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Development and Decentralisation: Concept and Practice of Decentralisation By Stephen Dieseruvwe

December 7, 2014

Although there has been a general acceptance of the role played by decentralisation strategy in development, different writers hold varied views as to the contribution of decentralisation policies to the quality of life in developing countries. The need to decentralise has been a frequent issue in the plans and policies of developing countries. This chapter is intended to examine the role played by decentralisation policies and programmes in development, especially in rural development.

A number of developing countries still see unified, centralised and regulatory government as desirable. The policies of centralisation pay off in the short period, with returns- material and political, for the elites. Although the pressure for increased centralisation has been high, the 1970s and early 1980s witnessed the start of decentralisation of development planning and management by governments of developing countries. The reasons for this shift were the dissatisfaction with the results of national planning and administration; the change in the underlying rationale for international development strategies; and decentralisation being viewed as a partial solution to growing problems facing developing countries . In essence, the importance of decentralisation in development planning and management has been due to the limited successes of earlier development approaches and strategies.

Despite the fact that excessive centralisation has been blamed for the poor performance in implementing local projects and programmes, decentralisation in which ever form as the corrective device, the effectiveness of decentralisation programmes and policies should be treated with some scepticism. In the past three decades, different decentralisation initiatives have been adopted in developing countries, but gaps exist between policies and implementation. We should bear in mind that the justification for adopting decentralised policies is only validated by a limited number of cases where improvements have occurred as an aftermath of such policies. As will be seen, despite the fact that the promotion of decentralisation aims at participation of the people in development, it is shown in practice that central governments still have a strong grip and control in rural activities, for instance in Nigeria, the Directorate for Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) used local government councils as central government implementation committees for their rural development projects and programmes.

The chapter is sub-divided into different sections, highlighting the following: the rationale behind the adoption of decentralisation strategies (looking back at the centralised approach and its shortcomings); the concept and meaning of decentralisation; the approaches or forms of decentralisation; benefits of decentralisation; the role decentralisation plays in rural development; the practice of decentralisation is examined by referring to some countries adoption of decentralised policies and programmes; and the factors affecting decentralisation and the conditions for the implementation of decentralised policies and programmes.

Why Decentralisation (The Rationale for Decentralisation)
Various arguments have been put forward for the adoption of decentralised administration and the promotion of people’s participation in the development process. The development strategy recommended in the 1950s and 1960s by international agencies was based on the centrist theory, which required strong intervention in the investment and production processes by national governments, with comprehensive plans prepared centrally. The arguments for this approach and against the attempts to decentralise were varied. That scarce resource in developing countries can only be most efficiently and economically used if concentrated under a central authority and utilised through national development plans; and that regional or ethnic differences within a country are so powerful that, if given autonomy, may break up the country. In as much as these arguments may seem valid, they leave a few critical questions unanswered and ignore the actual experiences of attempts at centralised planning and control in many developing countries, which have ended up with uncontrolled urban growth, stagnating countryside (rural areas), increase in gross national product falling far short of expectations and the consequent abandonment of development plans. The counter argument is that, if the unity and integrity of a country is to be maintained, the ethnic and other factors resulting in a pluralistic society make decentralisation more necessary, as share in decision-making strengthens the bond between the different ethnic communities living within a country. Examples are abound of centralised decision-making that have been wasteful or ineffective (Meenakshisundaram, 1994).

While it is accepted that development strategy needs point to decentralisation, there is still the tendency towards centralisation. Some of the reasons for this, according to Maddick, 1963 are as follows: the need for careful allocation of resources; the financial demand for large technical projects; the desire of the rising educated class to work in the capital rather than in the rural areas; the weakness of local government financially, and in personnel; and the difficulty of communications between government departments. Most of the above are still marked features in developing countries where the need for decentralisation is seen to be greatest.

Although central planning and administration have historically been considered necessary to guide and control the economy and to integrate and unify countries. Siedentopf, 1989, claimed that local programmes were often in conflict with national plans and summed the shortcomings of the period as ‘…planning without implementation at the central level and implementation without planning at the local level…’ The previous assertions were that central planning and industrial investments could be concentrated in a few urban areas, which would “trickle down” and spread throughout the economy to alleviate poverty and generate income and employment at the sub-national levels (State and Local); that the capital mobilised will be reinvested, with an anticipated effect of expanding production and employment, raising income, drawing large number of people into productive process, with the end result of pushing the poor into a stage of self-sustaining economic growth; and that regional disparities would eventually be lessened and majority of the people would benefit from the continued growth and development. The irony of the above is that by the end of the 1960s after about a decade of independence, it was widely acknowledged that central planning had not achieved these goals in any of the developing countries that adopted the approach. The findings were that economic growth has been sluggish, and where the growth rates were high, only a small group (the elites) benefited from the increased national production; there was high disparity of income between the rich and the poor; and living standards of the poor had declined and the number of those living in absolute poverty in the rural areas had increased. With these as the outcome of central planning, questions began to be raised by development planners and administrators of the effectiveness of centralised strategies. This led to advocating the decentralised approach to planning (Meenakshisundaram, 1994, pp. 109-110).

Although there is the a move towards centralisation, Maddick, 1963, summarised the disadvantages associated with over-centralisation as follows: concentrating the sheer burden of operations that must be carried on by governments everywhere; frittering away the very scarce resources of administrative ability (gross waste of the abilities of senior government staff); the loss of enthusiasm and initiative at the lower levels, delays in meeting urgent necessities; communication (physical) difficulties. Despite these disadvantages, it should be borne in mind that not all functions can be decentralised.

