Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NEVIS Review No 13, Section III, Ref # 13.3

NEVIS Review No 13, Section III  
Ref # 13.3
March 25, 2013
Development Ideas in ‘Post-colonial’ Africa
By Eyob Balcha


Ghana’s independence in 1957 championed under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah was a remarkable achievement by Ghanaians and an inspiration for other Africans who were under the yoke of colonialism. The years to follow, particularly the decade; 1960s, specifically has become a milestone period in the history of many African countries. The decolonization and independence that was achieved, most of the time, through fierce struggle and fighting was followed by a national mission of ensuring the socio-economic wellbeing of Africans. This mission by many newly independent African states coincided with the emergence of new vocabularies both in the intellectual and political-economy sphere like ‘Development’ and ‘Modernization’. Moreover this, the period has also witnessed the highest point of the political confrontation between the East and West ideological blocks.
Starting from the early days of independence, both development and modernization have been pursued by African states across various lines of thinking. This seemingly non-ending mission of achieving modernization and development has its own trajectory in which certain ideas are more dominant than others, some actors are more powerful than others and some contexts are more favorable or constraining than other situations.
Early Independence – African Socialism

One of the most powerful developmental ideologies during the early days of independence was African Socialism. It gained its dominance mainly because of the fact that it was conceptualized and operationalized by the two most respected Pan-African leaders, namely Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah. The fundamental thesis of African Socialism is ensuring the socio-economic, political and cultural development of Africa through the rehabilitation and reactivation of the pre-colonial African communal values and institutions (Nyrere, 1967). African socialism asserts that one of the negative impacts of colonialism is disintegrating African societies from their inherent nature of humanity pursued through communal life. These African values and orientations were supplanted by the colonizers and the ideals of individualism and materialism were introduced (ibid). But both Nkrumah and Nyerere believed that these African values have never died and should be revitalized and reintroduced to inform the missions of development and modernization.
Nyerere’s attempt to institutionalize African socialism in Tanzania is known for its name, ‘Ujamaa’, which means ‘family hood’ in Swahili. Indeed its conceptualization of socialism is also diametrically opposite to the fundamental principles of socialism in European context. The central point of is his assertion is about the irrelevance of the concept class and class conflict in African socialism. The pre-colonial Africa is a classless and communal society which embraces a unique form of Humanity and mutual respect. And African socialism is based on these principles of societal interaction where members of every community have the obligation to work and share their property and production.
Socialism is essentially about human equality. African socialism is an attempt of establishing a social order with egalitarian patterns of production and consumption, an egalitarian way of life among members of the community and ensuring the principles of equality and mutual respect in the moral and intellectual consciousness of citizens within the society. Nyerere argues that, though African socialism seeks to realize such a society with equality and human dignity, it is neither a Utopian project nor an ideal attempt which is unaware of unequal capacity of individuals both in their access and ownership of resources. It is rather an attempt of using the inequalities among people for the service and best interest of everyone’s equality. It is about creating a social order in which it is impossible to use such inequalities and individual strength to the exploitation and de-humanization of others. In his words; Nyerere said ‘… if the pursuit of wealth clashes with things like human dignity and social equality, then the latter will be given priority.’ (ibid)
These principles of African socialism demanded the presence a strong state intervention at every level. Indeed; even though it was not termed as African Socialism by many African states, there was a significant attempt of realizing development and modernization in African through state led projects and interventions. It is nearly to everyone’s agreement that the early period of independence was the most favorable period for most African countries, almost in every aspect. The state was heavily engaged in doing every business like investing on education, infrastructure, health, agriculture, industry and also ensuring social welfare for citizens. But the changing trend of ideas both at the intellectual and political economic spheres made such attempts of using the state machine for development less favorable, particularly in the endeavors of establishing a capitalist society.
The Periods of Structural Adjustment (Mid 70s and 80s)

