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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Environmental issues and futures
close this folderTowards sustainable environmental and resource management futures in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe concept of sustainable development and its implications
View the documentDriving forces
View the documentLevels of environmental effects of human activities and sustainability concerns
View the documentConstraints on sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentReferences

Driving forces

The problem of environmental degradation as a result of various development and other activities that constitute driving forces has to be understood as a basis for determining measures for ensuring sustainability. The driving forces considered here include:

agriculture, including livestock production and fishing
population explosion
fuelwood and energy management and associated deforestation
poverty and affluence urbanization
other miscellaneous activities and phenomena.

Holdgren, Daily, and Ehrlich (1995) recently included among driving forces: excessive population growth; maldistribution of consumption and investment; misuse of technology; corruption and mismanagement; and powerlessness of the victims. The authors also refer to underlying human frailties such as: greed, selfishness, intolerance, and shortsightedness; and ignorance, stupidity, apathy, and denial. These are among the miscellaneous activities and phenomena listed above but only modernization is considered in detail here, although they are implied when it is stressed that, for sustainable development, changes are needed in attitudes, lifestyles, morals, ethics, behaviour, and philosophy.


Modernization may be defined as a process of transformation of the way of life (culture, social and economic structures, and attitudes) from the characteristics of traditional societies to those dictated by changes brought about by industrialization, urbanization, trade, and communications. Of major importance in the modernization process is the West European influence, which was most pronounced during various periods of colonialism. This was followed by a period of political/ideological, technical, cultural, and other influences related to American/West European and East European aspects of modernization associated with the Cold War. With the end of communism, Westernization influences have become dominantly more American. However, it must be admitted that, just as with sustainable development, modernization has many interpretations. Its meanings and indicators range from its being equivalent to industrialization to a more complex process affecting all aspects of human life, with the indicators ranging from GNP, income, or number of cars per 100 people to combinations of major economic indicators ranging from life expectancy to numbers of scientists per 1,000 of population and quality of life indices. A few definitions of modernization are considered below to clarify the situation.

Todaro (1986) defines modernization as the transformations in attitudes, institutions, and ideologies that are associated with processes such as urbanization and industrialization, whose characteristic ideals include: rationality, which is the substitution of modern methods of thinking, acting, producing, distributing, and consuming for age-old traditional practices; planning or the search for a rational coordinated system of policy measures that can bring about and accelerate economic growth and development, with the plan period usually in units of five years; social and economic equalization aimed at promoting more equality or equity in status; improved institutions and attitudes, including changes that are deemed necessary to increase labour efficiency and diligence; the promotion of effective competition, social and economic mobility, and individual enterprise, raising living standards, changing outmoded land tenure systems, and changing educational and religious structures.

Hoogvelt (1982) defines modernization as a process by which developing countries were to be made either efficient producers and exporters of agricultural products and raw materials, or consumers of industrial products from the West, or both, thereby participating in world economic relations. Modernization started at the end of World War II in underdeveloped countries as a process in development activities regarded in liberal progressive circles as a necessary complement to the economic reconstruction in war-ravaged industrial countries and of a prosperous world capitalist economy based on free trade. In order to accomplish this goal rapidly, it was felt that fast changes from "stone age" to the twentieth century through the modernization process were necessary. According to the neo-evolutionary theory of development, modernization involved structural compatibility between certain primary consequences of modernization, consisting of advanced economic institutions (money markets, occupational specialization, profit maximization, etc.), and certain second-order consequences, consisting of Western "modern" political, social, and cultural institutions, with second-order institutions such as social mobility of individuals, nuclear family patterns, nationalism, formal education, a free press, voluntary associations, urbanization, and consumerism regarded as prerequisites for economic development. There was also some collusion of interests between Western international capitalism and the ruling elites of the new ax-colonial territories, who in many cases dictated the goal of development to be economic, involving the wholesale adoption of Western social, economic, and political structures. Traditional elements or counterparts of these consequences and characteristics of modernization, such as kinship and the extended family, were condemned as obstacles to development.

