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2. Legitimacy. The question of NGOs’ legitimacy has often been raised. Who do they speak for? Who do they represent? (Morvan, 2000). To avoid this type of question, they must position themselves as a third party which is helping to construct the main relationship between populations and the State. If they do this, they will not be taking the place of neighbourhood organizations, political parties or State structures. NGOs must see themselves as “facilitators”, opening up access to rare resources and instituting relational processes. They must abandon the claim they sometimes make that they are the sole representatives of civil society.

V. General framework of action: Policies to fight urban poverty as the product of a relational framework.

V.1. Problems often encountered in “well intentioned” strategies A number of limitations and dangers are contained in strategies to fight poverty, and in the very concept of poverty, engendered by the way in which most of these policies are implemented (Merklen, 2001). Four main problems can be distinguished in the current tenor of policies to fight poverty: The concept of poverty often restricts possible strategies in the field of social action. How is the “war on poverty” waged? Food, “welfare” or clothes are handed out, dispensaries, primary schools and community canteens are built, benefits are given out in exchange for community work, living conditions are improved by providing drainage or access to drinking water, etc. Three guiding principles often govern action strategies. At State level decentralization is advocated, focusing is the key word for defining objectives and, at the implementation stage, participation is advised as a stepping stone to good governance. It can already be said, however, that after more than ten years’ systematic implementation of these policies, the balance sheet in terms of poverty alleviation is clearly negative at all levels.

Why is this approach followed? Because the image of a “poor” person is that of a person (or a community) who lacks something: “To be poor is to be hungry, to lack shelter and clothing, to be sick and not to be treated, to be illiterate and receive no education” (World Bank, 2000a). The argument is that since poor people lack something, it should either be given to them or they should be helped to acquire it. One of the most widespread consequences of this approach is the fragmentation of social policies. “Target” populations are “focused on”: women, children, the disabled, old people and alcoholism, young people and drugs, slums and delinquency, peasants and the land. . . . As if there were no common denominator between them.

The poor, then, are tagged as members of problem categories and it is on these grounds that they are called on to “participate”. And to improve the accuracy of targeting and to be more responsive to the demands of participation, it is necessary to be close to the grassroots. Hence “decentralization”.


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