Sunday, September 18, 2005

Development Tradeoffs?

What does Development Mean?
Is there a "model" for development that is most appropriate for Africa?
Pictured here on the left is Buea, Cameroon, and on the right, garbage disposal at a banana plantation in Cameroon

On the causes of Underdevelopment in Africa, Kristy G: wrote:
Before I delve into the reasons of Africa‚s underdevelopment, I would like to point out that Africa is a continent and not a country. Over two thousand ethnic groups live in Africa, each with its own diverse culture and ideology. There are fifty-four sovereign states within the continent, therefore, to try and come up with a universal answer as to why Africa is the most underdeveloped continent would not only be absurd, but very difficult. In order to derive an explanation, one must look at the history of each individual country and find the causes for whatever problems the country currently faces.

Many socioeconomic, cultural and political factors contribute to Africa being the most underdeveloped continent, yet for most African countries, it is in my opinion that the colonial legacy in Africa has done the most damage. Colonialism resulted in exploitation of labor, unfair taxation, the creation of artificial states, the siphoning of natural resources, and unfair terms of trade. These are just a few of the policies that were implemented during colonialism that have had lingering effects on the development of Africa.

But African cannot be the only cause of underdevelopment. Ethiopia and Liberia are two countries in Africa that never came under colonial rule, but they share the same problems that the rest of Africa is currently facing.

Africa‚s state of underdevelopment is also caused by external factors, such as the presence of Multinational Corporations (MNCs). These corporations have exploited the African labor force, degraded the environment, and facilitated corruption by supporting African dictators. These MNCs continue to contribute to the development of the First World at the expense of African countries.

Although external factors may be the probable causes of the underdevelopment of Africa, can the African people themselves be at fault for some of their problems? Absolutely.

For instance, in Africa, there is a huge problem with deforestation. Due to the scarcity of arable agricultural land, farmers cut down the virgin forests to obtain land for farming. When all of the trees are removed, flooding results during rain storms because there are no longer enough tree roots to absorb the water. In addition, flooding brings mosquitoes; and mosquitoes carry the deadly disease of Malaria. So Africans themselves have indirectly added to this huge health issue that prevents them from leading a better quality of life. I believe that Africans should take some kind of responsibility for this problem.

Another possibility is the fact that there are about 2,000 different ethnic groups living on the continent can be a problem in itself. That means that there are 2,000 different ways of life, belief systems, and competing ideologies. I would like to point out that wars happened throughout African history, long before European colonialism, and they continue to occur to this day. So you cannot argue that because colonial powers „created‰ ethnic „tribes,‰ they instigated tension among ethnic groups. Some form of tension already existed among ethnic groups long before colonials arrived. The bottom line is that an African country may work hard to achieve development, and all of it could go to waste if a war breaks out.

Coup d‚etats have also destabilized many African countries. It is difficult for a country to establish an efficient economic system when there is so much military unrest.

Yet another internal factor for underdevelopment is corruption by government officials. Money that is allocated for the creation of schools and jobs is siphoned out of the country, by government officials, into Swiss Bank accounts and this leads to another cause for underdevelopment. Sometimes, this is exactly what happens with debt relief money. As debt relief money continues to „disappear‰ at the hands of government officials, donor countries begin to think twice about contributing in the future.

People can spend a lot of time arguing over the cause of underdevelopment on the African continent as a whole. Meanwhile, it continues to endure a vicious cycle of problems that prevent development. Instead of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, everyone needs to put the causes to the side and think about the solution. African countries must come together as a whole to help each other solve the problems at hand. Since they are all suffering from the same problems, why not come up with a solution together to fix them?

Africans need to rely on each other instead of Western organizations˜some of whose past attempts to help African countries have failed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) tried helping many African countries by lending them money with high interest rates for development projects. Since many of the development projects failed, African countries sunk farther into debt and now they are in a worse position than before they borrowed the money. Reliance on Western organizations is not the solution.

Therefore, some type of African unity must take place. One possibility would be in the form of the European Union, or maybe in the form of „The United States of Africa.‰ In my opinion, the best form of unity would be the latter because it would encompass all ethnicities under one nation. Elections should be held based on proportional representation, so that way every ethnic group would have a voice in government. A system of checks and balances should be instituted to prevent corruption at the national level. Also, with all of the „new states‰ working together under this system of checks and balances, they can prevent corruption from happening at the state level and legally kick corrupt officials out of office.

As stated by Ayittey, the people of Africa need „African solutions for African problems.‰ Since no one knows Africans better than Africans themselves, they must use their own ideas to come up with the best solution for development. They should not simply copy the footpaths of Western countries‚ development. Maybe a form of Western government will end up being the solution, or there may be the possibility that Africans will come up with a completely new type of government. Whatever the result, African people need to work fast to solve their problems so that they will have reasons to invest in their future.