Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

Notes from Lenin's (1916) book "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism":

  • "Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental attributes of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development… Economically, the main thing in this process is the substitution of capitalist monopolies for capitalist free competition. Free competition is the fundamental attribute of capitalism, and of commodity production generally. Monopoly is exactly the opposite of free competition; but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our very eyes, creating large-scale industry and eliminating small industry, replacing large-scale industry by still larger-scale industry, and finally leading to such a concentration of production and capital that monopoly has been and is the result" (p. 88)
  • "uneven development and wretched conditions of the masses are fundamental and inevitable conditions and premises of this mode of production. As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will never be utilized for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists" (p. 63)
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Famine in Ethiopia (1958-1977)

One of the earliest comprehensive works on famine in Ethiopia was "Rural Vulnerability to Famine in Ethiopia, 1958-1977", written by Mesfin Wolde Mariam (published 1986). The author is noteworthy for a career advocating for human rights, for which he was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, and also for which he was imprisoned by the Government of Ethiopia in 2005. While his life is worthy of many more words, in what follows, I focus on his book on famine:

The author shifts attention away from environmental conditions, and toward two others: the mode of production (subsistence agriculture) and oppression along with exploitation.

  • Mode of production: "If we accept the fact that, in general, subsistence producers are essentially and almost exclusively engaged in producing for themselves and their families on a harvest-to-harvest basis without any reserves of food or cash to carry them over a critical period, then we have recognized a system that is falsely self-sufficient and unreasonably reliant on the capricious physical conditions of the environment and the exploitative socio-economic organization of the society. It is precisely the false self-sufficiency and the groundless reliance on the physical conditions, and the persistent exploitation, that render subsistence production basically vulnerable to famine" (p. 24).
  • Exploitation and oppression: "We are now, it seems [following an analysis of the findings], on much better ground to emphasize that the subsistence production system is the root of the famine, and that the persistent oppressions and exploitations of peasants by socio-economic and political forces rather than occasional aberrations of the natural forces are the decisive factors of vulnerability to famine" (p. 173). When "peasants are forced to pay taxes even when their gross production is insufficient to meet their subsistence requirements, taxation turns into a brutal form of legalized exploitation" (p. 186), for which, Wolde Mariam notes, they benefit nothing.

Wolde Mariam also refutes commonly argued causes of famine, including one that places significant blame on colonialism. While accepting the disasters colonialism wrought, the exploitation it created and the harm caused, he also believes such an argument implies the "peoples and governments of the Third World are mere objects that cannot be called upon to account for their own ills. They are only there to be manipulated by this or that master mind. Such implicitly condescending arguments are extremely dangerous, dangerous because they incapacitate the peoples, especially the ruling elite of the Third World, from accepting the responsibility for their own condition, and for their own actions and inactions" (p. 132).

Given the book was written in 1986, there are a number of quotable points Mesfin Wolde Mariam makes:

  • "The slow and grinding action of famine which perhaps originates in one poor harvest starts a process that reduces the harvest of subsequent years. Famine prolongs and intensifies famine" (p. 63).
  • "Bureaucratic capitalism in its primitive form and most ruthless form becomes the instrument of oppression and exploitation, especially of the disorganized and weakest majority of the population" (p. 16)
  • "The undue idealization of the small peasant plots is a retrogressive view comparable to the well-known anthropologists' appeal 'to leave the native alone'… It is idle to believe that agricultural development can take place on miniscule farms where the majority of the population would remain permanently tied to the land" (p. 136-137).

