"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
A suicide attack took place in Diffa, in the east of Niger, close to the border with Chad and Nigeria. There are 9 dead and some 40 injured, but the figures may change as several of the injured are in critical condition. The suspicion is that Boko Haram is behind the attack. There are several militant / Islamic groups active in the Sahel, including off-shoots of Boko Haram.
It’s not a unique event, as there have been more attacks in Niger, though mostly on the Western border with Mali. Particularly covered in the media was the attack on U.S. soldiers at the end of 2017. It put a lot of attention on the nature of the U.S. military presence here (including the new drone base being built by Agadez), and the overall presence of foreign troops in Niger (including the unclear legal context, unclear mandates, and unclear operations).
The overlap of Islamist movements and a wide range of local demands and conflicts is clear. There have been numerous secessionist movements in the regions over the past hundred years. Islamism – and in particular questions of interpretation as both sides of conflict lines are Muslims – may be a driver of the conflict, but it’s certainly not the only and probably not a root cause. When I worked for ICCO on the Mindanao conflict in the Philippines the historic evolution of the opposition to the Manila government from left-wing framing to Islamist framing was very evident. The economic drivers in the Sahel are also clear. I recently read Lawrence Wright’s, “The Looming Tower”, a great read. One of the most interesting parts was to read about the development of Islamism in the Egyptian context, including the ideological, political, strategic, and religious arguments and splits within the movement.
The famous (summarized) von Clausewitz quote that, “war is politics by other means” probably means that violence is likely to remain part of human relations in one way or another. And the appeal of (suicide) bombings for the weak is clear – they may have few other options to have an impact. Yet an attack by poor African Muslims on other poor African Muslims in a remote corner of the world remains shocking. It also seems very, very pointless.
Niamey, Niger, 07.06.2018
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.