Rural Community Development in Africa – the Possibilities
By Rev. Fr. Dr. Eric Oduro Wiafe
There have been conscientious efforts by many African governments to initiate, implement and make effective, the local government system so as to bring their governments closer to the people. This is due to the realization that, effective participation of the people in local government facilitates the achievements of their needs. In actual fact, if the objectives of the local government system had been realized in Africa, there would have been enhancement in the development of the rural areas and the betterment of the lives of the people, but this in many situations is not the case at all. Many governments have failed in this objective and the people in the rural areas continue to live in abject poverty and deprivation. In this essay, therefore, we want to look at why rural development should be number one on the priority list of governments, we would also look at the main needs of the people and how these needs could be met or realized?
Why Rural Development?
Majority of the people in Africa live in the rural areas. We can estimate about two-thirds of the population in all the countries in Africa, especially south of the Sahara, living in small scattered villages engaging in subsistence agriculture. They live at the mercy of the weather and when the rains fail them, then they have to confront and fight famine, and that has also an effect on the urban population since the urban centres rely mainly on the produce from the rural areas.
The other issue with the rural areas is that, there is virtually the absence of medical care and emergency services and if traditional medicine fails the people, then they have to rely on luck, which does not come so easily to majority of the people.
There is also no electricity in many of these rural areas and many lack schools so the children have to walk many miles to and fro to the nearest schools to get some education. The problem is compounded by lack of teachers who do not want to work in the rural areas because of lack of social services and opportunities. It is alleged that some national service personnel, sometimes even supported and encouraged by their parents, from the urban centres, fight very hard to influence the system so as not to be posted to the rural areas for the same reason.
In short, the rural areas are deprived and need to be rapidly developed to make it attractive to the citizens of the country. In actual fact, many of the people in the urban centres have their roots in the rural areas and sometimes go there once in a year to participate in the yearly festivals and other activities like funerals. Since the rural areas house the bulk of the population, politicians go there to canvas for votes and give the people many promises only to turn them down after the elections. This shows that the rural people have a lot to say in the governance of a country if they knew the power that they have as a united people. They can make things change dramatically in their favour for their own betterment.
Furthermore, the urban centres are getting choked due to the inflow of lots of migrants from the rural centres. These people are mainly the young and energetic ones who see lots of promise and hope in the urban centres. Many of such people become disappointed and end up frustrated, disappointed and become a burden to the society. When the basic amenities and opportunities, which are found in the urban centres, are also provided in the rural areas, not many young people would undertake this needless adventure in the urban centres.
What are the needs of the People?
It is very difficult to know the needs of a people if the people themselves do not tell you what they need. Sometimes, we imagine wrongly that the people may need certain things which in actual fact may not be the case. This may be because we have them in our own communities and know how important they are to us but the other communities may see it differently. That is why many projects initiated by outsiders in certain communities have failed. I remember a missionary sister telling me that, she organized for a bore-hole for a certain community but the community did not so much appreciate it and instead of fetching water from the bore-hole they went back to the nearby river.
There are of course many basic needs that a community may need but it is better to educate the people and then to ask them to list their priorities. It is also important to ask them to contribute something to the project, since local contribution means that they are involved in the project, will be part of the finances of the project and own the project. This may not be only in monetary terms but also labour or local materials.
One thing that can transform the lives of a people is energy and in modern time our main preference should be clean energy. This is particularly so in Africa where the use of solar and wind energy could be harnessed for development. African scientists should, therefore, be seen to be contributing to the development of affordable solar and wind energy and any other clean energy, and they should be heavily assisted by their local governments in this endeavour. How can we live in the sun for 12 hours a day and complain of lack of electricity when the technology is there for our use? Electricity can be the engine of growth for many things in the communities. For instance, local industries, education and social life of the people, especially the use of internet can change the lives of the people dramatically in many ways.
