It is people who bring development [Archives:2004/758/Opinion]

July 26 2004

One of the big problems that developing countries are confronting is in finding a clear path towards overcoming the hurdles that stand in the way of achieving the right venue for continuous economic growth and sound management of existing economic assets and available resources. This is quite clear to most of the governments of developing countries, but beyond that most governments of developing countries tend to view development as merely gathering some physical assets and plants and thus all efforts are directed towards this task, with little or superficial attention to the more important aspect of development: the human side. Oh yes, many a developing country will tell you, “Look at the number of schools we have built, or the number of vaccinations we have made, etc.” This kind of information is significant, but what kind of influence are these numbers having on the real important indicators of development: quality of output of the education system, the number of skilled technicians and professionals, the decrease in rapid population growth and the number of additional jobs created, etc? The experience in Yemen and many of the other least development countries of the world is that the reliance on quantitative tallies of physical substance to project their level of development tends to overlook some very fundamental aspects of development. These aspects are of a primarily qualitative nature, but without them no quantitative projection of development achievement can have value. These qualitative aspects will show the true levels of achievement, because they are primarily dealing with the human side of development and will truly reflect the extent to which development is having its desired effects on the element of the society that matters the most: the people of the land.
On the international theater, experienced has shown that societies that harness a healthy portion of their development efforts towards upgrading the human resources in the society have succeeded in overcoming the hurdles that stand in the way of development. Not only that, such societies have actually more to show in quantitative terms of physical attributes than those who focused all their attention on gathering a few assets here and there and neglected to look at the human resources that will benefit from such assets and run them sustainably. Even in countries, where there is a very timid natural resource base, such as Japan, or to come closer to home, Jordan, development was attained in all its true manifestations, because the human resource base was the focus of attention on their development plans.
We in Yemen have gone a long way since the pre Revolutionary period and many in Yemen have been able to uplift their standard of living significantly from what it was like in their own childhood years. But, there are many who will attest that there is much inequity in our development strides. Moreover, we have not really developed the right human resource base that can see opportunities and make use of the appropriate facilities that will enable them to take advantage of these opportunities. Moreover, we need to have a fundamental review of our educational system and how it is able to translate the learning experience into the lives of the people and into productive capacity. In other words, it is not enough to know that there is an internet in the world and in the end have to rely on foreign expertise to help us stay connected to the rest of the world, while our people are still not capable of even knowing the many useful things that can be obtained through the internet, thus making up for all the lacking sources of information and facilities for cultural enhancement. On the other hand, to make sure that there are adequate services for the people in the major cities, while neglecting the overall majority of the people who live in the rural areas of the country, even for such basic things as proper schooling, is bound to leave a sizable portion of the population out of touch with development altogether.
One of the essential elements of development is to have development programs that rely on participatory community management of projects and programs. This is not just after a program or project have been implemented, but in the pre implementation stages of planning and design. The Yemeni development effort in its earlier stages was in fact based on such an approach and many of us remember very well how active local development cooperative associations went along way to bringing important development projects to event the remotest parts of the country. What made the cooperative schemes of the mid 1970s so successful? They were fairly democratic in nature and depended on transparency and accountability of the officers of the associations. When the government decided to reduce the autonomy of the cooperative movement, it brought participatory development work to a standstill.
One was hoping that with the Law of Local Authorities, the local communities will be able to regain some of their empowerment over harnessing development resources and managing the assets acquired through the infrastructure projects already implemented, but the observer is inclined to suggest that there has been little progress in getting local communities to take the initiative and move forward on their own. The Central Government has yet to relinquish a lot to the authority, which the Law supposedly turned over to local government. Moreover, access to the resources required for these local authorities to function viably is still under tight central control, even if these resources were obtained locally.
If the people are the ones best able to determine their needs wherever they live in the country, then it should be the people who should be allowed to set their own plans and carry out the projects that they really need. Moreover, greater empowerment of the people means better transparency and more credible accountability. We have sufficient proof that a tightly net centralized regime can never be a guarantee that these important elements of governance are there, not to mention the avenues for corruption that such regimes usually open up.