Until the second United Nations Development Decade, the above primary and secondary characteristics of modernization of the neo-evolutionary modernization theories led to the use of indicators for comparing developing countries that included such economic, political, and social factors as degree of urbanization, industrialization, political democracy, secularization, social mobility, occupational differentiation, free enterprise, and independent judiciary. The World Bank and other international organizations used these factors to outline the socio-economic programmes that contain these elements as a basis for qualifying for aid. Western technology, Western methods of production, and Western economic enterprises were also welcomed as vital agents of development.

Dube (1988) observes that, following World War II and the escalation of the number of independent countries, modernization was born as a new development paradigm. At that time, as new independent states launched massive economic development and technical change programmes aimed at getting them in a few years to where their erstwhile colonial rulers had taken centuries to reach, the developed countries were forced by conscience and humanitarian interest, in addition to strategic power interests and promise of long-term economic gain, to extend their cooperation in a limited way. Modernization emerged as one of the formulations of social scientists aimed at evolving stable patterns of relationship that were mutually beneficial, with prospects of short-term and long-term national interest weighing heavily on both developed and developing countries. In putting forward the theories of modernization, social scientists were determined not to offend the sensitivities of the new nations. "Modernization" was invented as a more acceptable term to replace "Westernization." Because of its academic respectability, funds flowed easily to research on this new paradigm, and aid was extended to programmes aimed at achieving it.

Dube (1988) also notes that modernity was understood to be a common behavioural system associated with the industrial, literate, and participant societies of Western Europe and North America. Developing countries were impressed by the varying degrees of success of the countries that early in the twentieth century joined the race for industrialization, such as Japan (the first Asian country to do so) and Russia. The basic underlying assumptions were that:

1. inanimate sources of power could be tapped with a view to solving human problems and ensuring minimum acceptable standards of living, the ceiling of which will rise progressively;

2. both industrial and collective efforts should be channelled to achieve this;

3. to create and run complex organizations, radical personality changes and attendant social structures and values were necessary.

As to the nature of modernization, it is regarded as a process very similar to development (see table 7.2). However, although many of the attributes of the two processes - such as their being revolutionary, complex, systematic, lengthy, and phased - are acceptable, others are open to question, including the following:

some of the benefits have been widely diffused but large sections of human society often remain unaffected;

the extent of their being global is debatable;

although the world is increasingly being described as a global village on account of homogenization, the rise of ethnicities and pluralities of culture is tearing it apart;

whether the process is irreversible remains to be seen - the rise of fundamentalism and what is happening in the Soviet Union indicate that it is not;

whether the processes are progressive remains a matter of opinion, with individual alienation and social anomalies occurring and collective violence increasing;

although the benefits are substantial, the social cost and cultural erosion (coupled with environmental degradation) are escalating.

There are several dilemmas associated with modernization and development:

there are inequalities in wealth and affluence, with many countries not attaining high growth rates of GNP;

many countries (developed or developing) face cycles of recession, severe inflation, and growing unemployment;

the rationality of the system is in question, with current gaps in access to resources among countries and between men and women;

there is increasing violence and crime;

corruption is a way of life in many places;

the lifestyles of the affluent in developed countries are taking hold in developing countries;

there is misdirection of science and technology and even funds for development to military and disharmonious pursuits;

although developed countries spend billions of dollars on tools of destruction, they cannot devote 1-2 per cent of their GNP to development in the developing countries;

developing countries spend millions on military hardware while millions of their people die of hunger;

the world's finite energy resources of coal, tar, petroleum, oil, natural gas, and uranium not only are unevenly distributed but are becoming exhausted, while the capabilities for generating alternatives and their sustainable use vary from one country to another;

non-fuel mineral resources are also running out, as well as being unequally distributed;

world forest resources are disappearing fast and rapid loss of bio-diversity is also taking place;

billions of tonnes of soil are being lost to erosion and vast areas of agriculture are being degraded;

increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are causing ozone depletion and climatic change.

