This paper tries to explain why development projects experts who follow the modernization theory fail to implement and sustain development projects when they do not consult and involve project beneficiaries in the planning. At times, these projects even become a burden for beneficiary communities. External factors usually greatly influence development to the Third World. This paper suggests ways beneficiaries can participate in their projects.
This paper will explain the origin of modernization theory, literature pertaining to the theory, and a case study of an Internet project in Sengerema, alternative perspectives on development in the Third World, as well as conclusions and recommendations. Literature The origin of modernization theory can be traced to developments after the Second World War. At that time, the Third World had also emerged. At that time, there was a Cold War period; so in order for the US to prevent Third World countries from becoming socialist, the US introduced modernization theory to combat the socialism influence from the former USSR.
So, the modernization theory was the result of the US’ effort to prevent the spread of socialism (Hague, 1999). In that period, American graduate students and social scientists shifted their interest on issues like cultural change, economic development, social change and political stability to the Third World. However, all in all the modernization theory carries the ideas of Western advancement and development which usually are keys to examine and determine the political, cultural, social and psychological realities of Third World countries (Hague, 1999).
Consequently, modernization theory is often utilized to explain the past experiences and the current features of Western nations. Often modernization theory has been compared with Westernization. Therefore, modernization theory was for US interest and not to help the Third World to become developed. Some scholars have attempted to explain the theory of modernization, but most of them attempt to explain that it is a transformation from traditional ways of life to modernity.
Modernization is the social course of action where the economy is an element for development, while others say modernization is a process of social change, culturally, economic and socially ( Lerner, 1967). For that reason, theories of modernization are basically for the transformation of a society, especially by introducing modern technology. Since modernization theorists usually have Western thinking about development, Westerners view development from their own perspective and impose this perspective on others.
When they implement it, they usually think that if modernization theory succeeds in one part of the world, it may also work in other countries. Hague (1999) observed it and said the foundation of the modernization theory stems from the theory of neo-classical economy; and that it is for the economy of capitalist development. The modernization perspective is that the Western model of economic growth can be used and applied in other countries. For that reason, they try to introduce modern technology in projects at the local level and try to influence people to use modern technology.
At the same time, the experts of modernization theory advise Third World government officials for macro-level and aid organization to pressure them to set aside human services and education for economic growth. In that scenario, modernization theory is a top down approach because experts have their own ideas of development in Third World countries. They suggest it should be the same as in Western countries. Therefore, they want to guide, advice, and persuade people from the Third World about the benefits they will gain from that modern technology. However, Third World people have their own priorities for their development.
For that reason, usually experts do not involve potential beneficiaries in the plan or project, which is why some projects fail. I agree with scholars who observed that “there is no universal path to development. Each society must find its own strategy” (Friberg and Hettne, 1985, p. 220). Using the case of the Sengerema Internet Project in Rural Tanzania, this research explores why top-down attempts to apply modernization theory in Third World countries fail; and whether modernization theory can successfully be applied in Third World countries using participatory bottom-up approaches?
Case study: The Sengerema Internet Project The Sengerema MCT is the Tanzania’s pilot rural telecenter sponsored with the US $648,888 and the International Development Research Center (IDRC), The International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizational (UNESCO) for three in 2001. The Sengerema district is a rural poor area in the Mwanza region. According to the 2002 census, Tanzania has the population of 34. million and has a land area of 960,000 km2. The majority of people in Tanzania live in rural areas; only 20% live in urban areas. According to the Tanzania electric company Basic Facts (2002), with a population of 34. 5 million, only 10% of this people are connected to the electric grid. For that reason, many people lack access to the internet, especially those who live in rural areas. People who live in rural areas have some immediate development priorities related to the areas where they live.
In Tanzania, people in rural areas need safe drinking water, proper medications, proper education, and infrastructure like roads; but if these things are not there, I do not think these people will find internet projects beneficial for them. In the first world, the internet is very important. If today the internet collapses in America for example, there will be a lot of problems. For instance, businesses, universities, banks and hospitals might have to stop operations at least temporarily. But, in Tanzania this would not happen. In most of the third world this would not happen.
Even in first world countries they did not establish the internet before safe drinking water, health facilities, and infrastructures were put in place. In Tanzania, most of the internet users perceive the internet as a luxury because most of them do not use the internet for shopping, banking or for education like in other developed countries like America, UK or Denmark, internet users still have a long way to go to find internet as important for their life. That is why the third world countries need to go step by step in development and not follow other people for plans in their development.
Governments and non-governmental organizations have to have realistic priorities for the development of the people. So people have to develop step-by-step and they have to prioritize their development strategies, which may be different than the priorities of other countries. The government has to determine these priorities instead of listening to external experts, which have their own perspectives for development. Because their perspectives are different it does not work out the way they plan.
The center of Sengerema does not have proper health care facilities; people from there need to go to the city of Mwanza for health care. This could make it difficult if someone gets sick at night because it would be difficult to reach to city due to transportation barriers or infrastructure. People may ask why there is internet while we do not have medicine in hospitals, poor infrastructure and safe drinking water. There is a continuing debate about how important it is to have an internet project in places which do not have safe drinking water or telephone services.
Health workers say the internet will provide them with access to health information and others say that the internet will not provide the health supplies that are desperately needed such as syringes or aspirin. This indicates a conflict in the consideration of needs ( Panos 1998a:1). The languages in Third World countries exclude the majority from accessing information from the internet. The language mostly used in the World Wide Web is English. Most people in rural areas do not speak English.
