Turning Development Upside Down
A book about reforming relief and development

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Chapter 212 Colonial Overhang

Colonial overhang both bad and good

When “development” first started in its modern form, that is after independence of the former colonies in what I am referring to as the SOUTH, there were a lot of experienced former “colonial” civil servants who were able to do a career change and become “development” experts and advisers. To the extent that they knew something of the geography, and the culture and the problems and the potentials, these people were an enormously valuable resource. And they made a significant contribution, especially when they were appointed to appropriate positions in the UN and the World Bank and the bilateral development agencies.

But they did not succeed as well as they might have, and the reasons for this are many. And of course, much easier to see now with the benefit of hindsight than at the time. These former colonial officers had to contend not only with technical matters but also had to address the political dimension of the old “colonialism”. Many younger professionals accepted a simplistic view that the SOUTH's economic circumstances were simplay a result of “colonialism” and that with the colonial issue out of the way development would now be easy.

This view was also popular in government circles in the SOUTH, and development was going to be easy. Essentially a simple equation: money in results in development out. If only it had been that simple.

In the 1980s, there have been lots and lots of times when I have tried to address the issue of development performance with World Bank and UN staff, and the response has been couched in terms that it was a problem carrying over from the “colonial” era. This was used as an excuse for for everything. This happened in Nigeria. This happened in Madagascar, This happened in Ghana. This happened almost everywhere I worked.

It was not long before dialog between beneficiary government and donor organizations picked up on the "colonial overhand" as a universally acceptable excuse for failing projects. Meanwhile the real issues about relief and development performance went unaddressed.


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