Wolde Mariam draws on Tawney's description of the peasant situation, similar to a person standing permanently up to the neck in water, where ripples can be disastrous. And, yet, no "matter how strongly the peasants feel the injustice, the oppression, and the exploitation, as realists they find it better to rely on their commonsense and almost inexhaustible patience than on rebellion, which, even it is materializes, will almost certainly fail to achieve any purpose" (p. 18). For the solutions, or recommendations for reducing vulnerability to famine, Wolde Mariam suggests:

  • Social services: "We can also state more emphatically the urgent need for a development policy that is committed to welfare of the masses of Ethiopian peasants" (p. 173).
  • Participation: "by allowing the peasant masses to articulate their own problems and priorities, and by restoring to them their self-confidence and self-respect in order to mobilize their energy and resources to improve their own conditions of living" (p. 179). "It is idle to expect the rural people of Ethiopian to cooperate whole-heartedly in a plan or project that they rightly or wrongly believe is outside the realm of their pressing needs. In such instances, they can only become passive spectators, or, at the most, reluctant participants that will forget the whole thing as soon as the pressure it off them. This is why it is necessary for the new administrators to work with the people by allowing them a large measure of involvement in identifying problems, in setting priorities, in allocating resources, and in deciding the course of action" (p. 185).
  • Access to information: "There is no doubt that the detail and accuracy as well as the speed and efficiency of processing and transmitting information are crucial, particularly in an impending famine situation" (p. 104). However, the problem "is not only the lack of data at a lower level of aggregation, there is also the problem of access to available information. Individuals or institutions that wish to do research are constricted by the problem of the quantity and quality of data they have to use" (p. 181).
  • Control and regulation: "by tightly controlling the governmental and market forces through a responsible and responsive administrative structure in which the peasants should actively and decisively participate" (p. 179)
  • Caution with foreign aid: "It is important to bear in mind that foreign aid, as such, is not inconsequential. What makes it inconsequential, or even harmful, is the inability of the recipients to determine their own needs and priorities, and to insist on aid for specific purposes, on one hand, and the desire of the donors to create new needs and to strengthen the dependence of the recipients on them, on the other. It is the fact that most foreign aid is determined not by the needs of the recipient countries but by the needs of the donor countries that makes it ineffective" (p. 113)
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List of Ethiopian Academic Journals

Appear active (alphabetical)

Bahir Dar Journal of Education (Bahir Dar University)

Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia (Chemical Society of Ethiopia)

Ethiopian Journal of Agricultural Sciences (Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)

Ethiopian Journal of Applied Sciences and Technology (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Economics (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Journal of Education and Sciences (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Environmental Studies and Management (Bahir Dar University)

Ethiopian Journal of Health Development (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Science and Technology (Bahir Dar University)

Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities (Addis Ababa University) – Not Open Access

Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Journal (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Renaissance Journal of Social Sciences and the Humanities (University of Gondar)

Ethiopian Veterinary Journal (Ethiopian Veterinary Assn)

Momona Ethiopian Journal of Science (Mekelle University)


Appear inactive or inconsistent (alphabetical)

Abyssinia Journal of Business and Social Sciences (Wollo University) – Newly launched

Abyssinia Journal of Science and Technology (Wollo University) – Newly launched

Debre Markos University Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies (Debre Markos University) – 1 issue

East African Journal of Science (Haramaya University) – Last issue 2011

Ethiopian Journal of Biological Sciences (Addis Ababa University) – Last issue was 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Business and Economics (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Development Research (Addis Ababa University) – 3 issues in last six years

Ethiopian Journal of Education (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Health and Biomedical Science (University of Gondar) – Last issue 2010

Ethiopian Journal of Higher Education (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2007

Ethiopian Journal of Language, Culture and Communication (Bahir Dar University) – 1 issue

Ethiopian Journal of Sciences and Sustainable Development (Adama University) – Only one issue

Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and Language Studies (Jimma University) – Only three issues

IER FLAMBEAU (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2009

International Journal of Ethiopian Legal Studies (University of Gondar) – One issue, in 2016

ITYOPIS Northeast African Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (Mekelle University) – Last issue 2011

Journal of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences (Bahir Dar University) – 2 issues

Journal of Law (Bahir Dar University) – Issues do not appear online

Journal of Science and Development (Hawassa University) – Last issue 2014

Omo International Journal of Sciences (Arba Minch University) - Newly launched

SINET Ethiopian Journal of Science (Addis Ababa University) – Last issue was 2014

Star Journal (Wollega University) – Last issue was 2015


Please email me with corrections, updates, recommendations and missed journals.