The honey-moon period of state led development process and also promoting the ideals of African Socialism quickly vanished for lots of reasons. The changing global trend in the political economic philosophies and the heavy deficit that states have faced in their economies were the principal reasons to look for alternative ways of realizing development, specifically capitalist development. At this point, it can be argued that the ownership of African developmental ideals were no longer in the hands of Africans rather in the corridors and board-rooms of western financial institutions, donor agencies and countries.
Most African countries were forced to bow down to the political pressures and conditionalities of the so called ‘development partners’. Thus, they were required to abandon their mission of ensuring socio-economic development through their intervention rather by facilitating the presence of a free-market oriented economic system. The state was considered as incapable of ensuring fair resource allocation and realizing the required state of socio-economic development. Rather the market was sanctified as a sole institution for achieving the aspired development in Africa. It was based on this principle that most African countries were forced to adopt the Structural Adjustment Programs financed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Engberg-Pedersen et al, 1996, p. 4-8; Toye, 1994, p. 18-21)
The developmental quagmire that most African countries were facing forced them to become dependents on external actors, mainly to secure financial assistance for their development projects. The strict conditionalities they needed to fulfill more pleasing to the interest of the external actors than to the African states or their citizens. Hence, the periods of structural adjustment were merely periods of losing the grip in determining the developmental course that Africa aspires to take. One can mention the attempt of regaining the control over determining the developmental discourse in Africa particularly through the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the African Alternative Framework to the Structural Adjustment Programs (AAF-SAP). But the reality is these programs were not fully operationalized into the African political economy because of the mere fact that their philosophies, ideologies and principles were not pleasing enough for those who control the financial source.
Neoliberal and Developmental States - from 1990s till the present

Though the 1970s and 80s can be considered as the high-time for the influence of external actors in dictating developmental ideas for African states, the intervention has been continuing and manifested in different scenarios. The inclusion of the principles of good governance and human rights to the discourse of development, the continued assertion of ensuring the free market system in the political economy policies and strategies, the reformulation of the role of state as a facilitator for the private sector rather than as a leading actor in the economic sector are some of the basic ideas that remained dominant. And these principles become immensely incorporated into the political economic philosophies of African leaders than being externally imposed. The so-called the blue print of Africa’s renaissance, NEPAD, can be considered with this regard. There are serious critiques against the developmental ideals of NEPAD by many particularly against its unprecedented recognition of the neoliberal paradigm (Pederson et, al, 1996; Aina, 2004; Adesina, 2002; Adesina et al, 2006).
At present, the seemingly dominant discourse of African development revolves around the Developmental State paradigm as one can see the African Economic Report of 2011 by UNECA. But there is a paradoxical relation between the philosophies of NEPAD as an economic program of the AU and the developmental state philosophies of some African countries like Botswana and Ethiopia. The state is still considered as a vital player in managing the economic sphere to a higher degree in a developmental state, unlike the neoliberal. Perhaps, this can be one of the indicators for the challenge that the continent is facing in realizing a political and economic integration i.e. the problem of setting a sound political economic and development framework at continental level. Still, the ideas that are informing high level policy decisions and strategies are less influential with respect to each member states of the continent.
Finally, the ‘post-independence’ period can be characterized by its dynamism in upholding and disregarding certain developmental ideals. But the degree to which the ideals were informed by the internal needs, aspirations and intellectual consciousness of Africans has been declining significantly. It is certainly not because of the inability of African intellectuals or philosophers to conceptualize a comprehensive developmental framework that can be used both at continental and national level. Rather it is mainly because of the mere fact that development is also a political endeavor like the knowledge tenet that informs its origin. Hence, it does not matter whether it is right or wrong, rather who is benefiting.
Adesina, J. O., Graham, Y. and Olukoshi, A. (Eds). 2006, Africa and Development in the New Millennium, Zed Books Ltd., London, UK
Adesina, J. O. 2002, NEPAD and the challenge of Africa’s Development: towards a political economy of discourse. Paper presented for the 10th General Assembly of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Kampala, Uganda.
Aina, A. Tade, Chachage, S.L, Chachage and Annan_Yao, E (Eds.).2004, Globalization and Social Policy in Africa. Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Dakar, Senegal.
Engberg-Pedersen, P., Gibbon, P. , Raikes, P and Udsholt, L. (1996) Limits of Structural Adjustment: the Effects of Economic Liberalization (1986-1994), James Curry, Heinemann
Nyerere, J. 1967, Freedom and Unity, Dar es Salaam, Oxford University Press.
Pederson, E. Poul, Gibbon P., Raikes, P. Udsholt L. (Eds). 1996, Limits of Adjustment in Africa. Center for Development Research, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Toye, J. (1994) Structural Adjustment: Context, Assumptions, Origin and Diversity in Structural Adjustment and Beyond in Sub Saharan Africa; edts. Van Der Hoeven, R. and Van Der Kraaij, F. 1994; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands and James Curry Ltd, London
(Ed's note: the first version of the above article was published on Diplomat Magazine Feb. 2012 Issue No. 2. There is a slight change in the article.)