for decentralisation. In the case of Benin, though decentralisation has been provided for in the texts of law and is under way, it has yet to reach a concrete stage. Already the freedom of action and of speech that preceded it have been taken over by the associations and NGOs, which continue to believe that the priorities of the people should be determined somewhere else than within the population itself. Consequently, the notion of"Decentralised Co-operation"introduced in the Lomé Convention remains meaningless, since the mechanisms of its implementation in Benin are still highly centralised. There is still no public domain in Benin where the people are involved in the process of power-sharing, decision-making and assuming joint responsibility. Yet it is the process of sharing authority and responsibilities that will generate a movement of grass roots actors capable of bringing about a genuine partnership.
Does this mean co-operation needs to be rethought? Europe and Africa have already learned a number of lessons from the failure of the methods used to implement North-South co-operation for more than thirty years. The decentralised co-operation office is one of the major innovations introduced by the decision to change. Decentralised co-operation is a way of directly involving the grass roots actors in the process of African development. But moving in the direction of grass roots actors must be done in keeping with the overall approach involving all the actors involved in co-operation, namely the state, local governments, associations and providers of funds. That means that every effort must be made first to ensure that democracy and, from this same point of view, decentralisation, work well, secondly, to have good managers capable of taking initiatives and implementing good development programmes and thirdly, to set up a good legal system. Thus, the natural forces of arbitration will come fully into play in achieving participatory development which remains the"objective"to be reached as expressed in the rhetoric
Translated from French (see corresponding title).
Personal survey in the field and interview
[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.]
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