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Observations and Anecdotes from a Mzungu.

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For Focus94 Tadgh Daly spoke about his volunteer experience in Zambia.

Three and a half months into my stint here in Zambia is probably a good time to provide a low-down on what I’m actually doing here work-wise.

The focus is around “capacity building” (development worker jargon for training) of ‘physical planners’ at district council level. A physical planner is essentially a combination of what are specialised fields in the Anglophone world including strategic/forward planning, urban design, assessment of planning applications, surveying and planning enforcement, all done very badly if at all.

This is happening during a large national process of decentralisation, where the responsibilities are being devolved from Provincial Government level (where I am based) to district Council level. Over the past few governments the local Councils have been left to their own devices and are pretty much a shambles in most things they do. In relation to here, the standard of service delivery of government that you complain about in whatever country you are in is probably like trying to make a comparison between an aged gruyere and easy singles.

Until a few years ago practically none of them had qualified planners in their staff. Luckily 6 out of 9 Councils in my province now have university graduates employed which is major progress. All fresh out of college, maybe with a year’s works experience under their belt, most are relatively enthusiastic and bright. This is major progress. But these guys are expected (on their own) to take on the responsibilities of an entire planning department (if and) when the decentralisation process kicks in.

Currently they have little or no formal responsibilities. So my job in theory is to help these guys make that step.

Irish Aid have funded 4 of our placements. The overall aim of the project is to improve Governance in Zambia and they are also funding our project costs (fuel, accommodation and meals for our trips out to the district councils) I have to work with the group on everything and follow all the ridiculous government protocols and bureaucracy.

We had decided to focus on 5 districts in the northern province, rather than spread ourselves too widely. This involved traveling to each district, carrying out assessments on each council and eventually come to a decision on which ones to select.

An example of some of the challenges involved in this: Kaputa is probably the most distant district from here at around 390km, reasonable you will say. We couldn’t make this journey for the first 2 months due to the rains which last for 5 months. When we did, it took us over 9 hours in a 4×4 through crazy conditions.

In the end we only made it to 8 of the districts because one of them is on an island and the weather was so bad that the ‘ferry’ wasn’t operating for months so we ditched it from our study. Harsh!

Follow his blog at tadhgdaly.blogspot.com

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