Promoting ownership through participation in local infrastructure development

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The local infrastructure in developing countries are considered to be scarce however even the existing ones are often poorly conceived and managed (World Development Report 2001). For local infrastructure investments to be effective and sustainable requires that demand based approach be complemented by supply-side inputs through Involving the local population in planning and management which effectively facilitates ownership and sustainability since people would be motivated to make informed decisions and choices. Participatory decision making provides the “means” to involve the community to own the local infrastructure and this is a challenge in developing countries since key decisions are made by the central ministries on behalf of the local people and often communities learn of a project when they see the work kicking off and many communities have often fallen a victim of forced eviction. The local people also face the challenge of choice of the project since most of these projects are “take-it or leave-it”, and few communities are often willing to turn down a free or heavily subsidized investment.

Community ownership of infrastructure provides good operation and maintenance since it is very difficult to rely on the state to perform timely maintenance of the infrastructure. For instance, it is easier for the community to manage the use and operation of a borehole when they own it by forming a water management committee who are directly responsible for collecting the contribution from the people towards the maintenance and repair in case of breakdown but in a situation where local people are not involved in the process of establishment, few people are always willing to pay for the monthly subscription toward the maintenance of this borehole since they considers it to be for free. Involving the local people in the decision making helps in handling the priority especially of the poor and this also save the country’s budget especially in projects were community are encouraged to share the cost of investment and operation.

However to foster this ownership, we must put the first last (Chambers, 1997) meaning that those who are powerful have to step down, sit, listen and learn from and empower those who are weak and last. This practice also requires that all categories of people in the community be represented that is, male and female, those well represented and those in the minority group. Considering the fact that community comprises of existing social, ethnic, gender, and economic divisions, and unless we understand the question of who constitutes the community and addresses properly, men and local elites within community may dominate decision making and capture the project benefits thereby discouraging other disadvantaged categories from such local investments. This explains the reason why some infrastructure are always found at the home or near village leaders, political party representatives of the village, and the educated elites since they have the capacity to shut other disadvantage groups down. In Sub Saharan African village communities, the preference of men differs from that of women, for instance, men often ask for roads as a priority intervention while women mostly ask for water and this always turn out to be conflicting interests.

Ownership is considered as a function of institutional relationship between communities and service providers but in a situation where infrastructure benefits more than one community such as road linking many communities will rarely be demanded by individuals in the community even if they are needed and such infrastructure is better provided and managed by the state although in consultation with the communities as this avoid the tendency of rising conflict during the utilization and management by the community

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