In his review of the USAID’s (United States Agency for International Development) impact evaluation studies of rural infrastructure projects- rural roads and irrigation conducted in the early part of the 1980s, Wunsh found out that the studies criticised institutional over-centralisation as being a major contributory factor to the problems of maintenance, increased opportunities for corruption, inability raise adequate funds, sustainability of projects, etc. The remedy according to the two reports for the sustenance of projects was to decentralise. In addition, the rural roads evaluation report noted that local participation can be an important part in successful road projects as was found in Colombia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone (Wunsch, 1991, pp. 6-8). To allow for this local participation, the rural communities should be involved in the development process.

The conclusion reached by various scholars and actors is that, centrally directed, hierarchical bureaucracy has been ineffective in undertaking the task of rural development in developing countries. The more specific problems are the apparent weakness in attaining and maintaining beneficiary participation in development programmes and projects; low level of participation leads to underutilisation and inadequate maintenance of infrastructure; poor administrative co-ordination, especially field staff; lack of concern for local needs, conditions and problems, as centrally developed programmes tend to be tailored to conceptions of rural needs and conditions which are far removed from rural realities; and flexibility, adaptability, creativity and speed have been found wanting, as field personnel seem unable to adapt programmes to actual local conditions (Wunsch, 1991). If centralised planning is fraught with the above problems, then the search for an alternative approach becomes inevitable.

Decentralisation as it emerged in the in the 1970s and 1980s was a response to the dissatisfaction with centralised planning and administrative structures of government. From the start, at least in theory, the concept of participation of the grassroots has been present in the approaches of decentralisation. A number of writers have recognised the importance of the link between effective participation and the alleviation of rural poverty, and as put by Chambers, 1983, quoted in Ingham and Kalam, 1992. For rural population to gain more from development spatial reversals are needed and this as claimed can be accomplished by decentralisation programmes and policies. No matter how sceptical writers may be about the supposed benefits of decentralisation, we must accept the fact that decentralisation of resources may be an important aspect of diffused decision-making and increased participation and choice amongst the rural communities (Ingham and Kalam, 1992).

Attempts began in the early 1970s to solve the above problems of centralised planning and to bring development projects and programmes closer to the people. According to Wunsch, 1991, these attempts included: sub-national planning; designing participation by beneficiaries into various phases of integrated rural development programmes; and strengthening the performance of existing field personnel through training and/or deconcentration of bureaucratic support functions (Wunsch, 1991). It should therefore be noted that the attempts of the 1980s on participation for rural development planning and management has hastened the adoption of decentralisation policies and programmes

In his case review of eight countries in Asia, Rondinelli, 1983, showed that a number of reasons were responsible for decentralisation of development planning and administration. Two of such reasons are: that policies were adopted because of the disappointing results of or recognised deficiencies in central planning and management; and the shift in emphasis in the 1970s and early 1980s of development policies towards promoting more equitable distribution of the benefits of development, reducing disparities in income and wealth between urban and rural areas and among regions, and increasing the productivity and income of the poor .

The United Nations agencies in their various studies, have pointed to the potential role of participation and decentralisation programmes in rural development. The charge in one World Bank report, the then President, Robert McNamara noted that “in most countries, the centralised administration of scarce resources has resulted in most of them being allocated to a small group of the rich and powerful” and to effect a change, he went further to assert that “experience shows that there is a greater chance of success if institutions provide for popular participation, local leadership, and decentralisation of authority”. In an almost similar finding, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in an evaluation of 200 rural development projects they funded in the 1970s, showed that the poorest groups in developing countries cannot rely on the central government to meet their needs.

The Concept and Meaning of Decentralisation
Decentralisation is a very complex concept or terminology and has been defined variously. The whole theme of decentralisation is based on the assumption of the existence of a centre, in which case a decentralised system emanates from an already existing central structure of governance (Maddick, H, 1963).

The concept of decentralisation has been viewed from various perspectives and broadly speaking, it entails the devolution of governmental authority, democratisation of political institutions, development of local leadership, and providing adequate means to encourage participation of the people or their representative in development programmes and projects. In an attempt to conceptualise and operationalise decentralisation as a process, we should bear in that the different forms or types of decentralisation are mixed in character and interwoven in nature; and can only be possible through a clear understanding of the socio-cultural, political, economic and legal factors of a country (Ahmed, 1990).

Decentralisation is an apparently simple term, rich in conceptual and empirical meaning, as it can designate static fact and dynamic process; and could also refer to pure ideal-type (devolution) and to moderate incremental change (deconcentration and delegation). The approaches to understanding the concept of decentralisation are concerned with doctrine, politics, and administrative problems. The concern here will be on administrative decentralisation. In understanding decentralisation, we may start with a broad view that embraces both devolution to subnational governments and administrative deconcentration within a national government. In developing countries, while most national governments carry the prime responsibility for development, it is obvious that social and economic development requires penetration to local communities (Fesler, 1965).

It has difficult to standardise the usage of decentralisation in an attempt to give it meaning that is universally acceptable. Decentralisation has been used to mean, the transfer of authority, legislative, judicial, or administrative, from a higher level of government to a lower level, which is, shifting authority “away from centre”. To some, the basic idea of decentralisation is sharing the decision-making authority with lower levels in the organisation; power can be shared within the system, at a lower level, or by creating new mechanisms in the system, and with outside organisations or agencies .
As defined by Rondinelli, 1981, “decentralisation is the transfer of legal and political authority to plan, make decisions, and manage public functions from the central government and its agencies to field organisations of those agencies, subordinate units of government, semi-autonomous public corporations, area wide or regional development authorities, autonomous local governments, or non-governmental organisations” .

