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Friday, May 24, 2024

Episode 2: The role of the area councillors in the bottom-up approach to development

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In the last episode, we made mentioned the inability of African governments to live up to expectations despite the abundance of resources. We argue that if underdevelopment can’t be solved from the top, then we should approach it from the bottom—at the community level. Also, we insist that Africa’s underdevelopment can only be blamed on ‘mental poverty’—the lack of will to change. The components of the community that need to collaborate to make the change were identified before we went on a benchmarking tour at Jarra Karantaba, where this method has engendered unprecedented results. We offered a snapshot of their recent development milestone before we promised to break down the role of the stakeholders (the area council, VDC, elites, diaspora, youth (women) associations, religious leaders, and council of elders) in reaching the solution and explain how this approach will pay off.

The source of the idea

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Before I proceed, I deem it prudent to clarify that this idea of a bottom-up approach to development is neither farfetched nor out of the blue. It is in fact the decentralisation effort of the government – albeit it has failed to yield the expected fruits.

The constitution states in Section 214 (3) that the state shall be guided by the principle of decentralisation and devolution of governmental functions and powers to the people at appropriate levels of control to facilitate democratic governance. Hence, the rural official government strategy is based on a decentralised system of the provincial administration, area councils, and village development committees (VDCs). NGOs contribute resources and carry out activities to supplement the government’s efforts.

Local government officers (area councillors)

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I congratulate you and I welcome you to the office with your responsibilities

Area councils are the provinces’ local governing bodies. They constitute councilors elected by universal suffrage. They are in charge of the day-to-day administration of a council. According to (Chandrasekaran, p. 8 – 9), the actual functions of area councils are numerous, ambiguous, and permissive rather than mandatory. Notwithstanding, The Gambia’s local government objectives are as follows: (Chandrasekaran, 1991, p. 7)

1)         to promote political integration of rural populations through grass-roots participation in public decision-making;

2)         to involve the grass-roots in efforts to accelerate socioeconomic development in rural areas;

3)         to provide a mechanism for mobilizing resources for the implementation of projects aimed at improving the lot of the rural masses.

4)         to explain government policy to the people, to make the local people understand the government’s intentions and goodwill, and vice versa;

5)         to stimulate and support ‘tesito’ (self-help) efforts; and

6)         to provide basic services.                

In light of the above and by extension, the councilors form the anchor of our “bottom-up approach to development”. They should proactively engage the VDC in setting bylaws and goals and guiding and supporting them to attain those goals. It is the responsibility of the councilors to guide the selection of the VDC and ensure they are transparent and accountable. Also, it is their responsibility to help them understand and execute their duties better and to abide by the terms of reference and term limit.

The councilors should in addition to routine tours of their responsible wards create social media platforms (forums) where they will collectively draw and set up development plans and goals. They should be organising step-down pieces of training either directly or through National Council for Civic Education (NCCE), the National Youth Council (NYC), civil society organisations, or some other experts and tertiary education student wings.

In these workshops, in addition to the physical developments the role of the citizens and the community in national development, the impact of drug and substance abuse and other social crimes and vices should be discussed as well as the rights of the members of the community. It aches my heart if I see Africans particularly our mothers dancing for politicians and acting as sycophants because they are told they will be deprived of the National Cake if they don’t. Indeed, there is a need for sensitisation from the bottom. 

When people know their rights including their civic rights, then there will be some sanity in the political arena. Then there will be politics of ideas. With thorough education and sensitisation, there will be increased cooperation and unity among the members of our community which is the single most important recipe for this approach to development. The political maturity of the people should go to a level that they can belong to different political parties and still coexist in peace and harmony without grudges and ill will.

We should transcend political, tribal, and religious chauvinism and build a solid foundation of development from the grassroots. The solution to our problems lies in shaping the minds of the people – setting them free from mental slavery and instilling self-belief. Otherwise, our communities will be eaten up by corruption, drugs, crimes, prejudice of various forms, and the prevalence of poverty of every kind.

After going through this piece, you will nod to the crucial role of the councilors and concur with the fact that they are the anchor of our “bottom-up approach to development. Their role has to do with participatory development. Gone are the days when campaigns are premised around fallacious promises. It is not dependent on aid and donor agencies but the formulation of sound development ideas, unity around common goals, and walking the talk.   I hope that by virtue of this, the people will take the subsequent local government elections seriously. They will select and elect people who are up to the task and also the councilors will implement these recommendations so that we can improve the situation.

Yankuba Yabou is an academic staff member of the University of The Gambia (UTG). He’s also an activist.

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