FEBRUARY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 2
The record of African development in the last 20 years has been dismal. SubSaharan Africa, containing more than half of the world's poorest countries (annual per-capita income of less than $370), has had the lowest growth rate of any region in the world. Some 70 to 90% of the people survive by agriculture. But per person food production was stagnant in the 1960's and declined in the 1970's.
One looks to new literature on African rural development to explain such facts and to answer some basic questions. Who is to blame - among peasants, local elites, governments, international agencies and corporations - for this poor state of African agriculture? What might cause different, more productive behavior? What might create more equitable results? How are political economy, bureaucracy, culture and mass empowerment related to mass human welfare?
To be sure, the World Bank thinks it has the answers. Its 1981 report is, as usual, a team product, led by Elliot Berg, who has inflicted his ideological preference for market economics on more aid programs to Africa than probably any other Westerner in the last decade.
His prescriptions here are not surprising. Finance ministers from African countries belonging to the World Bank had asked for a discussion of what the Bank could do in the 1980's to enhance African development. What they received, instead, is a study of what African governments should do to promote Western capital.
The heart of the Bank's advice is that the public sector in Africa is overextended. Governments are said to waste resources on the need to organize, motivate and control people; the market would do a far more efficient job, Berg's report claims. The Bank insists that an export-led model for agricultural growth is the only viable one and thus it seeks reforms in macroeconomic policies - such as disbanding state marketing boards and devaluing the currency - to conform to the model.
Ironically, the Berg report admits "that small holders are the outstanding managers of their own resources," but provides no explanation for why the World Bank pursues policies that discourage small-scale local agricultural production.
It is little wonder that African states were annoyed at the report, signing a statement at the annual meeting of the World Bank in September that "deplored the tendency in the study to link aid to the acceptance of a certain type of development model."
The Bates/Lofchie volume is far more candid: when the market produces growth it also creates social inequality, landlessness, unemployment and political instability. The editors of this work throw up their hands, however, when it comes to offering solutions to this dilemma. State authorities can diminish inequalities only with adverse effects on production, the editors say. Seeing the tradeoff as inevitable, they claim that it would be "unrealistic to suggest that we possess knowledge of ways to overcome it."
The contributions by political scientists and anthropologists in this volume contain one central insight. Peasants do poorly in the world system because they are poorly represented in political terms. Without a say in how the state, outside development planners, or multinational corporations intend to restructure agricultural production, peasants who are dependent on the food they themselves grow tend to be wary of potentially disruptive changes.
This political factor is elaborated on in the Heyer collection, containing 13 essays on seven countries.
First hand research in this work reveals that rural development projects subject the peasant to the control of capital and the state.
The richness and brilliance of the case studies in this volume are unsurpassed in development literature. Andrew Coulsen, for instance, shows how the Tanzanian peasant cooperative initiative in the 1960's, the Ruvuma Development Association, was crushed by a government unwilling to permit any model of production which threatened the state's control of the economy.
And longtime resident of Senegalese villages, Adrian Adams, concludes the book with an illuminating pair of quotations, one by an organizer for Senegal's official development authority (SAED), and the other by the leader of the peasant village that would be affected by the government's development plans:
"You must cooperate with SAED. You need modern technology; if you say NO to SAED, you are saying NO to modern technology."
In the early 1980's, African specialists outside official circles are showing that peasants will not produce when oppressed by elites through state, corporate or market mechanisms. A few development scholars, like Rene Dumont, are willing to issue calls for peasant empowerment. Such analysis does not in itself lend guidance on the practical questions of bringing about peasant control. Still, some important first steps have been taken which allow the more practical problems to come to the fore.
These other recent titles add importantly to the study of African rural development:
Reviewed by Guy Gran, a development consultant and scholar whose most recent work is Zaire: The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (Praeger, 1979).
This new Swedish publication of the Raw Materials Group sees itself as part of "an emerging coordinated international resistance to transnational (corporate) power," and a challenge to "transnational monopoly control of knowledge and information."
The first issue focuses on two major topics. The development of oligopolistic and conglomerate capitalism is analyzed in an overview and in a case study of the Japanese Sogo Shoshas.
The other topic is the global iron ore industry, with particular reference to the Swedish economy. The magazine interviews the new managing director of the state-owned Swedish iron company, and follows that up with the first of a series of articles on the crises of Swedish iron ore mining.
Other articles deal with how transnational corporations are influencing Australia's economic policies on the mining and mineral processing sectors; and with the MX-missle system as an example of how the arms industries of industrialized countries consume a large part of the raw materials exported from the Third World.
RMR promises to regularly feature regional and commodity reports, company profiles, and labor union news.
Raw Materials Report P.O. Box, 5195 S-102 44 Stockholm, Sweden
- Douglas Stone