Waning interest in the development industry in Kenya?

I was reading Chris Blattman‘s blog this morning where he had a cool post on the increasing use of  development jargon in published material. Words like “impact,” “stakeholder,” and “capacity” are all over the place here on the continent.

These terms are so pervasive, that people drop them in everyday conversation, almost creating a language on their own.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what “capacity” is supposed to mean, let alone am I able to identify who is and who isn’t a “stakeholder.” The cynical me says that a “stakeholder” is a person who is able to scrape off development funds into their own pockets, which seems to be a national pastime here. “Capacity” is as condescending as it sounds. Who decides who has the “capacity” to do things anyway? Are people who lack skills “incapacitated?”

The most annoying to me are “self help groups” which are, in essence, simply small business cooperatives. Not sure why their existence has to be treated as writing some past individual wrong. Given that it is mostly illegal to have a business here in Kenya (due to onerous laws on trade left over from the Brits and overzealous bureaucrats looking for bribes), it is possible that a “self help group” simply avoids many of the most costly permitting laws but more likely that a development group felt the need to give a fancy name to something completely normal.

That, however, is an aside.

If Google Trends is to be believed, interest in the development industry is waning in Kenya. I searched for trends in four terms, “capacity,” “sustainable development,” “stakeholder,” and the almighty “per diem.”

Development organizations often pay people to attend “seminars” on this or that topic in the form of “per diems” which are often not small. A fairly educated Kenyan can make a decent wage from attending these seminars on a regular basis. Harry Englund of Churchill College wrote a cool book on the subject called “Prisoners of Freedom.”

Anyway, here’s the graph. I found it kind of reassuring. Countries like Kenya can’t claim independence while holding out their hands waiting for development money to come through. Kenya is not a poor country. It doesn’t need many of these development projects when it is perfectly able to stand on its own. If these trends are to be believed, there is reason to be hopeful.
development

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine
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