Note: I have excluded journals with no issues.


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Political Economy of Tanzania

Edwards wrote about Tanzania in 2014, providing an external perspective, largely from purview of the World Bank. For an alternative perspective, readers can pick up Andrew Coulson's "Tanzania: A Political Economy" (1982), which he wrote from within, as a civil servant and academic in Tanzania. Coulson provides an introduction to Tanzania from the colonial period until 1980, attempting not to be "ether romantic or dismissive" about the nation (p. 25). The book is very readable, and accessible for undergraduate readers – particularly those with an interest in history (given the book was published 30+ years ago). It is also important for the different perspectives. A dominant opinion about Tanzania and its early socialist inclinations has developed, Coulson provides viewpoints and insight that are well worth revisiting.

What did the socialist inclinations in Tanzania include? Coulson neatly summarizes that for "some years after 1967, Tanzania was the country in Africa most noticeable committed to socialist principles. Nyerere became a world figure, a spokesman for the 'poorest of the poor', demanding a New International Economic Order that would give them a greater share of the world's wealth, and trying to ensure that the non-aligned countries acted as a trade union, merging some of their individual interests to campaign on a common programme" (p. 22). Coulson outlines the origins of Nyerere's approach to non-alignment and independence in international relations (e.g. p. 180-181), which set the nation on a unique path during the post-colonial period. At the same time, Coulson criticizes Nyerere, such as the authoritarian rule, and idealized and romantic assumptions that drove the African Socialism approach (e.g. p. 184, 285, 347, 377).

In contrast to many writers, Coulson says the villagization program "cannot be said to have failed – although it changed the face of Tanzania – for the achievements in the field of social services also have to be taken into account" (p. 308). Speaking about international relations, and specifically the choices and actions of the international donor community, he writes "it would be a rash analyst who thought that a single theory would explain the behaviour of all the governments involved" (p. 367) – although Edwards cites Coulson, he seems to have missed this point.

There are many interesting side notes for readers studying history and development, such as the increase of tsetse due to colonial activity (p. 56), the German use of Swahili and advancement of a national language that was not a colonial one (p. 70), and education as "the most powerful weapon in the battle for the minds of the colonized" (p. 123). On the underlying paradigms, Coulson writes "all the institutional policies…were justified by an appeal to modernization theory. The view that peasants are primitive, backward, stupid – and generally inferior human beings – dominates the rural chapters of both the 1961 World Bank report and the Tanganyikan First Five-Year Plan" (p. 199).

An area of particular interest to Coulson is agriculture. Given the book was published in 1980, he offered some sharp criticism of agricultural extension, which (unfortunately) continue to be applicable. For example: "Farmers who refused to accept 'modern methods' were described as stubborn, lazy, ignorant, conservative, uncooperative, etc. There was little or no recognition that logic often lay in the refusal to do what the extension staff advised" (p. 85). Furthermore, "many studies found that much of the advice given by extension workers was not appropriate to small farmers. The clearest case of this was inter-cropping. Extension workers were trying (with little success) to persuade farmers to plant their crops in pure strands" (p. 192). He also points to studies showing that extension workers provided services to richer farmers, not equally, not the most in need of support (p. 191).

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2 Years of Blogging!

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Decolonizing the Mind

Linda Tuhiwai Smith wrote "Decolonizing methodologies" (1999). Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote "Decolonizing the Mind" (1986). This is essential reading and the insights are numerous – from curricula design and literary critique to social transformation and liberation. In this post I focus on one of Ngugi's central and influential arguments about the power of language.

