Power is the ability to choose. The ability to choose to act and to influence. But before we reach the question of choosing what; there is the issue of simple choice and whether someone has the freedom to choose, whether they sense the freedom to choose.
This boils down to two things: hope and self-confidence. If I do not have an expectation of a better tomorrow and a confidence in my own worth and abilities, i will not be free to make great or even good choices.
I wrote this as a reflection on the obstacles to alleviate poverty, analyzing why people are stuck in destructive and stagnant patterns.
But as these principles are true as reasons why ‘the poor’ do not lift themselves out of material need, so they are equally pertinent as causal factors for the so called ‘rich’ to be stuck in lives of mediocre enslavement, addiction and fear.
The rich isolates themselves into clusters of gadget, style and security seeking robots and they lose hope in a life of meaning, dignity, sacrifice and learning. The chuck hope and settle for comfort. Why? The same reason as to why the youth living in a shack does not risk spectacular failure: the insecurity of self, the lack of really liking and loving yourself leaves you tied to the opinion of your ‘peers’ and you are to damn scared to be different.
Rich and poor… So close to each other, such identical struggles; yet we think we have nothing to share or talk about, besides the usual giggling about chicken feet, praising the rhythm of Africans, painting walls and daydreaming about fancy cars…Not sure if its sad or funny.
It’s game on. The battle is on, a battle that will affect millions of lives. The issue is not the What? Where? or the Why? of Development, but the How?
Two paradigms are opposed. The dominant paradigm is so mainstream and it’s power lies in its inarticulate nature. It is assumed. This way of doing development aims to mimic corporate companies and employ business models and corporate managerialism. The alternative paradigm is so hidden that most people do not even realise that it is a valid alternative: it is the way of doing development as family and friends.
The corporate model for example relies on paper, laws, rules, contracts, punishment and power. The relational model relies on trust, good times and friendship.
In my development work I am engaged in the battle between these paradigms every waking hour. The Corporate paradigm reveals itself in the way that M&E expresses power. The Relational paradigm is not realised far beyond that gut feel in practitioner’s hearts that something is not right. When a person turns into a Human resource and lives become projects, we can know we are slaves to the dominant paradigm.
The World Bank, USAID, and corporate CSI divisions maintain the managerialist approach. It makes them feel in control, it creates and illusion of predictability. But this way of doing projects, doing things, doing life has not made a dent in poverty. The design indicators and plans, they evaluate return on investment and outputs in time frames.
Yet, since people are not bricks, has it ever occurred to us that we should not act like engineers? Trying to run people like an engineer runs a construction project is not smart or professional, it is naive and stupid.
Once we remove the humanity from development, we are wasting our time and money and we are losing our dignity.
Will anyone fight back?