International Development Planning Review

Investigating community constructed rural water systems in Northwest Cameroon: leadership, gender and exclusion

International Development Planning Review Ahead of print, 1–24.


Many rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa have a long history of community cooperation and local-led development projects harnessed to improve the delivery of water services. This study examined issues of local leadership across various community-built rural water supply (CBRWS) in the Mbengwi, Njinikom and Ndu districts of Northwest Cameroon. The study found that where there was an absence of public water supplies, coupled with high levels of rural poverty, CBRWS projects were able to ensure a water supply lifeline. These projects were effective in communities where local leadership structures were strong, due to their ability to ensure high levels of community participation. Such communities experienced improved welfare and enhanced quality of life. Thus, involving community members in issues concerning their own development, coupled with good local-level leadership are crucial aspects of successful rural development projects. The study also found that, in all cases, local leadership was patriarchal and exclusionary. Labour, cash and in-kind support were donated by the residents but women and youths did not have a voice to participate in decisions relating to the community projects conferred upon them. Thus, community participation in these projects cannot be equated with promoting grassroots or participatory democracy. Rather it reinforced traditional hegemonies.

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Author details

Tantoh, Henry

Mckay, Tracey