Table 7.2 The similarities between modernization and development

Modernization Development
1. Revolutionary process with significant technological and cultural consequences, e.g. rural agrarian cultures being transformed into urban industrial cultures 1. Same
2. Complex and multidimensional process with series of cognitive, behavioural, and institutional modifications and restructuring 2. Same
3. Systematic process with variations in one dimension producing important co-variations in other dimensions 3. Same
4. Global process, with ideas spreading from one centre of origin to other parts of the world 4. Same
5. Lengthy process with no known way of producing it instantly 5. Same
6. Phased process that, according to experience, involves known phases and sub-phases, namely: 6. Same, namely:
(i) traditional (i) underdeveloped
(ii) transitional (ii) developing
(iii) modernized (iii) developed
7. Homogenizing process, with advanced stages significantly narrowing differences between national societies and ultimately reaching a stage when the universal imperative of modern ideas and institutions prevails, and various societies are so homogenized as to be capable of forming a world state 7. Same
8. Irreversible process, although there may be occasional upsets and temporary breakdowns 8. Same
9. Progressive process regarded as inevitable and desirable, ultimately contributing to human well being culturally and materially 9. Same
10. Painful process and in some instances in the past built on painful and ruthless exploitation of segmeets of society, dividing or integrating peoples, and resulting in privileged or underprivileged people 10. Same for areas that have been under colonial rule
11. Multilinear and multi-path process, with societies not necessarily all taking the same route but some times alternative paths 11. Same
12. Cannot be visualized as continuous or unending path since they are conditioned by outer and inner limits and human perceptions can change and have changed course 12. Same

Source: Adapted from Dube (1988).

Dube (1988) identifies several factors that obstruct modernization and observes that many nations are torn between their allegiance to tradition and a commitment to modernization. Several barriers to modernization of an ideological, motivational, institutional, and organizational nature are encountered, as well as problems of a decline of the paradigm, ambiguities and inadequacies, environmental constraints, and global problems.

Modernization and sustainable development in Africa

Modernization has associated with it several benefits, including: education and educational infrastructure; applications of science and technology in banishing ignorance and superstition; improved health and sanitation; improved communications; improved water supplies; improved nutrition; and employment and high incomes. Most of these consequences, except that of high incomes, are very likely to enhance sustainability in development.

There are also many changes associated with modernization that have adverse effects on sustainability in development. These include: increased dependence on the West for what Africans wear or how they think; the importation of inappropriate technologies; a change in standards associated with lack of appreciation of traditional things; unsustainable lifestyles; and acculturation stress owing to massive exposure to Western media and communication channels to an extent that Africans are unable to fight back. It is a paradox, for example, that improved health and medical services, better sanitation, a decline in infant mortality, and longer life expectancy, which are associated with modernization, are causes of rapid population growth and its obvious adverse environmental and socio-economic consequences.

Modernization has made deep inroads into African culture and has also caused changes in attitudes and overall changes in lifestyles that are not as sustainable as some traditional African ones. Increased dependence on Western or imported clothes, food, and drink results in loss of income and foreign exchange needed for development. The importation and use of excessive amounts of certain pesticides, chemicals, and inappropriate technologies result in damage to the environment. Some technologies, such as agricultural and forest logging machinery, can do serious damage to the soil and vegetation. The emergence of a global culture has adverse effects on the attitude of the youth towards traditional African culture and sense of standards. In African culture, work is appreciated and a farmer has status depending on his productivity. With modernization, farmers have lower status irrespective of their productivity. As a result of modernization, indigenous knowledge is not appreciated or utilized, yet, without a good understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of indigenous knowledge, traditional resource management strategies, and technologies, African research and development activities cannot develop production systems for the location-specific conditions in Africa. Exposure to the media has significant effects on Africans and not only causes the development of unsustainable attitudes and habits but also causes acculturation stresses.

Agriculture, livestock production, and other driving forces

Modernization has been given detailed treatment here because it has an all-pervading influence on all human sectoral development activities, attitudes, value systems, and way of life. The other driving forces are only briefly addressed because they are covered in greater detail elsewhere in this volume. A summary of the environmental impacts of these driving forces is presented in table 7.3. Reference to this indicates that population is a major driving force because its rapid growth exerts considerable pressure on resources, renders sustainable traditional farming systems outmoded and unsustainable, and contributes to the adverse effects of urbanization, scarcity-triggered deforestation, fuelwood management, etc.

At the same time, such forces as commercialization of agricultural production, related market forces, and, more recently, measures necessitated by structural adjustment (SAP) often also cause exploitative damage to the environment and the resource base.