The encouragement of decentralisation has been brought about by two main arguments. That decentralisation is necessary to accelerate the pace and spread the benefits of growth, integrate diverse regions in heterogeneous countries and use scarce resources more efficiently to promote development in the poverty stricken or economically lagging areas; secondly, for the poor to obtain a larger share of government services, ways should be devised to decentralise public service delivery and involve beneficiaries in planning and decision-making at the local level. Decentralisation has long become an aspect of development strategies in number of developing countries.

A principal advantage of decentralisation is its focus on participation. Over the years, the place of participation in rural development has been of interest to academics and policy makers alike. Reasons for the interest in participation, include the following: growing awareness in developing countries that the greatest resource in the development process is the people; inadequacy of past practice of centralised pattern of development decision-making to accommodate local socio-cultural variations or to mobilise needed local resources; the rural communities know what their needs are and the actions are required to meet these needs; that participatory planning and decision-making creates a sense of involvement among rural people which facilitates the timely completion of projects and give the people the confidence in their ability to shape their present and future through self-help efforts; and participation takes government closer to the people. The foregoing, coupled with the identified failures of the centralised system give us reasons for adopting decentralised policies and programmes. The next section will be concerned with discussing the different approaches or forms of decentralisation

Approaches to or Forms of Decentralisation
As a way of correcting the failed centralist approach to development, programmes of decentralisation came into vogue in the 1970s, to improve the service delivery systems and the administration of public programmes. In the face of these programmes, different forms of decentralisation can be distinguished which depends on the extent to which the authority to decide, plan, and manage, is transferred from central government to other units or organisations . With the above understanding, the following four types of decentralisation have been distinguished: deconcentration, delegation, devolution, and privatisation. Rondinelli, 1981, made a distinction between functional decentralisation (the transfer of authority to carry out specific tasks or activities to specialised organisations that operate nationally and the creation of field offices within national ministries) and areal decentralisation (the transfer of responsibility for public functions to organisations within well-defined sub-national spatial or political boundaries). He made a further distinction on the degree of decentralisation, and categorised this into three: deconcentration, delegation, and devolution . The various forms of decentralisation are discussed below

Deconcentration is the delegation of authority which is adequate for the discharge of specified functions to staff of a central department who is situated outside the capital or headquarters. This type or form of decentralisation entails the handing over of some amount of administrative authority or responsibility to lower levels within the government ministries or agencies (Maddick, 1963 and Meenahshisundaram, 1994). Deconcentration denotes mere delegation to a subordinate officer who has the capacity to act in the name of the superior without a real transfer of authority.

Delegation entails the granting of authority from a superior to subordinate authority, to be enjoyed by him not in his own right but as a derived concession and to be exercised at the pleasure of the superior. Thus, delegation as observed by Paul Meyr, presupposes that “the central administration reserves its authority to issue directions and to reverse decision…” . Delegation is therefore at best a concession. Administrative delegation or deconcentration is the outcome of administrative expediency and is the exercise of derived power by a subordinate authority (Narain, 1963).

Delegation denotes the transfer of responsibility for specifically defined functions to organisations that are outside the regular bureaucratic structure and only indirectly controlled by the central government. Meenakshisundaram, 1994, viewed delegation as referring to relations, in which powers are formally conferred under law on an executive agency or by an administrative order to a subordinate or from one level of government to another, in which there is no real transfer of authority. Delegation does not strip the government of the ultimate responsibility for the actions of the authority to whom power is delegated as it is still under the control of the government and subordinate to it.

It will be worthwhile at this point to examine the advantages or the contribution that might accrue from decentralised systems adopting deconcentration measures. Some advantages stemming from deconcentration are as follows: delegation of authority enables field officers to exercise discretion on account of local conditions and the implementation of programmes and policies for social services are rapidly accomplished; the problem of size and distance is solved by breaking down large countries into some form of region or province or district for administrative purposes; by having a close association with the people of a particular area, a detailed understanding is reached not only of their needs, but also of the long term potentialities of the area; and it allows for organising and ensuring the maintenance of small capital works created by community effort (Maddick, 1963).

This involves the creation and strengthening of sub-national units of the government (local government) whose activities are substantially outside the direct control of the central government (Maddick, 1963 and Meenahshisundaram, 1994). Devolution refers to the process of legally conferring powers to discharge specified or residual functions upon a formally constituted local authority or government.

Devolution is the process whereby the government strips itself completely of certain duties and responsibilities and transfers them to some other authority. In essence, this form of decentralisation creates a corporate sense of responsibility in local decision-making agencies with more or less independent existence and powers. In the most ideal situation, decentralisation for development purposes, should relate to the devolution of powers resulting from the creation of bodies separated by law from the central authority in which local representatives are given formal power to decide on a range of public matters.

By devolution, authority is shifted to the local level. Local authorities provide the opportunity for local people to participate in local decisions and local schemes within the general national policies, and to act above all, as local centres of initiative and activity conducive to development. What then are some of the advantages of devolution? Firstly, there will be the support for central government by the people adopting its programme as their own; secondly, participation in government programmes may assist in the fight against the indifference, pessimism and passivity of many of the rural population; thirdly, local government may be needed to maintain services started by the central government authorities or alternatively to maintain buildings, roads, and public works which have been put up by the central government; and fourthly, local authorities provide technical advice and assistance for self-help activities which are associated with community development work in villages.

