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AFRO-NETS> Decentralisation

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> Decentralisation
  • From: Dieter Neuvians MD <neuvians@harare.iafrica.com>
  • Date: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 15:09:52 -0400

[The following three messages are from a discussion at DECENTR-L -mailing=20
list and might be interesting for our colleagues in countries which have=20
recently embarked on 'decentralisation' D.N. Mod.]


From: Sylvia Vriesendorp <SVRIESENDORP@MSH.ORG>

Good day everyone, my name is Sylvia Vriesendorp. As a psychologist, my=20
interest in decentralisation has to do with power and how people deal with=
the shift in power that comes (and goes) with decentralisation. My=20
experience has been that everyone loves talking about decentralisation, but=
when money and people are suddenly no longer under one's control,=20
decentralisation loses its appeal.

My question is first to those of you who are at the centre, and are asked=20
(or told) to "give power away" to the periphery, especially as this relates=
to resource decision making power that you have now. What goes on in your=20
innermost thoughts, what makes you want to hold on, and what will make you=
let go. When decentralisation hits one in the guts, what happens?

To preserve the symmetry, I'd like to ask another question to those who are=
at the periphery, who are not currently having the resource decision making=
power. I have seen people balk at the new responsibility, because=20

(a) they don't quite know how to, and/or=20
(b) it takes away the luxury of being able to blame higher-ups for things=20
that are going wrong. This is the other gut reaction I'd like to explore.

I realise I am asking for some candid responses, and I am wondering if this=
is the right medium. I am trying to understand the influence of the=20
personal power dynamics so that we can better lay the foundations for=20
decentralisation. It is obviously not just an administrative directive or a=
policy edict that will make decentralisation work. There is a lot of=20
tilling of the soil involved, and we tend to focus on the systems,=20
structures, procedures and capacity building aspects of it. But what about=
the psychological aspects? I could use some help in figuring out how the=20
psychological tilling might work. Thanks for responding to this.

Sylvia Vriesendorp

From: Pierre Viens <Pierre.Viens@CCISD.ULAVAL.CA>

I am neither at the centre or at the periphery. I am simply in charge of a
project dealing with aspects of decentralisation of health services in
Mali, and I have been involved in this aspect in Benin and elsewhere. I
have somewhat 30 years experience in (West) Africa.

The main problem concerning "decentralisation" is that it questions very
deeply and abruptly a whole culture of hyper-centralisation which goes
beyond administrative aspects. Decentralisation, when it comes to implement
it above and over reports, intentions and official declaration, signifies a
profound political revolution.

There should be no confusion between "decentralisation" (=3D give power to
the periphery) and "deconcentration" (=3D administrative illusion of power
transfer). The basis of power at the Ministers' level is precisely their
facility to decide directly of everything and everybody. There is no
surprise if international strategies (World bank and others) are discretely
yet efficiently kept into failure by those people about to loose their
historical power.

Pressure from end-users is essential since power has never been given away
in history by those holding it, but rather taken up by those needing it. I
consider decentralisation as a mere manifestation of democratisation, both
processes being at least equally essential to their mutual success.

Pr=82sident et Directeur scientifique,
Centre de cooperation internationale en sante et developpement Inc.(CCISD)
2180 Ch. Ste-Foy, Quebec (Canada) G1K7P4
Tel: +1-418-656-7801
Fax: +1-418-656-2627


From: Sylvia Vriesendorp <SVRIESENDORP@MSH.ORG>

Pierre Viens writes "Pressure from end-users is essential since power has=20
never been given away in history by those holding it, but rather taken up=20
by those needing it. "

Does this then imply that we are going about decentralisation completely=20
the wrong way? That all our efforts about new systems and procedures are=20
just a waste of everyone's time? I have suspected so, therefore my=20
questions. Decentralisation is essentially in my view a revolutionary=20
process; but I'd like to see whether there are ways other than "fomenting=20
uprisings at the bottom", because in the end the new bosses do just the=20
same as the people they replaced. As a psychologist, I am working from a=20
different paradigm, and keep wondering how we can help the process along=20
without falling into the age-old "you lose I win" trap. I am convinced it=20
doesn't have to be that way.

Sylvia Vriesendorp

To join the DECENTR-L list, send e-mail to listserv@mail.msh.org with a=20
blank subject line and the words "subscribe decentr-l" in the body of the=20
message (leave out the quotes).

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