By Prof. Osman Warfa
There is need for research in order to advance our socio-economic development and specifically the advantages of community-based participatory research (CBPR). This is the prefer model for conducting research in the community as it recognizes that working in partnership with the community is preferable, and more ethical, than conducting research on a community. Moreover, CBPR may be referred to as the “fourth estate” in research as it provides rural communities and poor urban dwellers, and disfranchise minorities a voice and a capacity that they didn’t had in the past as they were used as laboratories for distorted development activities.
The CBPR approach does not countenance conducting research on a community or even in a community, but rather with a community at equal level. This means there is equal partnership between the researchers and the community in which the research is to be conducted. The community participates together with the academic or government research team in every stage of the research. That is first identifying the research problem, defining the research question, developing the protocol, conducting the investigation, analyzing the data, and disseminating the result of the study.
We need to change concepts such as community ownership, community empowerment, community-building, community development and community partnership in local context. In western counties these terms are used frequently by academic researchers, funding agencies and those involved in policy making. Changing those concepts are necessary because African communities are dealing with other sets of concepts such as poverty, food insecurity, violence, refugees, displacement, unemployment and underemployment, poor and or substandard housing, drinking water and unsanitary environment. We are seeking our responses to these social determinates and we cannot be viewed only as a group to be research on or intervene upon. We should rather be understood as people capable of participating in the determination of their own priorities and capable of solving their problems.
Besides contending with underdevelopment and economic deprivation, there are structural factors that impact our well-being, such as poor governance, waste of public resources, insecurity, terrorism, corruption, nepotism, discrimination, and tribalism. We also deal with socio-environmental factors that affect our health more than it does residents of economically develop countries. These factors contribute to the struggle in transitioning from traditional community setting of collectivism to modern concept of individualism as a result of modernization or economic progress producing the “haves” and “haves not” or dualism in our socio-economic settings.
The rich and poor are the two contradicting segment of the economy. The traditional or informal sector and the modern sector we inherited from colonialism and mismanaged by post-colonial oppressive regimes. Hence the two cultures that embrace diverse beliefs about wealth and upward mobility in our social constructs. As an example, consider how modern sector treat our fellow African refugees who escape violence, civil strife, and political instability in their home countries. We forget these are our neighbors and who knows we may be refugees in their countries in future. Did we not have Kenyan refugees in Uganda as a result of villainous 2007 general election?
The opposing cultures are based on dualistic nature of our two sector economy. Two separate but symbiotic sets of markets within our national social framework. The social and cultural distance between the two often results in misunderstandings, distrust, and mutual suspicion. Equally, there is distrust and suspicion between academic researchers and our communities, specially, the poor segment. A partnership between academic researchers and the community could take leadership roles in developing ways to bridge this distance of mistrust. The modern or the culture of the rich is individualistic, competitive, and organized around individual social mobility primarily through education. On the other hand, the traditional or the poor culture is expected to fit into this mold and assimilate. The culture of the poor farmers subsisting on agriculture, the nomad subsisting on herding in the arid and semi-arid land is collective and cooperative and success is achieved through the family or group achievements.
My nomadic community for instance place emphasis on family and community development rather than individual achievement. What this means in daily life is that there is a perpetual conflict or tension between modern and traditional or rich and poor – a conflict between individualism and communal attitude. That is why our younger generation find themselves living in a dualistic world. They are caught between two different expectations. On the one hand, they are told go to school and study hard to succeed. On the other, they are often confronted with the rich class consumerism and the modern sector. At the same time, their poor nomadic parents tell them to eschew rich people values and behaviors and remain loyal and obedient to the family and community.
The rich or modern sector strategy is accumulate more wealth by any means, including looting public resources, thieving from the poor, avoiding taxation, blundering the natural resources of the country, county, and so on. On the other hand, the traditional or poor sector strategy is feeding the family, adjusting to the new culture and economic reality, working towards family and community development.
Prof. Osman Warfa is researcher based in USA and author of the book ‘Somali Diaspora Organization Development: Implications for HRD’.