This is a recent form of decentralisation, whereby there is the passing of all responsibility for functions to non-governmental organisations or private enterprises which are independent of the government (Meenakshisundaram, 1994, p. 11). Through the process of privatisation, most governments, both in developed and developing countries have stripped themselves of the responsibilities for functions and have either transferred them to voluntary organisations and co-operatives or allowed them to be performed by private enterprises, but in some cases the government continues to exercise some amount of supervision and support.

The four types of decentralisation discussed above are not exhaustive but have been chosen for discussion because they tend to have been most commonly adopted types in developing countries. This leads to discussing the advantages of decentralisation in the development process, especially in rural development.

The Benefits of Decentralisation
Not all the assertions of the alleged advantages of decentralisation have been empirically verified. Some of the benefits are potential, rather than actual results of decentralisation programmes, and we must point out here that the outcomes of decentralisation policies in a number of developing countries have been far from successful. Some of the potential benefits of decentralisation highlighted by Rondinelli, 1981, are as follows:
– allows officials to disaggregate and tailor development plans and programmes to the needs of heterogeneous regions and groups within a country ;
– it could cut through the enormous amount of ‘red tapism’ and highly structured procedure characteristic of central planning and management;
– reassigning officials to the local levels will increase their knowledge and sensitivity to local problems and needs;
– it could allow greater political and administrative penetration of national government policies into areas remote from the national capital;
– it could allow for greater representation for various political, religious, ethnic, and tribal groups in development decision-making, which may lead to greater equity in the allocation of government resources and investment;
– it would allow for greater administrative capability among local government and private institutions, and thereby expanding their capacities to take over functions from central governments;
– it could increase the efficiency of top central government officials by relieving them of routine tasks which could be performed more efficiently by field staff or local officials and flexibility in plan implementation and co-ordination;
– a structure could be provided to co-ordinate the activities of central ministries and agencies involved in development with those of local leaders and non-governmental organisations;
– it could allow for the participation of communities/people in development planning and management, exchange information about local needs, and channel political demand from the local community to the national ministries ;
– it can offset the influence or control over development activities by entrenched local elites, who in most cases are insensitive to the needs of the poorer groups in the rural communities;
– it will allow local leaders to effectively provide services and facilities within the communities, integrate isolated or lagging areas, and evaluate the implementation of development projects than central government agencies;
– it can increase political stability and national unity by giving groups in different parts of the country the ability to participate more directly in development decision-making; and
– it can increase the number of public goods and services at a lower cost and efficiently delivered.
The above are the potential advantages or benefits arising from the adoption of decentralised policies and programmes.

Decentralisation and Rural Development
As the State and Central Governments do not have easy and direct access to the rural population, and are not directly accountable to the people at the grassroots level, the only viable unit suitable for rural development is the local government structure (devolutionary measure) and communities. It has been asserted that the “…official machinery (central government)is not suitable for carrying out development programmes which call for a great deal of initiative and participation on the part of the people themselves” . Although the locally elected groups are viewed as the most appropriate channel for public participation in development, reservations are still held about the role of local governments in rural development through people’s participation, as the weaker section of the community may not feel that their interests are fully protected by these institutions . In essence the lower unit of government has not ensured the full participation of communities in their development.

In recent years, there been a shift in the approaches and strategies for rural development, involving the adoption of decentralisation policies and programmes for strengthening planning and management capacity of government organisation at the national, state, and local levels. The major cause for adopting decentralisation measures can be found in the limited success from centralised strategies, and changes that development strategies of the 1980s are experiencing. As shown by Conyers, at some periods in the history of development, there has been a greater move towards centralisation, while at other times decentralisation has been the vogue . A positive aspect of decentralisation is the scope it allows for participation, that is, participation as a value lies at the core of decentralisation for rural development. The advantages of the decentralisation strategy for rural development as presented are three-fold: it is consistent with the ideals of bottom-up planning and delegated control mechanism; it ensures a participatory type of need-assessment of local areas and has the potentials of participatory management of development programmes; and by emphasising local-level planning and democratic decision-making, decentralisation facilitates government-people interaction for organising and managing development activities at different levels of public administration (Ahmed, 1990).

The Practice of Decentralisation
In the present day world, decentralisation is a well-known and widely applied concept, and its acceptance as a policy of promoting development, especially rural development has been on the increase . According to Rondinelli 1981 and 1983, and Conyers 1983, the demonstration of the popularity of decentralisation in theoretical terms, and as an instrument of welfare administration is seen in the pursuance of administrative decentralisation by the governments of most developing countries.

Since achieving independence, attempts have been made by a number of developing countries to reform their administrative structures in an effort to make them more effective in the planning and implementation of development programmes. Although there is ambiguity in the use of the term decentralisation, as seen earlier, most countries in the developing world that have been involved in decentralisation programmes, have used it more loosely to refer to any transfer of powers or functions of government from the national level to any sub-national level (Conyers, 1981 and 1983).

In most developing countries, a distinction can be drawn of decentralisation programmes initiated by central government with little or no pressure exerted from below, referred to as ‘from above’ and examples can be found in Tanzania, Zambia and Ghana; and decentralisation resulting to a large extent from pressures from regional or local groups, referred to as ‘from below’ and examples can be found in Papua New Guinea and Sudan, and to a lesser extent, Nigeria (Conyers, 1983). In all, majority of the decentralisation programmes carried out in developing countries have been attempts to decentralise the national government, rather than to establish a second tier of government, which Conyers referred to as ‘decentralisation within centralism’.

Diverse and large numbers of decentralisation efforts have been undertaken in number of developing countries, most of which have not been successful in resolving the problems identified under over-centralisation, which have plagued development projects. Various studies carried out show that the problems of decentralisation are as diverse as decentralisation efforts. Most findings point to the following problems: it has not seriously affected the agendas or priorities of centrally directed sectorial ministries, which still control majority of programmes and project resources; there has been no notable difference in local, grassroots participation; no investments made to build a local planning capacity, instead planning was for the spending of central funds for localities; genuine broad based local participation in local-level planning has hardly occurred (Wunsch, 1991).

