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close this bookAfrican Agriculture: The Critical Choices (UNU, 1990, 227 pages)
close this folder1. The agricultural revolution and industrialization
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe failure of the modernization strategies
View the documentThe agricultural revolution, but how?
View the documentThe alternative strategy

The failure of the modernization strategies

Twenty years ago when most African countries were acceding to independence, the view prevailing at that time, even among Africans, attributed under-development on the continent to an historical backwardness which was to be overcome simply by redoubling efforts aimed at progress in a previously defined and known direction. The national liberation movement, such as it was, blamed the colonizers precisely for the fact that they were not up to the task.

African 'left' and 'right' were hence convinced that independence was a sure guarantee of, and a sufficient precondition for, the acceleration of modernization rates. The liberal thesis considered that the means to accelerate growth was to maintain a large opening to foreign capital. The government's role was to create more favourable conditions likely to generate new opportunities for capital investments by accelerating education and training, so feared by the colonizers, as well as modernizing both infrastructure and administration. The socialist thesis of the time, suspicious of foreign capital, argued that the government was itself to compensate for the lack of capital, specifically with a view to effectively speeding up the modernization process, In other words, the socialist thesis was not rejecting either the 'modernization' perspective or that of integration into the international division of labour.

Both theses shared the same basic views concerning the neutrality of technology: both were arguing that the direction of modernization could be and was known. A mere glance at both Western and Eastern advanced societies would convince of the similarity of a number of objectives in terms of consumption, organization of production, administration, and education. The 'socialists' were probably more sensitive to such issues as national independence, which is why they were on their guard against the recourse to foreign capital. They were also probably more sensitive to issues related to income distribution and the priority of collective services. But the 'liberals' retorted that capitalism would also solve these problems and moreover, would gradually lead to a democratization of social and political life. Both theses were finally based on the same West-centred and technico-economistic view, the common denominator of a popular version of Marxism and the best of bourgeois social science.

Only 15 years ago protests were still rare and unwelcome, considered as peasant utopias and culturalist nationalisms. It is true that, because of a lack of sufficient support, the protectors were often guilty of such weaknesses. The outcome of the real history of the last two decades has been such that the two theses are systematically called into question today. It is this twofold historical 'frustration' that gives the thesis of unequal development the strength it is gaining.

The thesis of unequal development began by the affirmation that under-development far from being 'backwardness', was the result of integration into the world capitalist system as an exploited and dominated periphery, fulfilling specific functions in the process of accumulation at the centre of the system. This integration, contrary to superficial points of view, did not date from the colonial scramble of Africa at the end of the 19th century, but from the very beginning of mercantilism in the 18th century, a period when Africa was 'specialized', through the slave trade, in the supply of labour power which, exploited in America, was to speed up the process of capital accumulation in Atlantic Europe. This 'specialization' - apart from its horrors - was not only leading to a regression of local production systems as well as state organizations, and marking the ideology of the societies involved in this shameful trade with features that will remain for a long time, but was also impoverishing Africa.

The thesis of unequal development continued its analysis by trying to understand the mechanisms by which capital, dominant on the world scale, was subordinating pre-capitalist modes of production while distorting them. Whereas the ethnological mainstream was carrying on its research on the singularities of African societies, trying to isolate them conceptually, the thesis of unequal development was laying stress on the integration of apparently 'traditional' rural societies in the process of capital accumulation. This is how, in the first half of the 1960s, the essential characteristics of the modes of formal domination of capital over the African rural world were defined. It was shown how in the 'trade economy', the technical and commercial systems of control were depriving peasant producers of their control over the means of production they still formally owned, in order to extract a surplus of labour, transformed through commodity trade into profit for the capital of the dominating monopolies. It was shown how driving back the peasants into intentionally small reserves in South Africa and Zimbabwe was intended to supply cheap labour power to industries, mines and plantations. These analyses lead to a consideration of the fundamentally different alternative of a development, based on popular alliance between workers and peasants.

The way was thus opened for a positive rethinking of all the issues of development: orientations of industrialization, the question of state and nation, and so on. Within this perspective industry is meant to support the technical and social revolution in the rural area. This inversion of priorities also, by force of circumstances, involved fundamental revisions at the level of reflection on consumption models, the articulation of big and small industries, modern techniques and artisanal and traditional techniques, and so on. A positive content could be given to a strategy of delinking, that is, to refuse the imperatives of the international division of labour, heretofore considered as inevitable necessities.

The seed was sown. But it could not germinate unless it had fallen on fertile soil. Ideas become realities only if they are supported by effective social forces: the ground is, however, becoming increasingly solid. The old movement of national liberation, whose objective was political independence, has exhausted its potentials. The 50-state Africa to whose creation it contributed finds itself in a dilemma: of economic development whose contrasted effects are ever more explosive: urbanization and mass unemployment, agricultural stagnation, soil deterioration, famines and massive imports of food products, growing external dependency. A dilemma of national construction: a political dilemma: imitative democracies give way to tyrannies, single parties of national construction give place to military and bureaucratic cliques. An ideological dilemma: capitalist liberalism and bureaucratic socialism do not answer any needs of the popular masses: a cultural dilemma: imitative education shows all its dysfunctionality, the imposition of the foreign languages of colonization is a vehicle of alienation as ineffective as it is unsupportable.

The reason is that the old movement of national liberation was, in fact, a bourgeois movement even though it was able to mobilize peasant masses and its petit bourgeois component had given the illusion of a possible socialist prospect. The newly emerging movement will, necessarily, be one of peasants and workers: and probably, inevitably assume populist forms in a first stage before the seed sown has germinated.

The present crisis of the imperialist system obviously enhances all these contradictions. The solutions offered by the system imposing its 'adjustment' policies do not answer the real questions. There is no alternative to a strategy of national and popular reconstruction, self-centred and delinked from the world capitalist system.