False Start in Africa (1962)

Rene Dumont's "False Start in Africa" (1962) is arguably one of the most influential and widely read texts on agriculture in Africa. The book is more of a conversation, than it is an academic text. However, Dumont was a pioneering voice for identifying key issues such as soil erosion, micronutrient deficiencies, soil type and quality in agricultural planning, (a degree of) participation and ownership, and of the value of local procurement. Readers might not come across many "new" ideas, but it is certainly worthwhile reading (if nothing else to see what was being said 55+ years ago in agricultural development). 

Dumont recommends irrigation, fertilizer, erosion prevention, affordable energy and livestock as keys to agricultural development (p. 32). At the same time, he outlines many failures of large and inappropriate projects (in these same recommended areas). The book offers specifics as what Dumont feels is appropriate and worthwhile. The author suggests that machinery and equipment are essential - along with a reduction of luxury goods (p. 44) - but similarly outlines that the European model should not be blindly followed. Rather, a new path needs to be made by, and for, African nations (p. 58). In many ways, the book offers nuanced critiques and options for moving forward with positive examples (Dumont criticizes academics for their sole focus on failure, without recognizing success). 

Given that the book was written in 1962, Dumont offers some unique perspectives. He says that "Economic progress requires an exodus from rural areas" (p. 195). He also calls for a radical shift in education - one more focused on technical skills, and not the copying of more academic oriented European models unsuitable to the needs of the nation (p. 202). Dumont promoted African and regional unity, economic unions, and continent-wide coordination (p. 264). He also argued that Europeans should not dictate to Africa (note that the author was a former colonial employee), and says "before giving lessons on socialism to Africa, let us set our own houses in order" (p. 280). 

Amidst these interesting discussions, Dumont also offers his fair share of derogatory comments and bad ideas. For example, agricultural credit, he argues, should be given out by the local peasant leader to 'reinforce his authority' (p. 213). That authority, however, can act to entrench marginalization and exploitation. Although the language has changed, Dumont appears to favor the 'developmental state' model of a single party state to push development forward - at the expense of broad and inclusive participation (p. 240). While it is worthwhile recognizing the useful ideas of this book, we should also criticize it (as it is indeed well worth criticism). 

From one perspective, Dumont appears to contradict himself in different parts of the text. However, as mentioned above, the book reads more like a conversation than a structured flow of ideas. So, irrigation infrastructure failures are pointed out, alongside broad opposition to large projects of this nature, while irrigation is also recommended. In my reading, these are general critiques with specific exceptions, rather than contradictions. Another example of this is land tenure. Dumont argues that tenure security is key (p. 128) but also that the land should be communally or state owned, and land should be taken from farmers in some instances (p. 129). While apparently contradictory, it appears that the general rule advocated is tenure security while revoking that security is the exception. Others more versed in Dumont's opinions, or the rest of his works, may have a better understanding - it is nonetheless worth noting for potential readers that the book is one more akin to hearing stories and getting advice from an experienced grandfather, than it is a systematic research work with clearly stated positions / recommendations.

As a side note: Amongst his advice, Dumont recommends African students to read Frantz Fanon (p. 251).

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Post-doc: African Studies

The Africana Research Center invites applications for a one-year postdoctoral fellowship in any aspect of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, beginning August 2017. During their residency, fellows have no teaching or administrative responsibilities, though they may request a teaching assignment. They will be matched with a mentor, attend professional development sessions and other relevant events, and be expected to be active in Penn State's community of Africana researchers. Successful applicants must have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. within the previous four academic years. Salary/benefit package is competitive.

To be considered for this position, submit complete application packets including cover letter describing your research and goals for the fellowship year, a curriculum vita (6 page maximum), and a writing sample of no more than 30 double-spaced pages. Apply online at https://psu.jobs/job/66446. Review of applications will begin on November 15, 2016, and continue until the position is filled. Three letters of reference should be addressed to the attention of the ESSS Selection Committee and submitted as e-mail attachments.

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Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships

The application process for the 2017 Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships Programme is now open.

Through this annual fellowship programme, we seek to deepen and broaden our growing network which continues to contribute its skills and learning to a better Africa. The Fellowships offer the opportunity to work in the executive offices of either the African Development Bank (Abidjan), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa) or the International Trade Centre (Geneva).

Application process

  • Process opens 12 August 2016
  • applications due 14 October 2016
  • successful candidate notified January 2017
  • press announcement of Fellows 3 February 2017
  • Fellows start date May 2017.

Eligibility criteria

  • National of an African country
  • 7-10 years of relevant work experience
  • master's degree
  • under the age of 40, or 45 for women with children
  • any additional criteria as set by the host.
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World Bank: Africa Fellowship Program

The Africa Region of the World Bank Group (WBG) is relaunching its fellowship program for Ph.D. students who are Sub-Saharan nationals. The program will increase the diverse workforce that is a priority for the Bank and its clients.

Started in 2013 by World Bank Africa Vice President Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program aims to build a pipeline of Sub-Saharan African researchers and professionals, particularly women, who are interested in working in the development field at home or abroad, and in starting careers with the WBG. From the first class of fellows, several have joined the World Bank Group, and others have gone on to pursue promising development careers.

About the Fellowship

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank offices in Washington, D.C. or in a Sub-Saharan country, getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

Fellows will be expected to complete a research project and prepare a research paper to present to staff. High-standard papers may be published internally.

Specifically, selected participants will:

  • Gain a better understanding of the World Bank Group's mission and operations
  • Access quality data for their research work
  • Interact with seasoned experts in their field of development
  • Contribute to the World Bank Group's mission

Who Should Apply

Sub-Saharan nationals who are recent Ph.D. graduates, or current doctoral students within one or two years of completing or graduating from a Ph.D. program in the following fields: Economics, Demography, Applied Statistics and Econometrics, Impact Evaluation, Education, Health, Energy, Agriculture, and Infrastructure. Candidates must:

  • Be a recent graduate or be enrolled in an academic institution and returning to university after the fellowship
  • Be 32 years of age or below
  • Have an excellent command of English, both written and verbal
  • Possess strong quantitative and analytical skills
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Logan Cochrane

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