Since the early 1970s to date, over twenty-five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have embarked upon one form of decentralisation initiative or the other, but a great gap exist between the proclaimed policies and effective implementation. The factors which have been adduced for this disparity are as follows: delegation of authority to field staff (deconcentration) rather than to locally elected leaders (devolution); the impact of one-party system; the financial weakness of local government; and inadequate monitoring of local government expenditures . Privatisation (one of the prerequisites of structural adjustment programmes advocated by the World Bank) in the sense of the market provision of goods and services has been viewed as an aspect of decentralisation by African leaders, but due to the weakness of the private sector in most African States, privatisation refers to the transfer by the central government of resources and responsibilities to such government supported institutions as public enterprises, public corporations, or parastatals (Adamolekun, 1991).

As presented in the findings of a Bangladesh case, Ingham and Kalam, 1992, noted that decentralisation approaches have indicated that the formal local government structures may not be the only or the best way of ensuring popular participation. Other units that might play a key role in facilitating this are the co-operatives, voluntary associations, women’s groups, and credit and mutual aid societies. The Grameen Bank project in Bangladesh based on self-help philosophy is considered a success in mobilising rural savings, generating income for the rural poor and implementing rural development projects. The overall outcome was that, there was no meaningful participation, and no evidence of more equal distribution of political power and the overall ability of the rural society to achieve individual or collective goals despite various programmes of participatory development.

Countrywide Cases
Except local institutions are vested with the authority to take their own decisions and plan according to their own requirements, the entrustment of development functions to local institutions would remain incomplete. In this regard therefore, planning should be an important function to be discharged by all tiers of the local government structure, but this has not been the case with the Nigerian system. Although the concept of local level planning is accepted in the Nigerian system and indicates it as a duty on the local government to participate in the economic planning and development of the area, this has been difficult to implement due to acute shortage of funds and lack of skilled manpower to take up local planning .

Various problems have been adduced for many of the decentralisation programmes in developing countries for not meeting the initial expectations. These problems have been categorised into three: that actual degree of decentralisation seems to have been limited; that there are claims that decentralisation has done little to improve the planning and implementation of local development programmes; and that power has been decentralised to the wrong people- government appointees or local elites

The Nigerian Case
The centralist approach to development which led to the concentration past national development plans on the urban area to the detriment of a vast majority of the population who reside in the rural areas is evident in Nigeria, and too much emphasis has in the past been placed on sectorial and structural planning, as against the actual transformation of rural communities . Past rural development efforts in Nigeria have been misconstrued and misdirected, equating rural development with agrarian reform which entailed improvement in agricultural productivity of rural farmers, which has in no way enhanced the quality of life of rural population.

The approaches to rural development in Nigeria have been flawed on a number of grounds by various writers (Adefolalu, 1975; Adeniyi, 1987 and Eni, 1992): policies were externally induced and executed by the federal or central government without the active participation of the rural people; the policies suffered from “isolationism”, with individual projects executed without any attempt at linking the benefits to solving rural problems on a comprehensive and integrated manner; and have been crippled by inadequate institutional and administrative framework to perpetuate sustained development, with decision taking a long time to reach the grassroots for implementation . As shown in the previous sections, the skewness of development in favour of the urban areas has led to the search of an alternative development strategy, the decentralisation approach.

The decentralisation pattern adopted by Nigeria contrasts that of Kenya as would be seen later. Before the Local government Reform of 1976, divisional administration took the form of deconcentration to field staff. The reforms replaced this with a single-tier local government administration and the election of councillors to these councils has ensured popular participation and accountability. The assigned financial resources to local governments from both the State and Federal are used to develop the productive, social, and infrastructure sector of its area of jurisdiction. The total number of local governments stands over 600. It should be pointed out at this stage that as entrenched in the constitution, the federal government is required to transfers funds to the local government’s general purpose and categorical (for health and primary education) grants and some of these funds are diverted by State governments before reaching local governments . The local governments are placed between two categories of decentralised institution: departments of state governments and co-operative, community organisations and traditional councils. The critical problem which exists in the Nigerian system is that, local governments and state ministries and agencies share constitutional responsibilities for providing primary education, primary health and agricultural services, and until this conflict is resolved, there is bound to be the duplication of efforts and confusion (Adamolekun, 1991).

In an attempt to finding a solution to the rural development failures in Nigeria, Eni, 1992, advocated a decentralisation option which should have the following characteristics:
– stressing mass participation or total rural involvement in the determination, planning, and implementation of any rural community project;
`- rural development should be comprehensive, should consider the multi-dimensional and complex nature of rural problems, and programmes be jointly planned as one integral unit;
– there should be effective co-ordination of all programmes; and
– devolution of administrative responsibilities to other grassroots bodies or institutions.

Tanzanian Case
Tanzania undertook a major decentralisation programme in 1972, before which time administrative and government efforts for rural development were criticised as being ineffective for varied reasons . The 1972 decentralisation reform had political, administrative, and economic objectives . The motives behind the decentralisation programme were twofold: the desire to increase popular participation in decision-making and the need for more effective planning and implementation of development at regional or local level, due mainly to general dissatisfaction with performance at those levels in the past.