The author outlines how colonial and neo-colonial language policies and practices entrenched power and dominance, while simultaneously marginalizing and excluding the majority. Ngugi writes: "Berlin of 1884 was effected through the sword and the bullet. But the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard. The physical violence of the battlefield was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle" (p. 9). The legacy was more long lasting, more transformational, because "language was the most important vehicle through which that power fascinated and the soul of the prisoner" (p. 9). Furthermore, language is "central to people's definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe" (p. 4). At the end, Ngugi concludes that while the book is about the politics of language, it is in fact about "national, democratic and human liberation" (p. 108).

The 'gentle' manifestation of colonialism and imperialism Ngugi calls the 'cultural bomb', which acts to "annihilate a people's belief in their names, their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as a wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples' languages rather than their own." (p. 3)

  • "African children who encountered literature in colonial schools and universities were thus experiencing the world as defined and reflected in the European experience of history. Their entire way of looking at the world, even the world of the immediate environment, was Eurocentric. Europe was the centre of the universe. The earth moved around the European intellectual scholarly axis. The images children encountered in literature were reinforced by their study of geography and history, and science and technology where Europe was, once again, the centre. This in turn fitted well with the cultural imperatives of British imperialism. In this book I have in fact tried to show how the economic control of the African people was effected through politics and culture." (p. 93)
  • "I believe that my writing in Gikuyu language, a Kenyan language, an African language, is part and parcel of the anti-imperialist struggles of Kenyan and African peoples. In schools and universities our Kenyan languages – that is the languages of the many nationalities which make up Kenya – were associated with negative qualities of backwardness, underdevelopment, humiliation and punishment. We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and the values of the languages of our daily humiliation and punishment. I do not want to see Kenyan children growing up in that imperialist-imposed tradition of contempt for the tools of communication developed by their communities and their history. I want them to transcend colonial alienation." (p. 28)

What makes Ngugi a influential person is not just his words, but also his actions – this included engaging in community theatre to move beyond the bounds of academia as well as working to re-centre African languages and African literature in curricula. For his actions, he was imprisoned, barred from employment in Kenyan universities, experienced an attempted assassination, and had to live in exile for more than twenty years. It is also his self-critical approach to the question of language:

  • "The question is this: we as African writers have always complained about the neo-colonial economic and political relationship to Euro-America. Right. But by our continuing to write in foreign languages, paying homage to them, are we not on the cultural level of continuing that neo-colonial slavish and cringing spirit? What is the difference between a politician who says Africa cannot do without imperialism and the writer who says Africa cannot do without European languages?" (p. 26).

For scholars and practitioners of international development, Ngugi presents a challenge well beyond educational policy and curriculum. His work should also challenge us to reflect upon the ways in which we replicate the enshrinement of foreign languages – languages not spoken by the people for who, or with whom, it is claimed that we work. As a bare minimum, we might ask, how many of our papers and reports are available in local languages? Ought not community members be given the opportunity to know what we have outlined in our proposals and reports, what we have found in the baseline and endline evaluations? Is neglecting to work in local languages disenfranchising the people we claim to be working to empower? In so doing, is it not the same paternalistic attitude of the self-determined 'experts' know best while community members are excluded? This does not even begin to grapple with the question of who ought to have the right to participate and who ought to decide what is done, where, for whom and why. Yet, even these bare minimum questions should be cause for serious reflection.

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Banting Fellow, Carleton University (2017-2019)

​The 2017 Banting Fellows have been announced. Honoured to have been selected and looking forward to joining Carleton University.

From Banting: http://banting.fellowships-bourses.gc.ca/en/2016-2017-eng.html

Carleton University announcement available here

Will be continuing my research in East Africa, with a focus on enabling environments engaged citizens and responsive governance.


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Decolonizing Methodologies

What are the ways in which research approaches and methodologies replicate colonial attitudes and processes? In "Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" (1999), Linda Tuhiwai Smith makes these ways clear, while also presenting new pathways for research – not simply a decolonization of research, but a reformation of research that is embedded within a broader struggle about reclaiming control over knowledge and ways of knowing. Despite being written nearly two decades ago, the book remains highly relevant, particularly for graduate students and researchers.

