Updated: Oct 13, 2022
by kate mcalpine
Insights from a virtual world cafe
In early 2020 I facilitated a listening exercise with people who are trying to do the right thing in Tanzania, hoping to learn about their perspectives on the preconditions for inclusive development.
I recently saturated those initial insights with a larger conversation that included more voices and perspectives. Using a virtual world cafe format we had a generative conversation about this thing we call “inclusive development”;
What is it?
What is Tanzania’s development challenge?
What mechanisms foster it? and
What practical action can we take to nurture inclusive development in Tanzania?
What follows are the dilemmas, quandaries and tribulations that were explored and that keep many of us awake at night and motivated during the day.
Our aim is to leave no one behind.
As people who primarily work in the development sector we are pretty comfortable with the idea that the aspiration to leave no one behind requires us to be intentional about process. It requires us to include different groups; to create an environment where they contribute; and to collaborate across disciplines, sectors and identities.
We recognise that inclusive development demands a shift in mindset; whereby we respect and honour everyones lived experience. But we are typically less good practicing our claimed values of equality, inclusion and diversity.
We seem uncomfortable speaking about and working with our own and others’ power. Too often we fail to walk in other people’s shoes. The language we use can be disempowering; we speak of target groups instead of participants. We are nervous about taking power head on; and particularly fearful of the politics of power.
Do the rules of the game provide Tanzanians with opportunities to become more resilient and to escape poverty?
Tanzanians need safety nets that enable citizens to trampoline out of poverty and become more resilient to shocks. But a tendency towards centralisation disconnects politics and power from people’s lived experience.
Combatting poverty has been a stated priority for Government, development actors and many in the private sector for a number of decades. But in spite of Tanzania’s rich resources the majority of people continue to be marginalised from the benefits of economic growth.
Tanzania is hugely diverse. The experience of poverty and wellbeing is similarly heterogenous; and there is no one one size solution to building an inclusively developed state.
Logic demands that the varied and complex phenomena that characterises poverty in Tanzania demands a similarly varied, localised response. But power, development plans, and the rules of the game are increasingly centralised and arguably disconnected from people’s lived experience.
The potential value of a development intervention is determined by their alignment with central government priorities not with that of people in their communities.
Key regional and district leaders are appointed by and answerable to the President; not elected by the people.
Some regulations and laws impinge on fundamental freedoms; particularly the freedom of expression that protects people who critique the Government.
Data is missing. The constraints on collecting and publicly discussing all sorts of data means that the underlying phenomena themselves can be contested.
Leaving no-one behind requires a different relationship with power.
Power is currently framed as a finite resource that needs to be held on to at all costs. Inclusive development requires that citizens see power as infinite; as something we all posses; and as something that should be deployed in service to the collective good. This requires changes to our democratic institutions; legal frameworks; electoral and decision-making processes.
Democratic institutions need to create space for minority and independent voices who represent the diversity of opinion and lived experiences in the country. They need to create mechanisms that incentivise and enforce (the carrot and the stick) accountability to the people.
The Constitution and the associated legal frameworks need to provide for and enforce all people’s rights.
Electoral processes need to shift power to the people and remove the financial and party political distortions that make people question electoral results.
Wider decision-making processes need to be informed (as was the plan under the Local Government Reform programme of the early 2000s) by people’s lived experience. This requires participation and inclusion from the bottom up; with much more emphasis on supporting young people to engage and influence.
These prescriptions are not new. They were core to the good governance work that many participants have been engaged in over the past twenty years.
Are these prescriptions still relevant now that our operating environment has changed so much?
Practical action requires that we act politically.
The development paradigm in Tanzania has been based on the idea that if you work hard enough to build consensus with the government inclusive development can be achieved. But such consensus may be impossible. The dilemma lies in reconsidering at a fundamental level how people who want to do the right thing can add value to Tanzania’s development journey.
There are three practical actions that participants could take to add social value in these challenging times.
Practice power. Better scrutinise and understand where the heterogenous sources of power lies and what forms power takes; better owning, articulating and deploying participants’ own power in service to the marginalised majority.
Build a constituency. Inclusive development will not happen on behalf of the marginalised majority. It can only happen if we work with and through women and young people. We have a responsibility to create space for their voices and opportunities for power holders to walk in their shoes. We have a responsibility to facilitate inclusive processes properly so that women and young people don’t just tell us about their lives, or experience empathy from those who currently hold power, but so that they self-identify as power holders themselves.
Build our comfort with variety. Most issues are complex. The context is complex. We do not need to, and it would not be possible, to solve all problems in the same way. There is value in starting small and being adaptive.
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