"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
The field of development is full of thinking, reflection and other intellectual activities. Academic institutions, think tanks, institutions (e.g. the World Bank), civil society actors (incl. professional development NGO’s), and politicians all get in on it. Many (all?) of the issues faced in the social sciences apply to work in the field of development (too many variables, reverse causality, etc…) Even the use of randomized control trials in development faces issues, and they tend to work only for very specific actions (not the big theories). A lot of ideas and theories have seen the day, sometimes disappearing in the past, and sometimes reappearing (explicitly or otherwise).
A good overview is provided in Akbar Norman and Joseph E. Stiglitz’s chapter, “Strategies for African Development” in the 2012 book, Good Growth and Governance in Africa: rethinking development strategies. After describing the issue (i.e., the disappointing development and social indicators in Africa, in particular when compared to South-East Asia), they provide a good overview of the various approaches to what was the challenge of development in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). They divide the approaches into categories, namely: (1) “the role of geography” (e.g., challenge of the tropics, challenge landlocked nations, etc.); (2) “Africa in the global context” (e.g., colonialism, neo-colonialism, etc.); and (3) “governance” (basically everything to do with the flawed policies and institutions in Africa). (There is some overlap with Collier’s, “poverty traps”). Of course, the many countries and experiences in Africa, the issue of causality (e.g., “does trade cause growth or growth cause trade”?), and even the basic question of how to understand and quantify “development” remain.
The article then, contrasting itself with the “Washington Consensus” / neo-liberal approach, stresses the importance of the role of the state in any effort to develop. A development policy (industrial policy, correct sequencing, learning and technology, etc.) are critical. Also important is a specific growth-focused and locally adapted governance agenda (in contrast with the overall nebulous “good governance” that is often used). This can then be the basis for a pro-poor (i.e. social, job-intensive) development agenda. Agriculture is important to Norman and Stiglitz (in line with Asia’s green revolution) as is the availability of credit. Aid can help and play a role on specific issues (e.g. climate change) but the question to what degree aid is / can be growth-enhancing is still open.
The article is an interesting overview and provides food for thought. One thing that has worried me is that the East-Asia approach to development may no longer be an option. As Rodrik has raised in a very interesting piece, “It is now well documented that manufacturing has become increasingly skill-intensive in recent decades. Along with globalization, this has made it very difficult for newcomers to break into world markets for manufacturing in a big way and replicate the experience of Asia’s manufacturing superstars… it seems as if the escalator has been taken away from the lagging countries.”
Maybe companies based in large African states like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya or South Africa can still develop around a local and regional market (like Dangote, for example). However, it is indeed difficult to see how this type of industrialization can take place in smaller African states – unless you find a real niche. An alternative would be to ‘jump up’ and go (e.g.) into services, but that too poses many challenges (education, necessary infrastructure needs such as electricity and internet bandwidth, etc.)
Niamey, Niger, 18.06.2018