Addressing Socio-economic Disparities


In my experience, most of the problems that arise in community decision making, particularly when natural resources are concerned, stem from basic disparities within the community. Often one part of the community feels like it has historically had less of a ‘share’ in something and thus pushes a more extreme agenda, sometimes only to antagonise those that they consider to have benefitted disproportionately. When considering a specific region, it becomes necessary to take into account these disparities and enact measures that create, or at least create the illusion of, a level playing field. In less-developed areas with important natural wealth, it is crucial to define collective ownership and responsibility at the earliest possible time. It is within an organisation that these disparities can be addressed gradually and systems put in place to ensure balance, particularly where the allocation of funds is concerned. One system that has worked in my experience is defining clearly the development objectives of various areas and prioritising them numerically relative to objectively considered needs so that when funds are available to the organisation there is little room for argument, given that the priorities have been previously agreed upon in the the absence of funds, the arrival of which are often a source of great tension. 


There is an old saying in the Samburu language which translates as ‘a decision made by few is more effective than one made by many’. While this may seem to directly contradict the idea of collective decision making, it stresses the need for unity amongst the community and the careful choice of leadership. Once a certain leadership system is established they should be allowed greater freedom to make and implement their decisions. This brings us back to civic intelligence and the importance of defining clear overlying objectives that are permanent guidelines even though leaders may change.


We must define the principles on which we intend to develop, against which we may analyse a particular case. Principles could include environmental preservation, cultural preservation and equitable distribution of wealth but would be specific to a particular area and its features.