Africans leading development projects is self-evident

9 maart, 2011

This is the English translation of the opinion piece: ‘
Hoofdrol Afrikanen in ontwikkelingsprojecten is vanzelfsprekend
March 9th 2011

The Dutch National newspaper De Volkskrant published a story on Monday, March 7 with the headline: Aid agencies ‘steel’ project. In the article,Hivos and SNV development organizations are being accused of stealing the intellectual property of a large biogas program in Africa, in particular: the foundation of Biogas for Better Life. The allegations are absurd. Worse is that the newspaper calls on a cliché: white volunteer enforcing their way of doing things. And the marginalized black, as always, are second priority. This image contrasts sharply with the reality in which Africans themselves coordinate, implement and manage their projects.

In the six countries where the biogas program is executed African organizations, governments and farmers are at the helm. Our definition of ownership.For example in Tanzania, one of the six countries in the biogas program in Africa. A local organization, established in 1981, coordinatesmanages the biogas program. For sales, construction and maintenance of biogas plants agreements have been made with companies and non-governmental organizations like Friends in Development and the Alternative Energy Organisation. The masons of the dung pits (where the biofuelsare formed) are locally trained.

Biogas Companies receive support in marketing their product. A Tanzanian cooperative in turn provide loans to farmers for the purchase of the installation. All these different parties are part of the national committee with the purpose to optimally guide the initiative.

In a large program like this, with the ambition to build 70,000 biogas pits in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal and Burkina Faso within a few years, local embedding assured this way.

Is there in this case a so-called big push? A large-scale top-down planning with the intention to change ‘Africa’ once and for all?Something development economist William Easterly strongly opposes against. On the contrary, the mostly small-scale projects, like the example from Tanzania illustrates, are realised often through local organisations or in cooperation with local authorities. There is little by little a real household biogas sector used by farmersand others. It enriches their lives and contributes to sustainable energy.

For over two decades, SNV is active in setting up biogas projects financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nepal was the first one. The formula was subsequently introduced in other Asian countries and in Rwandasince 2005. We believe, that the biogas initiative in Africa is a good example of how experiences gained and lessons learned from a proven approach in one continent, Asia, is used to set up a program on a different continent, Africa. Of course with special attention to the specific circumstances.Important here is the efforts of the local users themselves. Because that is the main issue.

Was it an African idea to introduce biogas in Africa as a tool for households? Partly.Hivos, SNV and the African Biogas for Better Life Foundation worked for months on a joint proposal, and a division of roles. However, the foundation pulled out, whereby a great opportunity to use each other’s networks and knowledge was lost.

In the process of potential development partners trying to coming together, such things happen. Leading in our vision remains the responsibility of the local people. An illustration is our own "field occupation" in the biogas program. The majority of the staff at Hivosresponsible for the financial management of the program is African. The same applies to the SNV advisors. In short: give local players a key role in development programs.

Ben Witjes
Program Director, Hivos

Annemiek Jenniskens,
Regional Operations Director, SNV ontwikkelingsoganisatie

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