Africa in the Face of the Development of Others
By Raïs Neza Boneza
© Rais Neza Boneza 2006
Africa is economically a poor and marginalised continent. And since the end of the cold war it has no longer been of any strategic or diplomatic importance to the great powers. Except when there are emergencies requiring humanitarian aid, rare are those leaders or actors interested sincerely in the fate of the continent’s 700 million men and women.
The report 2005 of the Program of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) does show slight progress in world development, but on a basis of unequal rhythms. The world entered this century with more than a 1.3 billion people living on less than two dollars a day. Meanwhile the planet seems to be going through an unprecedented economic growth but eighteen countries are declining and even, in the United States certain populations are regressing economically. The world has assisted in a look-like "third-worldization" of certain populations in the U.S after the deadly New Orleans cyclone Katrina in 2005.
The accumulation of wealth is well polarized. As ex Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, in his book "Eyes of the Heart," explains in parable:
"Imagine that the five fingers of your hand represent the world’s population. The hand has 100 Dollars to share. Today the thumb which represents the richest 20% of the world’s population has 86 dollars for itself..."
In 2000, the initiative led by Kofi Annan’s Millennium Goals had taken an endeavour to reduce extreme poverty world-wide. First, the goal was to diminish by half extreme poverty, diminish the number of deaths of children, and send to school all the children of the world and stop infectious diseases like HIV.
The effectiveness of the Millennium Goals can be measured and evaluated by different indices and statistics established since 1990 by the Program of the United Nations for Development (UNDP) which made its annual report public September 7, 2005. The "success" is lamentable.
As Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch remarks, "We are in a period of cumulative crisis" which she defines both as a crisis in the processes of development in the Southern hemisphere and a crisis of a world where interdependence is fast becoming inescapable. Samir Amin evokes the same general picture: "The 1960s were marked by the great hope that we were at the start of an irreversible process of development throughout the third world, and especially Africa. But ours has become the age of disenchantment. Development is an ephemeral phenomenon. Its theory is in crisis, its ideology in doubt. It is generally agreed that development in Africa is bankrupt"(See Bankrupt Africa by Patrick Bond, 2004 CADTM)
And yet, was the decolonisation of the 1960s not to have been the harbinger of progress? Was not the green revolution supposed to put an end to famine? Was it not the aim of the aid organisations to promote "integrated", "auto-centric", "endogenous", "participatory", and "community" development? How many destitute regions are now the vast catacombs of projects and programmes which, costing billions of dollars, have seen streams of "co-operators", "experts" or "technical assistants", advice to Africa having become something of an industry?
Globalization is being portrayed today by the G8 and is being imposed in the same fashion for over four hundred years through military conquests, territorial occupation, "so-called" humanitarian programs, and corruption, with capital punishment for those who are not willing to submit. Individuals such as Lumumba, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Sankara or countries such as Cuba, Haiti etc. have suffered severe repercussions for their unwillingness to bend their knees and submit to the new global order.
President Bertrand Aristide explained: "…. we are not against free trade, but fear is that the global market intends to annihilate our markets. Since 1980 most of the third world has embraced globalization. In 1986, Haiti imported 700 tons of rice, the basic food of the country. The vast majority was grown in Haiti. In the late 1980s Haiti complied with free trade policies advocated by IMF and the Global bank and lifted tariffs on rice imports. Cheaper rice immediately flooded in Haiti from the United States where the rice is subsidized. And Haiti farmers could not possibly compete. By 1996 Haiti was importing 196,000 tons of foreign rice at a cost of several million dollars a year…."
This new global order through capitalism imports out of an unsatisfied need to control by any means, with no respect for human dignity. From the triangular trade until today; the system has been updated, modernized, sophisticated and reloaded in time of crises through disguised renovating measure such as the abolition of slavery, "independences" etc... But in truth, the world is under a global Apartheid, a global racism. Inequality is rampant. International and human rights laws are flagrantly violated and its tools seem to be in the hand of a tiny powerful cartel of "Donneurs des bonnes leçons" (ironic advisers)
When debating Africa’s violence caused by the increasing monetarization of African society, disciples of colonial anthropology are going back to the old litanies of "cultural obstacles to development". More crudely, some go back to the climate theory to explain Africa’s "backwardness" or "helplessness". Others, with the shadow of Thomas Malthus population theory haunting international financial institutions, go so far as to blame the poor themselves for having too many children, making women and families the targets of population policy. By taking account of the interaction between population, development and the environment, the neo-liberal debate on the African economic crisis also resorts to the "regressive spiral" theory of poverty, which links population growth to environmental degradation. These theorists prefer to forget that in Ivory Coast, for example, the ascendancy of the plantation economy has caused the destruction of four-fifths of the country’s forests in 50 years. Moreover, by maintaining the illusion of the "fatalism" of black farmers and the "traditionalism" of their societies, Africans are said to be engaged in a constant struggle to preserve their cultural forms; they have no need to consider the creative potential of a people confronted by structural constraints that oblige them to redefine themselves.
Of course, responsibility for the continent’s ills cannot only be of external factors alone. We need also to mention the organized plundering by a succession of hegemonic and dynastic look-a-like systems of governance. In Uganda where for example leaders make corruption a method of government.
