Supporting rural Ni-Vanuatu’s own development: A critical analysis of two International Development Agencies’ approaches.


Vanuatu is an archipelago of eighty-three Islands that was colonised by the British and French. The colonial powers disrupted the subsistence livelihood, customary practices, and kinship system. Upon independence in 1980, Vanuatu faced competing tensions of revaluing significant elements of its culture and becoming a modern nation. A Council of Chiefs was established alongside a modern parliament and the push to a market economy sat uncomfortably alongside traditional subsistence. To develop the modern state Vanuatu became highly dependent on International aid, yet the frameworks and assumptions of donors and development partners delivering aid were at odds with Vanuatu culture and values. This has been most apparent in relation to the rural islands, which have largely retained subsistence lifestyles.

The role of International Development Agencies in supporting post colonised countries like Vanuatu is essential. Yet, scholarly literature provided evidence that the focus of development interventions is on the two large islands and their urban populations. They rarely reach rural islands, tend to be short term, and do not respond to local needs and cultural values. Hence, these approaches perpetuate a continuous need for further international assistance and undermine sustainable development goals.

The four literature themes discussed in this study are Vanuatu context, aid and development, human rights, and Community development. Vanuatu’s context comprises of eighty percent of rural population. Since its independence, Ni – Vanuatu were pressurised to adopted modern leadership style creating tension and confusion. Previous studies about Vanuatu suggested that an integration of the modern and traditional system of governance, legal, political and development is relevant. Vanuatu’s existing system of the Nakamal way has been identified by several researchers as a local mechanism that facilitated continuous dialogue relevant to people’s needs. However, whilst the Nakamal is a traditional way of facilitating dialogue, there is a critical literature that indicated that it also devalues women’s status and gives undue power to men.

Development aid in Vanuatu is accompanied by agreements between the government and donor and development partners. These agencies anticipated that Vanuatu would adopt a similar economic and social structure to advanced capitalist economies and engage the Vanuatu government in plans which are directed to that end. Their aim is to shape government, the legal system and the economy to reflect those of the west and little attention is paid to culture and custom. This produces tension in the urban cities and rural areas, but the rural islands try to ignore it and maintain their local ways. The tension is that whilst the rural areas want to retain their subsistence lifestyles, they do want services and facilities. They are affected by external values and their aspirations for things like education are changing. Aid to Vanuatu us important but there is emerging evidence in the literature that is will only be effective when it takes account of the Vanuatu context, culture, power relations, available local options and changing norms.

Research Type(s)
Thesis – Unpublished work
Submitted by Josephine Kalsuak
April 23, 2021
Published in
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