How do we unmake Development? : The people’s narrative

How do we unmake Development? : The people’s narrative

Mainstream notions of development exclude what development means to the different cultural groups and societies that exist, how they are shaped and consequently shape development. To understand and remake development, it is important to analyze development processes in specific contexts by considering people in specific societies and the kinds of development processes they encounter. In this essay, I will provide my reflections on the people’s narrative of development. My reflections will be based on two narratives; a situation I encountered years ago in my community in Ghana and secondly, my own personal experiences before arriving in the Netherlands for the first time. In my reflections, I will analyze the narratives using the concepts of “epistemologies of the South”, “Racialization in development” and “modernity as coloniality” Finally; I will propose some ideas from a post development lens. 

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and at about half past six in the morning, we heard the beaten of the gogong (Drum) in the community. An announcement was made and the news was that some “White-experts” would be visiting the community in a few weeks to facilitate some projects. We were told they would dig a borehole; they would distribute some “polished rice” and would bring electricity to the community. This was of course exciting news but it was received with mixed feelings. I overheard my grand mum saying “God-bless the White-man, he is always helping us. My neighbor on the other hand was not entirely happy about their coming. She told me softly “Ten years ago, an NGO came and after they left, my children started demanding the type of rice they brought us. They were no more enjoying our “local rice” we produced. My eldest son who was also supposed to take over the family farm after his dad also rejected farming and opted to go to school, anytime they arrive; our people learn something new and forget our own culture. 

As I reflect through these experiences, I find that though such development projects are mend to accelerate the well-being of these people, unfortunately, Aid in development in many ways continue reflect the “White-Gaze” of development  – a phenomenon that assumes whiteness as a primary referent point to power, progress and prestige (Pailey 2019:5). AID in development provides modern solutions to communities in the Global South without considering the culture and values of these people. How were these people living their lives before the AID? What is proof that the conditions of these people are poor and in need of new ways of living? AID and policy framework has in many ways undermined the values, beliefs and cultures of subjects of color. 

“Development has traditionally been about dissecting the political, socio-economic and cultural processes of black, brown and other subjects of color in the so-called global south and finding them regressive, particularly in comparison to the so-called progressive global North” (Pailey 2019 : 1) 

But why do certain “bodies” problematize the living conditions of other societies and appear to possess solutions to these so-called problems? The way that these conditions are rendered deficient, only works to confirm expert knowledge and positions certain groups of people in a particular way in the development enterprise (Li 2007:7). 

In my opinion, the living conditions of rural people from the Global South do not necessarily depict poverty. Walking by foot or living without electricity is not poverty. The people live under very simple conditions yet, if you compare them to most people living under modern conditions in the global north, there is no evidence that they live happier lives than them (Layard 2005).  

To what extent do global policy frameworks conflict with the values and beliefs of some of the people to whom they are mend to protect? I argue that although Global policies were enacted to accelerate the well-being of people, they have, to some extend not accommodated the cultural values of some societies.12Could it be because some values are considered superior, good and more appropriate and others inferior and inappropriate? If the policies are made for the “people”, then they must come from the “people”. Therefore, I join David Mosse in challenging the conventional idea of development policy: 

“What if the practices of development are in fact concealed rather than produced by policy? What if, instead of policy producing practice, practices produce policy, in the sense that actors in development devote their energies to maintaining coherent representations regardless of events?” (Mosse 2004:640

My second reflection is my personal journey to the Netherlands. What did this new adventure mean to me and my family? 

It is the first time I am living the borders of my country, Ghana to Europe. Like most people from the Global South, I had massive expectations. I had mainstream ideas about development. I envisioned what I would call the “perfect life” in the Netherlands. My expectation of life in the Netherlands was one that was easy, rosy, peaceful and exciting. I thought l had finally grasped the solutions to all my “problems” – good health, good money, good education and an easy life with technology at the core of such a “developed” country.  A journey to Europe was for me and my family, an end to “poverty”. It was as if a ticket to a place of wealth and perfection

 Of course, my expectations were the result of all the knowledge I had gathered about development and what the “good life” meant. But how did I come to know all of this? What informed my judgment about Europe being an epitome of perfection? Why did I think of Ghana, my own home, a place of suffering and lack? Was it because I was starving in Ghana?  

It is no surprise that I had all these expectations. Right from my first day at school, I had already learnt the difference between “developed” and “developing” nations. I had already identified my country as a “third world” country, depicting lack and poverty. This is how I internalized the “White-Gaze” of development.  

As I reflected on the concept of “epistemologies of the South” –An effort of decentering how we know what we know to transcend abyssal thinking characteristic of Western modernity (Santos 2015). I identified my experience as a part of the politics of knowledge – A basis for understanding the current inequalities in the generation, distribution and consumption of knowledge. How I came to know what I knew about Europe reflects the hegemonic ideas and knowledge about the West. 

How do we remake development? Based on my reflections, I propose some new ideas employed from post-development alternatives – Alternatives to unmake development through the interventions of new narratives, new ways of thinking and doing (Escobar 2007).  

What makes the subject of race, a continues struggle in the development project is the construction and use of the racialized terminologies. These categories already inform who is inferior and who is superior. For instance “third world” countries already portray a country as inferior and backward. Therefore, until we reconstruct these terminologies, “racialized” ideas will continue to exist.  

Knowledge should also be fairly produced and distributed. Non-Western knowledge should be included in academic literature and taught in schools. The Global South should rewrite their own narrative and claim their own identity and not the identity that has been given to them. It is important to teach their own history to their children both at home and in school. 

In conclusion, this essay reflected on my own personal experiences of the “white-gaze” and the narrative of my community. I analyzed these experiences using the concepts of “epistemologies of the South”, “Modernity as coloniality” and “racialization in development”. These narratives supported my argument that global policy framework is a reflection of Western cultural beliefs and practices. Therefore, the rich values and practices of some societies especially from the global South are excluded in policy framework. I also showed how people internalize the “White-Gaze” because of the bias in the way knowledge is produced and distributed. Finally, I proposed ideas to rethink development. 


de Sousa Santos, B., 2015. Epistemologies of the South: Justice against epistemicide. Routledge. 

Escobar, A., 2007. ‘Post-development’as concept and social practice. In Exploring post-development (pp. 28-42). Routledge. 

Layard R. Rethinking public economics: The implications of rivalry and habit. Economics and happiness. 2005 Dec;1(1):147-70. 

Layard, R., 2005. Happiness is Back.”. Felicidade e Políticas Públicas, 39

Li, T.M., 2007. The will to improve: Governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Duke University Press. 

Mosse, D., 2004. Is good policy unimplementable? Reflections on the ethnography of aid policy and practice. Development and change, 35(4), pp.639-671. 

Pailey, R.N., 2019. De‐centring the ‘White Gaze’of Development1. Development and Change

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *