21st COE Program Seminar
Public Seminar on African Area Studies

Date: Thursday, June 26, 2003 15:00 - 17:00

Venue: Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University
Common Building, No.307 (46 Yoshida Shimoadachi-cho, Sakyo, Kyoto 606-8501, JAPAN)

"Reinventing the Local? Privatization and Resource Management in West Africa"

By Prof. Sara S. Berry, Johns Hopkins University

As evidence mounted in the late 1980s and early 1990s that structural adjustment programs in Africa were frequently accompanied by deepening poverty and accelerated depletion of natural resources, scholars and policy makers began to search for alternative strategies to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development. Rather than return to state-centered development strategies that were widely blamed for the debt crisis and economic stagnation of the 1970s, many argued that policy reforms should seek to engage ordinary people in the development process by strengthening their access to resources and economic opportunities and giving them a greater voice in decisions about resource management and governance. In keeping with the tenets of market liberalization, it was argued that one way to do this was to empower individuals and local communities by securing their rights to land and natural resources, and strengthening local structures of governance. Under such rubrics as "community titling" or "community management" in anglophone countries, "gestion de terroirs" or "patrimoine" in their francophone neighbors, international agencies and NGOs sought to promote equitable and sustainable development not by curtailing market forces, but by extending the benefits of market liberalization to poor and politically marginalized people. Until recently, much of the debate about sustainable development has taken it for granted that "local" was synonymous with "poor," "marginalized," or "ordinary" people, and that channeling resources to local communities would give rise to more equitable and sustainable patterns of growth. However, recent research in Ghana and other West African countries is beginning to raise questions about these assumptions. Detailed investigations of particular efforts to promote privatization and decentralize resource access and management suggest that these programs have interacted with local interests and structures of authority in complex ways, reinforcing or enhancing differential patterns of privilege rather than reducing them, or creating new forms of exclusion in the name of protecting community rights. Drawing on these studies, this lecture will explore how different constructions of "the local" have informed debates over privatization and sustainable development, and how competing claims to local authority and identity have shaped actual practices of privatization and resource management. By imposing new definitions of locality and/or raising the stakes in claims to local authenticity, policies intended to empower poor and disadvantaged people may be doing more to reshape the politics of belonging and exclusion than to transcend them.

Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University
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