Unless the language in the internet is in their local language and also from their cultural perspective, people will not use the internet. But if the internet is for chat rooms and games, which it is for the youth, the rural community will not participate and will not use the internet when they are not convinced it will help them (Gumucio-Dagron & Dlamini, 2007). Tanzania users face the same problem, particularly in the rural areas. The majority is marginalized because they lack access to the internet; people use Kiswahili as medium for communication.
However, most of the web languages are languages from Western countries; and people do not know how to speak or read those language. Even in Tanzania, most of the embassies use English for their web sites. It is only the Tanzania government which uses English and Kiswahili. The government is promoting the use of internet, but it does not explain about the medium of communication in the web. I agree with Mafu (2000), who said that language barriers make most people not have access to internet; and also most people in Tanzania their English level is low.
So in Tanzania not only is there technical problems, but also the language which widely used for internet information hinders people’s access to the information. For example, web information is dominated by French and English. For that reason, an internet user has to be one who knows the English language. If the government wants people to use the internet, it has to promote Kiswahili to be used in the World Wide Web. Kiswahili is spoken not only in Tanzania, but also from East and Central Africa. So if internet projects are established, they will not benefit people; and people will not participate.
They will not contribute toward sustainability. Perhaps when they are forced to do so, but it will be hard. People need something that is useful for their daily lives or which may raise their voice. But, if they do not know how to use it is impossible to adopt new technologies, such as the internet. Moreover, most people cannot purchase computers, so people who want to access the internet have to go to an internet cafe. People who live in rural areas cannot afford to buy computers. This is also often true for people who are middle class and who live in cities.
Most of these internet projects fail because people cannot participate. And this project was intended for local people. Therefore, usually donors establish those projects without seeking participation from beneficiaries during the project planning and development stages. Therefore, it will not help people to develop. Instead, they will dependent on donors; this is not development, it is dependency. Alternative perspectives on Development in Third World The following are some of the alternative approaches to real and meaningful development.
Melkote (2001) he stresses the active participation of the local community or nation to have plans for development which will give them voice and benefit them. This will give them self reliance. There is also a need to mix traditional ideas with modern ones. These ideas may be blended which may be beneficial to the community. Through this approach, traditional culture can be sustained and not uprooted (Nandy, 1987). In modernization, it is assumed that development is the result of economic growth through industrialization; that is why they usually measure development via per capital and GNP levels.
By doing this, experts miss some important aspects in development which are physical, social, mental, cultural and spiritual growth in an atmosphere free from government or outside influence. So the author of the modernization theory, Rostow’s theory, did not consider these aspects, which makes his theory weak. That is why people who follow his theory assume Third World needs people from advanced nations to help them in modernization and lead them to development which is not true.
The Sengerema internet project is evidence. Though the modernization theory is weak, it has some advantages. Internet access in urban areas of Tanzania has helped people to communicate with other people around the world. Some students get information about course material from the internet. So in years to come, Tanzania will have some advantages such as banking through the internet, shopping and distance education and online supported schooling like other advanced countries. Conclusions & Recommendations
It is very important to consult and encourage people to participate in the internet and in other projects because if people will participate they find the plans are meaningful and it empowers them to lead the projects. They will also know how to contribute to the projects. So even the donors will leave the community, people will sustain the project because they know it is helpful for their development. For that reason, participation is very important from the beginning of the project and also for sustaining it.
In Sengerema after three years of funding, the sponsor finished the contract; and, the project management started charging those people in Sengerema to sustain the project, but that project was not helping them. The sponsor thought that the internet will provide profits for their beneficiaries, but it did not. I agree with Mercer (2004) that the project was a blue print. So the people of Sengerema have to contribute for that project which they were involved in before the planning and the establishment of the project since this project was expensive for them because the district council agreed to charge people Tsh 500.
Therefore, if sponsors talked with Sengerema people before they could find what those villagers want for development and not bring something that will be burden for them. With the limitations of accessing the internet in Tanzania, the majority of the beneficiaries in Sengerema were not using the services offered by the project. People should be involved in the planning and development because they are able to identify the problems that need to be addressed. It is not a bad idea to have internet projects in Sengerema; but if people were asked, they may say that health problems could be addressed using the internet.
An example of this may be telemedicine because there is a small medical school in Sengerema; and it could be beneficial to other parts neighboring Sengerema like Geita, which also has the same problems related to health care. Alternatively, the people from Sengerema could advise the donors to build the infrastructure and provide safe water before the internet is established. People would have put their input to sustain the projects because they see it is important for their life.
The most people from Sengerema use Kiswahili along with their local language; this also hinders them from accessing the internet. Most of them do not use the service; and also the material on the internet does not appeal to their culture because they may not find relevant information. Youth usually chat, send emails, play games and even view pornography; but for people in the rural areas, they do not find this information relevant because it does not appeal to their cultural values. People in Third World countries have their own ideas for development.
Someone from another country should not tell them how they should develop. People in Tanzania need safe water, health care and infrastructure like roads, railways and proper education. From there you can now talk about technology. But, if those things are not present, people will not understand what development is. If more internet sites will use Kiswahili and the local languages, and if the information from the internet is relevant to their culture, religion and environment, people will be attracted to using the internet.
However, these need to be put in place before experts establish the internet. The development strategies have to include beneficiaries; but in rural areas, most women and children are marginalized when it comes to using the internet. How to incorporate marginalized groups is another factor donors must consider. Beyond, the other challenges the project faces in terms of more pressing priorities, some factions of rural society need additional consideration in project planning and implantation to achieve sustainability.