SR article

Four African issues that may impact our project

During our project it is impossible to not come across some "African culture" aspects which will influence our performences. In this article we will elaborate on them and how to cope with them.

'Working with the grain'

In Hyden (Institutions, power and policy outcomes in Africa, June 2008), a phenomenon called 'working with the grain' is described. According to Hyden, people go in the direction where everyone else goes as well. Because of this, they stop thinking about what is actually happening and some problems (and solutions) are overlooked. For example, Hyden states that [27]: "(...) senior managers in the public service in Africa are reluctant to take innovative measures to change the incentive structure and the existing assignment of tasks." (p.28).

However, it could also be useful to go with the grain because this is how the government works. It is not always convenient to do something completely different than all the other people do. 

It can be concluded that it probably is best to go with the grain to a certain extent, but to avoid constraints at all times. That is also what we are going to do when we are in The Gambia. For example, the villagers there who have very little to eat, know that this is a problem. However, something new like dried food is not regularly accepted as a solution, because it is not something they have known for a long time now. For us, this is a major challenge. We are going to solve this problem by letting them know that we try to understand how they feel, talking a lot with these people to hear about their wishes and finally giving workshops with the knowledge that we have acquired.

 'Context of Corruption'

In the article “The Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa”, Sardan (1999) [28] writes about the complex of corruption. In this he takes into account more than only violating rules because of private-regarding influences. The complex of corruptions also includes "nepotism, abuse of power, embezzlement and various forms of misappropriation, influence-peddling, prevarication, insider trading and abuse of the public purse” (p.27).

In most African countries, and also in the Gambia, there is a lot of corruption in a lot of different forms. It is important to be aware of the informal ways things are being arranged. Though we do not want to contribute to corruption in any form, it is impossible to stay out of it and still getting things done. But even in daily life there is a lot of ‘petty corruption’ which we’ll probably won’t be able to avoid all the time. This is the small forms of corruption you will have to deal with policeman, custom officers, in hospitals etc. We will try to avoid any form corruption when possible, but have to accept that is part of the everyday life of the Gambian people.

Lack of ‘public domain’

Sardan (1999) [28] writes that one of the causes of corruption is the lack of a public domain. Because most African countries were formed by colonization, they don’t have the feeling of being one group as a country. Because the lack of this feeling, public administrators feel less of moral duty to do the right thing for the country, and more to do the right thing for a group they do feel connected with. This can be there family, a village or a tribe. By giving that group privileges, they practice corruption.

Because it is so common in the government and every other institution, it is a problem no one feels responsible to solve, even though a lot of people feel corruption is bad. It also causes that everyone keeps doing it, unconsciously but also because they are forced to do it to keep their position.

'Logic of Solidarity Network'

Because the complex of corruption is so widely spread through society people are forced to work with corruption as well. This is caused by the 'logic of solidarity network' [28]. Solidarity networks are social groups or networks like families, tribes and villages. Because everyone gives privileges to the people in their social networks, this also becomes the only way of getting things done. If you want to get a job, having the right skills is not enough: the only way is to know people who can give you the job. This way the logic of the solidarity network is a vicious circle.

In our project we have to be aware that in the Gambia there won't be a public domain and that solidarity networks will be important. This is not the way we are used to work and we may see it as a form of corruption, but we have to be careful not to insult people doing things in a different way. For example when involving people in helping with our project, it may be better to ask an important member of the village than just the person who we think has the best skills, in order to keep the respect of the rest of the village.


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