International Development Planning Review

The mechanics of communitarianism and social capital in North-West Cameroon

International Development Planning Review (2005), 27, (4), 427–449.

Abstract

Communitarianism and social capital have become fundamental tools in citizen efforts towards rural and urban renewal as communities battle to implement alternative development packages. This paper situates the ongoing debate in selected localities of the North-West Province of Cameroon, with an emphasis on the role played by home town associations in community development. Of central importance is the concern that quasi-traditional 'social capital' is in short supply and has conflicting effects, preventing development initiatives from coming to fulfilment. It is observed that community building is underpinned by gender relations within and beyond communities, as in-cash and in-kind contributions are mobilised for the execution of key projects such as the construction of bridges and community halls, renovation of school buildings and health centres, digging and maintenance of earth roads and the provision of pipe-borne water. Village Development Associations (VDAs) are finding it hard to undertake large-scale development projects, such as rural electrification, provision of water supply and construction, of roads and health centres, which require substantial capital investment and heightened participation by the population they serve. VDAs are also affected by a litany of financial improprieties, elite manipulation, a politicised environment and variations in levels of participation by both rural and urban men and women. In spite of the increased awareness of the need for associational life, the paper concludes that VDAs are not having an easy ride in community drives towards addressing poverty and building much-needed infrastructure.

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Fonchingong, Charles