I increasingly find myself wondering whether those of us who have tried to achieve development gains in difficult governance environments have framed our interventions in ways which almost ensure that they are judged as failures – and leave us (and the development community more broadly) feeling dispirited. But perhaps beneath the blanket judgment of ‘failure’, if one looked closely one might find valuable partial successes – which, if we were willing to embrace as such, could offer a sense of hope and possibility. (Surely, in a complex, difficult world partial successes are worthwhile!). Take the example of the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline Project.
[An extract of the discussion of the Chad Cameroon pipeline project in Working with the Grain is available in the “specific themes” section of this website. Click here for easy navigation to the detailed Chad-Cameroon discussion. ]
Many of us will remember the Chad-Cameroon project as an enormously ambitious, and enormously controversial effort to support a very large investment in oil extraction, in a very weak institutional environment – and to do so in a way which ensured that Chad would realize the fiscal benefits, and leverage them to support poverty reduction. But, with the World Bank pulling out prematurely in 2007, we are likely to also think of it as a grandiose, expensive, hubristic failure.
Interestingly, though, when I teach the case to my students at Johns Hopkins SAIS students, this is not their conclusion. (The average student in SAIS’s International Development program is in his or her late 20s, has spent time in the developing world, and is committed to a career in international development; fewer than half are Americans.) I explain the design and intent of the project, and detail what had been the impact as of 2010 (what I found on this came as something as a surprise to me…..). I then ask them whether (i) knowing what the World Bank did at the time it was right to support the project? And (ii) knowing what was the project’s consequences, they nonetheless think it was worth supporting? Strikingly, the vast majority come out in favor of the project.
I am eager to hear from others who are familiar with the project whether you agree with my students, or think that they (and I) are being blindly overoptimistic. So do please post a comment – either here or on my blog site, where you will find further detail on the project and some of its consequences. (And while you’re at the blog site, I’d be thrilled if you signed up to receive the blog on a regular basis — on one of the links at the side or the bottom of this page.
Also, for a comprehensive elaboration of the idea that we are unwilling to embrace as worthwhile outcomes where the glass is half-full, take a look at my new book — by exploring the other pages of this website, or purchasing the book itself (including a Kindle version, available at Amazon).