Africa & The Thing Called Development
It is arguably the only ideal to which the world has dedicated the bulk of its resources, a fact which by itself is enough to get an African like me wondering, why so much fuss about that whose promise continue to evade the bulk of my people? There is nothing truer because the fruits of development have still not trickled down to the poor. On the contrary, the latter get poorer because more of the said fruits get parceled among the increasingly powerful, what a betrayal!
But What Exactly Is This Development?
It is a pretty demanding exercise to define development more especially because too many scholars have built their careers around exploring its various dimensions thereafter leaving us with a web of meanings which unfortunately have a tendency of opening ones attempt at a definition to a barrage of criticism from all angles for leaving out a crucial element(s). This is courtesy of the work of among others, renowned academics like Joseph Stiglitz and Amatya sen. The UN and all its organisation/programmes have also contributed significantly to this maze. To make matters worse, there is another batch of scholars who argue against development both as an ideal and a practice. Though these fellas have very valid points to back their argument, they don’t make the grade for me because they fail to come up with alternative approaches towards progress. It is only for this reason that I do not take them seriously – they call themselves the Post-Structuralists. For Christ’s sake, why should I when even the missionaries after desecrating our religion at least replaced it with various strands of theirs? I think it would be disastrous for us to reject development without replacing it with something more worthy to pursue. I am however not implying that our native religions were less worthy, how could I? Back to the matter at hand, the point I am trying to make is that the discourse on development is broad and therefore, for the sake of simplicity and digestibility, I prefer for the moment, to talk about the:
The Practice Of Development In Africa After The 2nd World War
Most Africans would only know that they live in poor countries whose leaders have for decades been on a relentless chase after foreign aid/investors – all in the pursuit of development. I sometimes wonder “were they oblivious of the fact that development was never meant to come Africa’s way? It is only in this regard that I nod in agreement with the Post-Structuralists – that the link between Africa/sister continents was never meant to be. How could it ever materialise when Africa has never determined its development agenda?
This is how it started: The WWII having come to an end with the USA the only Power to emerge with a fully functional economy, its 33rd president Harry Truman made a sensational statement pledging his country’s resolve to reverse the gains of underdevelopment in less fortunate countries of the world. I will quote him verbatim and later built my endgame on the morale of his words:
“More that half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and prosperous areas. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people. We should make available to peace loving people the benefit of our store of technical knowledge. Greater production is the key to peace and prosperity. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge”
In essence, the tables had turned around because pre-war powerhouses like the USSR and Germany had been devastated by the war hence why the US started calling the shots. Truman’s statement was one of the first signs. Its hegemony was confirmed by the ease with which it summoned the world for a conference that established a system of global governance meant to ensure that war on a world wide scale never happens again by regulating trade, setting up a conflict resolution mechanism and financial institutions meant to bail out beleaguered economies. This is where we lost out because the third world has a weak representation. For example, out of the 44 countries that attended the conference, only 18 were from the third world and their majority came from Latin America. How then could the development agenda formulated there possibly develop Africa and the rest of the third world?
But What Was The Agenda?
In short, the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation were set up and a consensus was reached regarding their respective functions if not for the last one.
This is why: Since third world countries’ participation in the world economy was and still is based mainly on primary commodities, on behalf of the rest of the third world, third world countries present at the conference presented the stabilisation of commodity prices as a pressing issue for the rest of the third world and therefore proposed that it be guaranteed by the WTO then called General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). Guess what, the United States of America and the United Kingdom declined because that would amount to shooting themselves in the foot as the fluctuating prices guaranteed them cheap raw materials. In short, the gist of the USA and UK dominated conference was in my opinion, the institutionalisation of their global hegemony on the pretense of developing the third world. I’ll sum up by showing how with the help of Truman’s statement.
If you look closely at what he said and what his country and the UK did to reverse the suffering, as he said, of “more than half of the world’s people living in conditions approaching misery” you will realize how they lived up to every word of his whole speech [quoted earlier], except to actually use their “knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people”. On the contrary, having reached “the stage of high mass consumption” [the last stage of economic development as theorised by the economist Walt Rostow in his “stages of economic growth”] in 1945 and having relied heavily on scientific and technical knowledge to reach there, the USA and the UK were once again using the very same scientific/technical knowledge in the form of academics to chart Africa’s way out of its quagmire but failed because of a host of reasons including irrelevant diagnosis and misinformed approaches.
The moral of my story therefore is that Africa has and continues to fail its people by failing to actualise the trickling down of the fruits of development because the development that it has and continue to pursue – though tailor made for it – is missing the point. With the spectacular failure of USA/Europe initiated development regimes as a background, my take is that African countries must develop their own store of scientific/technical knowledge by emphasizing excellence in research at all its universities. Already, Africa is brimming with brilliant academic minds hence why I find it hard to understand why we still import and apply knowledge produced by American/European think tanks to solve African problems. It is only when we have defined our own development, made our own research regarding our own strengths and weaknesses that Africa can ever have a fair shot at development. Which is the most appropriate way to realize this if not to come up with our own version of development to be achieved through our own approach and in which foreign investors can partake only on our own terms?