The decentralisation programme entailed the transfer of significant powers and functions to the regions and districts, which was extended to improve links between district and village levels, to support the country’s ujaama village programmes. The administrative decentralisations was designed to strengthen the then ongoing ujaama programme in which the rural population, previously widely dispersed, were concentrated in communal production and settlement units, and were given the responsibility for planning and carrying out self-reliant development programmes . At the district level, the following administrative units were created: District Development Councils, which replaced former local government councils and supported by district development and planning committees.

It is interesting to note that in 1978; fully elected urban councils were re-established to cater for the needs of urban areas which were being neglected. Although the regional and district authorities had the power to plan and implement development programmes, they received policy instructions and professional advice or assistance from the centre which still had overall control over all regional and district administration. In financial terms, regions and districts prepare their own development plans and budgets to cover recurrent and capital expenditure on projects, but budgets had to be approved at the national level and had no powers to raise their own revenue (Conyers, 1981).

The decentralisation programme was aimed at administrative reform, which involved developing field administrative structure on an area basis and to decentralise authority over planning and implementation of development programmes to local decision-making bodies (Conyers, 1981). On the whole, the reforms involved the breakdown of traditional departmental structure and the establishment of area-based structures in its place.

As summarised by Conyers, 1981, the theoretical advantages of decentralising decision-making to people at regional and local level are: decisions are relevant to local needs and conditions; local people are likely to be more committed to development programmes; decisions are taken more quickly; and it encourages local initiative, while the main advantages of achieving greater co-ordination between government agencies at regional or local level are: less duplication of projects between agencies; easier to plan and implement programmes and projects involving more than one department; easier to prepare integrated plans; and resources are used more efficiently . But this has not been the case in a number of African countries that have adopted decentralisation measures.

Despite the fact that the decentralisation programme of Tanzania has been in operation over two decade, not many systematic/comprehensive evaluation of its impact has been carried out, the most recent is the research of Maro, 1990 on its impact on spatial equity and rural development. Although it would need a detailed work to confirm, the Tanzanian decentralisation programme seems to have provided a more effective organisational structure for regional development and planning, particularly in rural areas (Conyer, 1981).

The major shortcoming of the planning arrangements of the Tanzanian decentralisation programme was that they did not encourage popular participation in plan formulation and implementation, as most of the projects depended on central government funding. Most members of the different committees were government employees and politicians with no planning and development skills . There have been problems in implementing decentralisation policies in most developing countries. In his observation of the Tanzanian experiment, Picard concluded that “…the administrative structure has not been able to establish the mechanism that will ensure increased participation at the district and sub district level….decentralisation provide mechanisms for popular participation in the district, remains largely unachieved ”.

Kenyan Case
In implementing the rural development policies in the 1970-74 national development plan, the Kenyan government adopted decentralisation of development planning approach, which led to the establishment of provincial and district development advisory committees. One of the goals of the plan was to “co-ordinate and stimulate development at the local level by involving in the planning process not only Government officials but also the people through their representatives ”. In order to provide technical assistance to local planning organisations, district development committees were established in 1974, and despite the various measures, the control over development planning and administration remained highly centralised (Rondinelli, 1981).

The adoption of the ‘district focus strategy’ in 1983 by the Kenyan government, has allowed for an effective decentralisation of the planning process to the district level . This has led to the emergence of district development committees consisting mostly of central government officials with the responsibility for development plans. The committees have been effective in implementing their strategies as they control district treasuries. But the aftermath of strengthening the district development committees is that the autonomy and authority of the elected local leaders has been undermined and co-operatives have also been adversely affected. According to Adamolekun, 1991, the use of field staff of agencies instead of locally elected officials has resulted in high price for administrative convenience.

Political support for decentralisation and local participation in development planning and management in Kenya and Tanzania has usually been limited to arrangements for obtaining greater compliance by rural people to central government policies. A strong obstacle to decentralisation has been the continued resistance of central government bureaucrats to decision-making from below. This resistance is not only due to the unwillingness to transfer power, but also the distrust technicians and professionals within central ministries have for local administrators and tribal, religious and community leaders.

Other obstacles are due to opposition from local leaders and traditional elites; the ‘centrist’ attitudes of many government officials who detest the participation of rural people in development activities; poor communication and lack of knowledge about rural people’s objectives and motivations within central planning and operating agencies ; bureaucracies are inefficient or unable to provide the technical, financial, personnel or other resources needed by lower levels to carry out development activities; local administrative units also suffer from serious shortages of trained manpower and financial resources to carry out decentralised responsibilities, which is compounded by the unwillingness many trained officials to accept local government posts; and lastly, all the above are aggravated by the lack of physical infrastructure, transport, and communication facilities, which makes co-ordination among decentralised administrative units almost impossible, and effective interaction amongst them and the central government ministries very difficult (Rondinelli, 1981).

The above experiences indicate that the mere pronouncement of policy of “bottom-up” decision making; reorganisation of administrative structure; and the establishment of local planning procedures is not enough to carry through and implement decentralised programmes, but should depend on the existence of or the ability to create, a variety of political, administrative, organisational and behavioural conditions, and to provide the needed resources at the local level .