The people also need good education for their children and even the elderly. The establishment of community schools should be encouraged and the local people should be seen to be involved. They should sacrifice to build good schools and possibility to equipping them to the best of their ability with both material and human resources. The gains will surely match the many sacrifices they would put in. Apart from formal education, the elderly folks can be helped in their education through the use of local languages in the radio stations. Also, apart from the use of a common binding language like English or French, the teaching, enhancement, development and use of local languages should be prioritized since that may enhance better thinking, conceptualization and development of ideas for transformation.
The people also need a better health delivery system which is directed to the betterment of the rural situation. For a healthy people points to a healthy nation.
Added to the above needs of the people is the enhancement of sporting activities in the rural areas. Many national sporting heroes have come from the rural areas. Communities need sport centres and playfields and the identification of gifted people for further training and exposure.
There are of course, many other needs which can be mentioned but as I stated already, it is important for the people to identify their needs and together, find a way of implementing them in the communities.
How can the needs of the Rural folks be realized?
There is a saying that in unity is strength. For the realization of their needs, it is important that the people in the rural areas come together as one united and focused people and deliberate and prioritize their needs. They can be assisted in this enterprise by their local chiefs, elders, local political leaders, and opinion leaders.
They have to think of how their priorities could be realized, their short and long-term goals and their local contributions. The execution of their projects should be done in such a way that they do not bring or put so much financial hardship and strain on the people, since discouragement and apathy may set in and frustrate their efforts.
We know for instance, in the olden days that, rural communities have been supportive to the education of their local children to the highest level for them to bring honour to the people, contribute to the good of the community and brighten its image. This same spirit should let them target the education of the locals by establishing and creating favorable and attractive conditions for good educators to their communities for the benefit of their children. Also, they should pay attention to giving support to needy but brilliant children. There should also be the effort of identifying local skills and improving on them and making them a character of their local area. For instance, we have some rural communities noted for kente weaving. It is important that, ways are found to develop the skills of doing things and not to restrict oneself to the same old ways of doing things.
The health of the community members is so important for development that it should be placed high on the agenda of every community. It is in this respect that the various communities in Africa, be it in the rural or urban centres, should come together to think of how to make health delivery available and affordable to all the people, both the rich and the poor. Governments have a bigger role to play in this, but I think if it is the community’s initiative, the government cannot kick against it. If building a hospital is beyond the capability of a community, it is possible to team up with other nearby communities to establish one so that its accessibility to them is only from a short distance of the communities. This is necessary due to the fact that many people die needlessly due to road accidents or health emergency because of the lack of proximity to the nearest hospital or health centres. It is also important that the leaders of the nations in Africa think very much of training experts and equipping the hospitals with the basic necessary tools for good performance. We notice that many of our leaders prefer to go abroad for medical reasons whereas their transport and medical expenses could even buy one equipment needs for a local check-up in their home country. This kind of equipment could be used for other people as well. The world is so transformed and developed that we cannot afford to do the same old things again and again.
Imagine each community decides to plan the community very well, put in place a good road network, water, electricity, telephone systems, a play ground, places of worship, schools, markets, social centres, etc and not leave everything in a disorganized way. This is achievable if only the people want it, since without the interest of the people taken into consideration nothing can be done and done properly. The total reliance on governments will not bring the needed results, but that does not mean that governments should shirk their responsibilities but should be expected to contribute their quota to the efforts of the local people. It is important also for the local people to demand through peaceful means support from their respective governments.
Life is not static, everyday, we see new developments in every sphere of life and this should also be the lot of the people in Africa. The changes happening in the world are so fast that since we are already behind in this area of scientific and technological development, we need to triple our steps if we are to realize any progress at all. The effort to do that has been made easier through the use of the internet and technology transfer. But in all these, we need the will to do that, since where there is a will, there is always a way. Everyone should, therefore, get involved in Africa’s transformation and work tirelessly and selflessly to make Africa’s dream to be a place of peace and tranquility, a place of plenty and opportunities, and a place of beauty and wholeness a reality.
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