Municipal Councils, International NGOs and Citizen Participation in Public Infrastructure Development in Rural Settlements in Cameroon

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Cameroon, Citizen participation, Public infrastructure, Self-help, Rural settlements

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The study reported in this paper is premised on a belief in citizen participation (CP) as a viable cost-saving strategy for public infrastructure provisioning in rural human settlements in particular, and in the development process in general, in Africa. The prowess of CP is widely acknowledged in the development literature. However, there is a dearth of knowledge on how to go about promoting CP especially in rural human settlements. The study contributes to efforts to reverse this situation by highlighting the activities of major institutional actors involved in CP initiatives in public infrastructure development in rural Cameroon. One international non-governmental organization (NGO), Helvetas, and four government rural councils based in the Northwest Region of Cameroon constitute the empirical referent for the study. It is revealed that the NGO served as the main source of funds, technical and organizational expertise, while the councils coordinated and oversaw the CP activities designed to manage and maintain the public infrastructure projects. It is also shown that exogenous factors (e.g., interference by national authorities) and endogenous problems (e.g., scarcity of skilled labour) conspired to thwart the efforts of the councils. Furthermore, the tendency on the part of national authorities to appropriate locally-realized projects was identified as a critical barrier to CP. The paper concludes that the willingness of citizens to contribute in-kind or financially to any given self-help infrastructure project is contingent upon the extent to which they perceive the project as veritably theirs. The Cameroonian experience holds potentially valuable lessons for CP efforts in rural infrastructure development in other developing countries.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Habitat International, v. 35, issue 1, p. 101-110