The institutional design for decentralisation should take in consideration the developmental thrusts built upon the capabilities at the local levels, and the need to ensure local participation in decision-making. Considering the present dynamics of development, and in order to sustain the momentum of development, it is necessary that technical expertise of a high order is made available at levels below the State/Province. But in Nigeria presently, there is a single-tier system of local governments covering the entire area of a country and development areas which are constituted in the country can at best be seen as the administrative offices of the local governments concerned (Meenakshisundaram, 1994). This situation does not allow for meaningful participation by the people at the local level

Implementing Decentralisation
Despite the fact that there was a general trend in the direction of decentralisation as a way of promoting effective, efficient and equitable rural development, not all governments were willing or able to decentralise. As a matter of fact, most governments in the developing countries have tried to centralise and monopolise the flow of resources in the promotion of national programmes, to the detriment of local initiatives, interests and organisations. In most Asian countries the decentralisation approaches or measures tried fell within the category of deconcentration and delegation, rather than devolution, in which case field offices of the central government ministries were created with workloads shifted to them while government authority remained in the hands of central agencies. Devolution which would have resulted in the granting of substantial autonomy the local government units and empowering them to administer their own affairs has hardly been pursued . As administrative cost in practising deconcentration and delegation of authority is high, there has been the growing concern amongst local communities to initiate, mobilise, and become empowered, to undertake local level development which will be of direct benefit to the local communities. The governments of countries have a major role to play in promoting local initiative and voluntarism.

Some of the considerations which can lead to the creation of the conducive environment for local initiatives and voluntarism are spelt below:
– Governments should be willing to decentralise powers to grass roots institutions, which should be willing to accept and exercise those powers, giving the rural dwellers responsibilities and control over projects inputs and outputs, making them eager to participate in rural development and consequently, facilitating decentralisation;
– It should be realised that each community has its own values, structures and processes for decision-making and implementation. Therefore approaching communities through a uniform administrative arrangement is not feasible or desirable;
– Local people are capable of effectively taking decisions on projects that meet their felt need and that benefit them. Therefore the people themselves should be able to decide the level and kind of participation with which they can expedite their own development;
– As decentralised powers, resources and benefits can be centralised or manipulated or monopolised by the powerful few even at the lowest level, decentralisation policies should consider not only the types and levels of participation, but also which section of the society should participate in the development process;
– Village managerial capabilities should not be ignored or substituted; a lot of management skills are available at village level and it is more a question of utilising and enhancing them;
– Local culture has to be appreciated before considering it as a hindrance or a facilitating factor in rural development; social feasibility analysis of rural development projects vis-à-vis their technical or commercial feasibility only has to be emphasised; and
– Especially for grass roots decentralisation within government programmes, there is the need for administrative simplification and debureaucratisation, which means aiming at small units, less hierarchical levels, specific clientele, etc. (Siedentopf, 1989).

This empowerment of the people model is based on people-centred values and development defined as a process requiring as its primary resource, human commitment and creativity. Organisations are therefore built gradually from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Decentralisation requires certain preconditions and supporting policies that many governments cannot or will not provide, and changes in attitudes and behaviour on the part of central government officials have been difficult to achieve and the strongest obstacles to making decentralisation work, are the very weaknesses of highly decentralised government that decentralisation policies were designed to overcome. Due to the problems facing the implementation of decentralisation policies, it has been shown that a variety of factors should be taken into consideration, which include, the strength of central political and administrative support; behavioural, attitudinal and cultural influences; organisational; and the adequacy and appropriateness of local financial, human and physical resources .

To ensure effective decentralisation in any society or country, there are certain conditions that must be provided for. This section will be concerned with the conditions necessary for implementing an effective decentralised system.
– Firstly, as the local government is viewed essentially as a power-sharing mechanism, hence a successful local government should be based on public security and order;
– Secondly, as it is almost impossible to expect an unchallenged elite ruling group to share its power voluntarily, the elites should not treat the local government as a programme for rural development, but accept it as ineffective instrument in local governance;
– Thirdly, the poor should be strengthened to protect them from the exploitative behaviour of the rich and for genuine participation of the poor in local government activities;
– Fourthly, powers and functions of local government only needs guidance from above and should be defended against erosion from outside;
– Fifthly, for any decentralised system to be successful, there is the need to reorient the bureaucrats and senior politicians at the central level from an attitude which is centralising, control-oriented and populist, to one of sharing authority through regular institutions of democracy; and
– Lastly, there is the need to train local government representatives for their new role (Meenakshisundaram, 1994, pp. 146-7).

In his article, Linking decentralisation and centralisation: a critique of the new development administration, Werlin, 1992, highlighted the features of the new development administration (NDA), which emphasises deregulation, privatisation, minimal government, popular participation, and incrementalism, that is, flexible goals and ability to shift directions. According to him, this new development administration has emerged from the disillusion with the optimistic, scientific management, faith in government, and western orientations of the 1960s. Although, NDA has been criticised on a number of grounds there are some aspects which he holds sympathy for and are worth discussing briefly. These borders on excessive centralisation, weak bureaucracy, traditional organisation, non-governmental organisations, private sector, community initiatives and incrementalism.

Excessive centralisation remains a fact of life in the developing countries, as most governments continue to be hostile to all forms decentralisation . For instance in some African states, the threat of decentralisation is seen in the danger of intensifying ethnic and kingship loyalties with the elites claiming that colonialism left them with a weak national identity. What is most evident in the developing countries is that most leaders are more inclined towards ‘deconcentration’- the transfer of responsibility to field staff, rather than ‘devolution’- empowering local government, as local councils tend to be dominated by field staff of central government agencies, with little independent authority. Secondly, most national bureaucracies in the developing countries are weak to facilitate decentralisation, and central bureaucracies are so weak that various efforts to facilitate local governments and independent agencies have generally failed. Thirdly, it should be realised that there are some traditional organisations and methods that work well without outside assistance, for example credit unions or co-operatives. Fourthly, there is the need to stimulate community initiatives, which in some cases have led to voluntarily provision of projects such as schools, town halls, community centres and health clinics, and as in Kenya, excessive centralisation can undermine co-operative and finally, a cautious approach is considered the best way of implementing decentralisation projects. Incremental methods are generally believed to be advantageous, as pushing change too rapidly might lead to mistakes (Werlin, 1992).

