Bangladesh Power Change Part III

– Grameen Bank changed my life, says the village woman Geddy, – Now I do not have to borrow money from Shamsul Huq. He does not have the roof on me anymore, she says.
NEW WAYS TO POWER: At a time when agriculture has gradually lost importance and he has been out competed as a money lender, Shamsul Huq has nevertheless managed to create a new niche. He has become a useful supporter of people trying to find work outside the village. Through his large network of contacts, he has managed to get jobs for many of the village’s inhabitants.
– Without the support of Shamsul Huq, I do not have a chance to get a job, even though I was among the best in high school, says a young man in the neighborhood.

Shamsul Huq may incur some expenses in such contexts, but charges both financially and politically for the services he renders to people from the village. Many people have to pay part of their salary to Shamsul Huq for long periods if the latter has had financial expenses to get the job. In addition, he expects loyalty in the election of representatives to the district council and school board and in matters where Shamsul Huq has financial interests, for example, geographical location of infrastructure and projects.

7: Harder to be authoritarian

External influence, including the greater role of aid actors, has caused Shamsul Huq to lose much of its power over the poor in the village. He realizes that. But he still fights a daily battle to remain the strong man in the village. Among other things, he must “secure” his land properties, which he acquired, partly with dubious means, in his years as a money lender. He is also still dependent on a network of supporters to gain control of new projects coming to the village.

The former road bureaucrat Shamsul Huq is no longer alone on the pinnacle of local power. Today, he competes, to a far greater extent than before, with other rich men in the area to gain control over resources that come down to the district and village level. Also these men (it is only men) are rich landowners and have connections to powerful men outside their villages. Some of them are also employed by the district and local government authorities or elected to the district council. In this struggle, he must use new methods to defend his position of power.

He knows the importance of having his people placed on councils, committees and commissions. It is in these bodies that decisions are made about projects and measures that are to receive support and where they are to be located geographically.

– In February 2011, there were fights between supporters and opponents of Shamsul Huq in connection with the election of representatives to the district council, says Kashem Ali. (Daily Star, the leading English-language newspaper in Bangladesh, estimated that about 40 people were killed during the Bangladesh local elections in 2011) Shamsul Huq’s candidate received 3,500 votes but was missing 500 to be elected. The candidates running for office represent the major national political parties.

At the local level, however, there are few ideological dividing lines between the parties, and the election is first and foremost a personal election. Both men and women, old and young, vote for the candidate they think can best secure their interests. The village and the family will usually support a candidate who they believe can get projects for the village, find work for them both inside and outside the village. The election campaign for the district council can take place over several months. There is a lot of bargaining over the votes.

A village without its own candidate can still benefit from the election if the inhabitants vote in large numbers for a candidate with whom agreements are entered into. Then they can be promised to be assigned projects, better roads and schools if the candidate wins. The powerful of the villages can therefore put strong pressure on what women and men should vote for. There is little indication that the political development in the villages of Bangladesh is moving in the direction of less personification.

8: Important with local knowledge

How representative is the description of the power game in Bhaimara for the countryside in Bangladesh? In all the villages in Bangladesh, there are powerful men with networks of contacts who in various ways dominate the economic and political life. They are also central to the game of gaining control over aid. Precisely such power relations and power games as are found in Bhaimara, form an important framework within which aid operates – this is how Bhaimara is a fairly typical village in Bangladesh, a country located in Asia according to

Aid providers have not been sufficiently aware of this framework. They often have almost all their focus on overall planning and coordination at a high level. They are good at conferences and seminars on development assistance and development, but know very little about the obstacles that development assistance faces when it is to be implemented in practice.

We have little local knowledge, presence and proximity to where the development assistance is to show its results. One reason for this is that there is little understanding that we need such knowledge and therefore no systems to reward those who acquire such knowledge.

A thorough political and economic analysis of local conditions where development assistance is to work should be a prerequisite when support is given to projects at the local level. Without this, development assistance can risk doing more harm than good.

Bangladesh Power Change 3

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