The book starts out powerfully: "the term 'research' is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. The word itself, 'research', is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world's vocabulary. When mentioned in many indigenous contexts, it stirs up silence, it conjures up bad memories, it raises a smile that is knowing and distrustful. It is so powerful that indigenous people even write poetry about research. The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world's colonized peoples." (p. 1). The first half of the book continues to advance a critique of research. The second half presents research projects that were emerging at the time of writing, and a list of twenty five 'projects' indigenous people are engaged in. Due to the more context specific nature of the second half, this post focuses on the critical examination of research.

The problem with research is not historical, or the past experience of poor practice. Smith explains that research "within the late-modern and late-colonial conditions continues relentlessly and brings with it a new wave of exploration, discovery, exploitation and appropriation. Researchers enter communities armed with goodwill in their front pockets and patents in their back pockets, they bring medicine into villages and extract blood for genetic analysis. No matter how appalling their behaviors, how insensitive and offensive their personal actions may be, their acts and intentions are always justified as being for the 'good of mankind'. Research of this nature on indigenous peoples is still justified by the ends rather than the means, particularly if the indigenous people concerned can still be positioned as ignorant and undeveloped (savages)" (p. 24-25). Furthermore, even when exploitation is not explicit, there is also "a cultural orientation, a set of values, a different conceptualization of such things as time, space and subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specialized forms of language, and structures of power" (p. 42), which act to reinforce the dominance of one way of knowing over another.

Not only are the means problematic, but also the assumptions about what knowledge and evidence lead to. "For many people who are presently engaged in research on indigenous land claims the answer would appear to be self-evident. We assume that when 'the truth comes out' it will prove that what happened was wrong or illegal and that therefore the system (tribunals, the courts, the government) will set things right. We believe that history is also about justice, that understanding history will enlighten our decisions about the future. Wrong. History is also about power. In fact history is mostly about power. It is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue to dominate others. It is because of this relationship with power that we have been excluded, marginalized and 'Othered' (p. 34).

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Most read in 2016

As is tradition on most blogs, the most popular stories / articles / posts of the year are summarized. I am somewhat late in reporting, nonetheless, the most read posts on this site of 2016 were:

  1. PhD Reality Check
  2. Conducting Research in Ethiopia, Read This.
  3. Systematic Change (Healthcare)
  4. Essential Development Studies Books (Review)
  5. Effective Aid (Agriculture)

Popularity was largely a result of other people's influence. Most commonly a Twitter mention resulted in a noticeable spike in traffic. Subscribers will have noticed I stopped posting graduate funding opportunities – for the moment there appears to be limited interest in this type of information, and will focus more on the review of books and longer posts on specific topics (which are what readers have been most interested in). Open to feedback and input on that decision. 

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What I've been reading

​It has been a month since my last post on a book. Took a detour away from development studies reading over the break, even if a minor one. Some of my recent reads have included:

  1. Human Rights in Cross-cultural Context (1995) edited by An-Naim. An early collection of essays that challenge the universality of human rights. A couple of chapters are quite good (Chapters 1, 6, 13, Conclusion). As is typical, the earliest arguments tend not to be the strongest (they start the thinking), but always good to recognize where ideas were developed.
  2. On the Muslim Question (2013) by Norton. A book not about "them" and "their problems" but how discrimination, hatred and torture are challenges to "us" and of "our" values. Challenges assumptions throughout, excellent reading for upper undergraduate and graduate students. Highly recommended.
  3. The Ethics Rupture (2016) edited by van den Hoonaard and Hamilton. While interesting, I found the majority of the criticisms and arguments unconvincing.
  4. Arabian Sands (1959) by Thesiger. Excellent read, brilliant writer. Transports readers to a different time and place. Author is somewhat a product of his time, as we all are, but generally a person who expressed a great respect for others. 
  5. ​Who Rules the World? (2016) by Chomsky. If you have read his earlier works, this one does not add much new to the repertoire. If you are new to Chomsky, other titles (like Hegemony or Survival) are recommended.
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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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