The change in development approach towards participation in the development process for effective rural development planning and implementation can be said to be responsible for the adoption of decentralised policies and programmes.

Most developing and underdeveloped countries suffer from the lack of adequate political and administrative ability. To achieve social change and general economic growth requires a spreading of effort so that the local communities and individuals can participate, to bring under ideal conditions, energy, enthusiasm, and most important of all, local initiative to the working out of local development activities. Whilst government will need to retain certain key functions and responsibilities at the centre, others can only be discharged satisfactorily at the local level. On these counts and on the need for direct contacts with the people there has been strong argument for decentralisation (Maddick, 1963).

Although in theory, decentralisation is believed to bring tangible benefits, such as increased material welfare and reduced alienation of traditional societies faced with centralised bureaucracies in developing countries, in practice, it has not lived up to its promises. Some of the obvious benefits from decentralised development planning from experiences in the 1970s and early 1980s can be measured in terms of distribution of resources, the extension of public services to rural areas, better project identification, and new employment opportunities (Ingham and Kalam, 1992).

Most developing countries are faced with the dilemma of decentralisation, either of deconcentration or devolution. Most in the first instance settle for devolutionary decentralisation patterned after the colonial masters, which after a while degenerate and settles down to deconcentration, with the creation of parastatals alongside as is with the case of Nigeria (Meenakshisundaram, 1994).

As shown above, institutional over-centralisation involving a centrally directed and hierarchical bureaucracy is widely found to have been ineffective in undertaking complex tasks of rural development under conditions of uncertainty and severely limited resources. It has failed to secure beneficiary participation, adequate maintenance and utilisation of infrastructure, administrative co-ordination, responsiveness to local needs, well as flexibility and adaptability. While on the other hand, attempt by decentralised planning to increase the role of beneficiaries in development projects, and localised training and organisational developments efforts have produced disappointing results. In all, there is a lack of theoretical understanding in the area of decentralisation (Wunsch, 1991).

As pointed out by Rondinelli et at, 1984, decentralisation must be viewed more realistically, not as a general solution to all developmental problems facing developing countries, but as one of the many administrative or organisational measures to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness of various levels of government under suitable conditions.

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This is a review of decentralisation literature in an academic research titled, The Role of Community Participation in Rural Development in Delta State, Nigeria. The abstract of the research is reproduced below:
Participatory approaches to development have been popular, especially in the developing countries, since the late 1970’s aimed at promoting the involvement of the people in the socio-economic development of their communities. The results achieved from the implementation of participatory policies and programmes have received mixed reactions. This outcome has led to growing debates in the academic world and the among policy formulators about the form and impacts of participation in development. The advocates of participation have justified their stands in terms of success, effectiveness and sustainability of projects and programmes. The counter arguments are that participatory policies are used as rhetoric, while in actual practice much of the status quo -top-down approach- is still the norm in most developing countries and such policies mainly serve the interest of the influential, local elites and the ‘haves’ in communities.

This study contributes to the debate. The study analyses the results and processes involved in the Nigerian government’s participatory programmes as implemented by the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) and the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). Both agencies were explicitly aimed at promoting development in the rural areas by the involvement or participation of the rural populace in the development process. The study also analyses the results and processes of participation in community self-help development projects, with the intent of having a comparative view of participation in government sponsored and community sponsored development projects. The study adopted the case-study approach, with four villages selected in Delta State, Nigeria for detailed investigation of government and community sponsored rural development projects. A combination of various data gathering techniques including questionnaire survey, semi and unstructured interviews, key informants, group discussions and document surveys were used in the collection and validation of data.

The findings of the study indicate that the policies of involving the people in government sponsored rural development failed to meet the stated promises and aspirations. But on the contrary, it was found out that the level of participation in community sponsored self-help projects was substantially high. A number of reasons can be ascribed to the minimal involvement of communities in government projects: – top-down approach to development, stringent and tortuous bureaucratic practices, non-democratic governments, inadequate and untimely funding, and limited consultation with communities, non-assessment of community needs and poor participatory knowledge and attitude of project officers. The participatory policies of the government fell short of expectations as no evidence exist to show that it contributed to empowering the people, mobilising or collaborating with the people or creating appropriate decentralised units at the local level, which could have paved the way for promoting community participation in the development process of projects. The only remarkable achievement of the participatory policies is creation of people’s organisation -community development associations-, which is believed, will lay the requisite foundation for future involvement of rural communities in their development. In addition, findings of the study, contrary to official perception indicate that the implementation of the participatory policies of the government benefited the ‘haves’ and local elites most of who resided in urban areas and appointed as ‘contractors’ in the execution of projects assigned to their communities. This goes to show that the participatory policies helped to strengthen the status quo -the unequal urban/rural socio-economic structure. In the Nigerian case therefore the common generalisations and benefits of participation in development can hardly hold. In order to consider the benefits of participation in development, the contextual factors should be given adequate consideration and treated as the entrenched values in the determination of success.

Although the participatory policies of the government have been successful in involving the rural people in the development process, all hope is not yet lost. The reasons for expressing this optimism are based on the substantial success achieved by third world or developing countries under democratic rule in the involvement of rural communities in participatory programmes and projects, the success in the involvement of rural people by communities in respect of community self-help projects and the increasing role of various United Nations Agencies and Bilateral Donor Agencies and Countries in building in participatory policies and strategies in assisted projects. The opportunity still exists in implementing participatory policies and strategies that will assist the rural population in having a voice in their development.

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