Moving towards enlightened self-interest


So much of what has been passed off in Africa as development in recent decades is nothing of the sort - that is if we accept development to be mass involvement in structural transformation of the economic and social system.

In part, the steps towards real development have faltered due to real problems inherent in the social and economic models Africa has pursued.

Economists initially exaggerated the centrality of an economic variable, foreign direct investment, as the surest path to achieving the desired development results. With time, the limitations of this Western approach have come to be exposed, and development strategists today recognise that the attack on underdevelopment in African must be on a broad front and penetrate the whole social fabric. 

This broad front, progressive economists posit, should seriously include land reform, rural development, radical educational change and a greater role of intermediate technology.

The reason why matters like meaningful rural development, holistic land reforms, radical curricula transformation and appropriate technology are not mainstreamed in national socio-economic discourse is because elitist groups beholden to Western interests are allowed to remain at the centre of policymaking despite their anti- development agenda.

In short, there is a certain resistance to change because certain interest groups are making money from the way things presently are.

Consider the fact that real, nationwide development has only occurred in a handful of countries – the likes of South Korea, China, North Korea and Cuba – since the 1950s.

The fact that both communist-leaning and capitalist-leaning countries are among the few that have advanced development since the 1950s shows that they both have in common strong elements of a development ideology that has been grasped by the mass of their people.

Professor David McClelland of Harvard University stresses that: "There is no real substitute for ideological fervour ... Ideological movements of all sorts are an important source of the emotional fervour and impetus needed to convert people to new norms. They are necessary and should be supported in whatever form is politically feasible to the country concerned."

In essence, that means African countries need to ignite an ideological fervour to rally the majority towards a particular developmental trajectory.

That opportunity presented itself at the dawn of political independence, when governments were able to harness the emotions related to removing the shackles of colonial rule. At that point, everything seemed possible and indeed, for a while, successes were registered in areas such as access to schooling and healthcare.

But it was not sufficient impetus to keep countries geared towards a developmental mind set, and we could look at four reasons why this has been the case.

The first is that the ruling groups that assumed control after the withdrawal of the metropolitan powers, consisted of those who had been deeply involved in the freedom struggle.

Unfortunately, inasmuch as their hearts were in the right place, all too often there were insufficient numbers among them to craft and steer through sustainable economic transformation.

As such, instead of destroying the privileges previously enjoyed by the colonial rulers, the structural problems with the colonial economy remained intact. In some cases, some rulers actually enjoyed merely replacing the colonial elite and thus became the new oppressors of their own people.

Secondly, the existence of a background of imperial domination often served to weaken the development thrust by providing a scapegoat for any failure.

It has often been too easy for some African leaders to find recourse in casting blame on the past without them really trying to pursue a new people-centred trajectory.

Thirdly, the fervour of novel political independence is not on its own enough to keep motivating people 50 years after the fact.

Continued attempts to channel independence fervour outside of radical socio-economic transformation has served to direct energy towards non-productive propaganda efforts.

This creates the unfortunate perception that nationalism has no place in development discourse, and yet it has served other developed countries so well.

And fourthly, Africa has been slow to appreciate the fact that there is no genuine goodwill from former colonial masters, and that these Western countries are not overly interested in helping the continent develop.

Which is why we have accepted unworkable economic models such as structural adjustment programmes and unsustainable debt.

Conversely, we have been reticent to pursue the things that really matter: land reforms, curricula transformation, rural development and incubation of appropriate technologies.

To drive these pillars of real development requires a powerful underlying ideology that is well articulated and communicated to the majority to the point of general acceptance.

Such an ideology should be premised on enlightened self-interest on the part of Africa, and should be cognisant of the very real possibility of eliciting a negative reaction and counter-narrative from individuals, organisations and countries that have long benefited from the continent’s under-development. 

Samuel D Pascoal is a social scientist based at the University 11 de Novembro in Cabinda, Angola




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