Most of the wars and conflicts that have ceaselessly impoverished Africa can only be understood in the context of the geopolitical stakes and strategic economic resources fought over by powerful interest groups: oil, uranium, copper, diamonds, cobalt, gold or aluminium (See Michel Fichet, "Le coton, moteur du développement", Le Monde diplomatique, September 1998.). The conflict of the Great Lakes region for example results in several factors, which can be dated between post-colonial, colonial and pre-colonial periods. However those factors are influenced by endogenous actors versus exogenous actors that fuel the intensity of structural conflict in the region. The structural sources are referred to static social, physical, and economic factors that either limit or spread conflict and shape dramatic responses practices among the actors. (Raïs Neza Boneza: Peace By African’s Peaceful Means, Kolofon, 2005)
Georges Balandier said the theories of development in "the third world countries’ have been first of all modelled on exogenous theories: those formed and tested in so-called advanced societies and which are now being called into question." Those theories were developed from a pattern of social change peculiar to the specific paths taken by Western societies that claim a monopoly on modernity. It is a point of view that says that African societies can only reproduce the model of the societies that are trying to modernise them. In order to "succeed", they have not been asked to innovate using their own internal dynamics or to steer change in line with their own frames of reference.
If development is a "Western belief", its bankruptcy also spells the bankruptcy of capitalism in sub-Saharan Africa. In African societies, the truly poor person is the one who has no kinfolk: the family spirit and the principle of reciprocity underpin economic ties within the mesh of social relationships. Given the weight of this social and cultural framework, Africans tend to distance themselves from a development model in which socio-economic inequalities are considered one of the real engines of progress. They question an economic modernisation that involves the destruction of social ties. Few Africans are inclined to take on an alienating modernity that seeks to bring in a way of being and behaving centred on the individualism so typical of the modern West not to mention the cultural alienation that consequently follow.
The African-only alternative answer to the insatiable structural demands of the new order rely on its capability to innovate and reinvent traditions and re-vigour local skills. This capacity is truly proof of a society rooted in its local culture. These societies form a community of service where each member shares not only money and work but rites such us wedding, mourning d’ou the rising of the legendary "Solidarité Africaine" (African Solidarity or Brotherhood). Modernity is therefore not incompatible with "pecunia" (in Latin money) and kinship.
In fact, the rebirth of associations in sub-Saharan Africa is resulting in experiments in cooperative development. In a situation where programmes drawn up by experts are based on supposedly scientific assumptions affirming the universality of the category homo economicus as opposed to homo africanus, these experiments must be seen as a genuine alternative to the building of a new barbarian economy on the ruins of society.
Africa is not against development. Africa’s dream is beyond the simple expansion of a culture of death or an alienating modernity that destroys the fundamental values so dear to Africans. At the same time Africa wants to be part of all the developments of our times and which will make it the continent of the future. Africa sees further than an all-embracing world of material things and the dictatorship of the here and now, that insists on trying to persuade us that the only valid motto is "I sell, therefore I am". As Philippe Engelhard in, L’Afrique, miroir du monde? said in Arléa, Paris, 1998 In a world often devoid of meaning, Africa is a reminder that there are other ways of being.
Globalisation and the Poor?" by Richard D North
Notes of presentation to ICEA, 6th March 2002
Ethnicism hinders Africa's development
Executive Intelligence Review June 20, 1997, pp. 65-66
by Hon. Girma Yilma Bulbula
The Least Developed Countries Report 2002 (June 18, 2002)
Philippe Leymarle, "Une Afrique appauvrie dans la spirale des conflits", in Manière de voir No. 25, February 1995.
L’Afrique à la dérive" in Manière de voir No. 29, February 1996.
Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Pour une histoire du développement. Etat, sociétés, développement, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1988, p. 3.
Samir Amin, La Faillite du développement en Afrique et dans le tiers-monde, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1989, p. 5.
See Michel Fichet, "Le coton, moteur du développement", Le Monde diplomatique, September 1998.
Georges Balandier, Sens et puissance. Les dynamiques sociales, PUF, Paris, 1988, p. 201.
Axelle Kabou, Et si l’Afrique refusait le développement?, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1991.
See François Misser and Olivier Vallée, "Les nouveaux acteurs du secteur minier africain", Le Monde diplomatique, Ma
Georges Balandier, Sens et puissance, op. cit., p. 126.
Gérard Rist, "Le développement, une croyance occidentale", Le Monde en développement No. 400, January 1997.For an overall view see Jean-Marc Ela, "Culture, pouvoir et développement en Afrique", in Claude Beauchamp (ed.), Démocratie, culture et développement en Afrique noire, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1997.
Alain Henry, Guy-Honoré Tchente, Philippe Guillermé-Dieumegard, Tontines et banques au Cameroun. Les principes de la société des amis, Karthala, Paris, 1991. See also Maligui Soumah, "Créateurs d’entreprises cherchent crédits", Le Monde diplomatique, May 1989.
See Philippe Engelhard, L’Afrique, miroir du monde?, Arléa, Paris, 1998.