Democracy and Development in Africa

While a visiting scholar at Brookings, Claude Ake wrote "Democracy and Development in Africa" (1995), published by Brookings. As nearly three decades have passed, I focus less on the specifics (e.g., agricultural policy recommendations) and highlight the general arguments, a few notes:

"Many factors have been offered to explain the apparent failure of the development enterprise in Africa: the colonial legacy, social pluralism and centrifugal tendencies, the corruption of leaders, poor labour discipline, the lack of entrepreneurial skills, poor planning and incompetent management, inappropriate policies, the stifling of market mechanisms, low levels of technical assistance, the limited inflow of foreign capital, falling commodity prices and unfavourable terms of trade, and low levels of saving and investment. These factors are not irrelevant to the problem, Alone or in combination they could be serious impediments to development. However, the assumption so readily made that there has been failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development." (p. 1)

"African leaders adopted the ideology of development to replace that of independence. But as it turned out, what was adopted was not so much an ideology of development as a strategy of power that merely capitalized on the objective need for development... The emphasis was shifted to a dedication to hard work; East African leaders changed the nationalist slogan from Uhuru (freedom) to Uhuru na Kaze (freedom means hard work). The hard work was to be done literally in silence; the overriding necessity of development was coupled with the overriding necessity for obedience and conformity. African leaders insisted that development needs unity of purpose and the utmost discipline, that the common interest is not served by oppositional attitudes. It was easy to move from there to the criminalization of political opposition and the establishment of single-party systems." (p. 8-9)

"African leaders and the international development community alike are now less interested in grand strategies of development. The emphasis has shifted to pragmatism, to such policy instruments and options as encouraging foreign investment, eliminating or reducing the debt burden, improving the terms of trade, and realizing greater production, export intensity, and better prices for commodities. Those options suggest that development can be achieved by relatively modest adjustments on the vertical relationship between Africa and the North. However, doing so is not an appropriate policy option." (p. 112)

"The African experience shows that exogencity defeats democracy, whatever the intentions of the developmental and economic policies associated with it. External development agents, who are presumably democrats, have felt constrained to give market reform priority over democracy. The most important issue of public policy, namely, structural adjustment programs (SAPs), is not subject to democratic choice, because the agents distrust the people's ability to choose correctly on an issue in which "the right choice" is absolutely clear. At the same time, SAPs are so draconian that they are assumed to require imposition." (p. 120) 

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