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Reviewed by:
  • Participatory Development in Kenya
  • Ishmael I. Munene
Mwanzia, Josephine S., and Robert C. Strathdee. 2010. Participatory development in Kenya. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.182 pp. $99.95 (Hardcover).

"People-centered principles," observed Ray Jennings, an influential participatory development advocate, "have influenced the course of western culture . . . often changing the bearings of education, business, public policy and international relief and development programs."1 Thus, a participatory development (PD) ethos has become the mantra of international donor funding and the darling of discourse in academic literature. But how well do policy pronouncements and scholarly theories fare in the practical world of development-project implementation? It is this age-old question that the work by Mwanzia and Strathdee, an in-depth study of the OPEC-funded Basic Education Improvement Project (BEIP) in Kenya employing the PD model, seeks to address.

Based on Mwanzia's doctoral dissertation at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, the book provides an incisive exploration of how PD fails in its mandate of promoting participatory democracy, project sustainability, social transformation, and empowerment of disadvantaged and marginalized people. It does so because BEIP was conceived with "technocrats' and donors' top-down mindsets and the use of representatives, aid assistance and technical experts to seal perceived knowledge and information gaps on the part of the disadvantaged people" (p. 159). Because the aid-delivery partnership was "underpinned by competitive and market principles" (p. 161), it failed to challenge the existing power relations leading elite-to-elite networks of donors and government technocrats, which excluded the disadvantaged.

Mwanzia and Strathdee's book successfully triangulates field data, official documents, and academic literature to offer theoretical insights into the failure of PD in BEIP. The first two chapters sketch out the rationale, theoretical, and methodological basis of the study. The dearth of empirical studies to verify the efficacy of BEIP as a model of "participation, partnerships, empowerment, social change and sustainability" (p. 5) catalyzed the qualitative study. A compendium of theories informing PD is dissected in chapter two, with the authors settling on Ife's model of community development as the appropriate analytical framework after navigating through modernization, dependency, alternative development, empowerment, and citizen-participation models. Inasmuch as the chapters are detailed, a major lacuna is the glaring absence of the African perspective. African scholars have produced works that have focused on participatory development and democracy, including Mwiria's seminal work on the harambee school movement in Kenya, which could have been referenced in the section on harambee schools.2 The Council for Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) has produced voluminous Afrocentric critiques on neoliberalism and alternative development which could have enriched the theoretical analyses in these foundation chapters. [End Page 106]

In chapter three, "The New Centralism," the authors use Ife's model to illustrate how "BEIP promoted decentralization of responsibilities to the marginalized groups and individuals whilst retaining the authority to make decisions at the center" (p. 39). This detailed chapter, with discussions of the management structures from the local units to the national level, captures the process through which bureaucratic technical expertise, aid powers, and representative democracy were responsible for the exclusion of disadvantaged people from decision-making processes. Save for repetitiveness here and there, the chapter is quite instructive. The same is true of chapter four, development cooperation, partnerships, and accountability, which examines how policies, approaches, and principles undergirding the partnership empowerment and social transformation of the disadvantaged failed and negated sustainable development. Partnership arrangements increased, rather than reduced, elite power. Use of technical expertise and aid assistance increased competition, rather than cooperation; the management structure increased upward, rather than downward accountability; aid-delivery mechanisms increased foreign aid dependency, rather than government responsibility. Undue focus on structural reforms, as opposed to a transformative one, therefore enhanced the vulnerability of the disadvantaged through BEIP.

The consequences of these structural arrangements in the management of BEIP are explored in chapter five, on methods, processes, and outcomes of participation in BEIP. Mwanzia and Strathdee delve into the workings of the school management committees, boards of governors, and parent-teacher associations in terms of project planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and the attendant impact on the disadvantaged. The outcome...


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