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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder10. Africa in the 21st Century: Sunrise or sunset?
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View the documentThe causes of poverty
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View the documentEvolution of environmental management in Africa
View the documentOld and new development models

Old and new development models

The complex situation in present-day Africa is the result of a long history of outside interference and ongoing internal processes. The main problem, with negative implications for the future, is deterioration of the resource base, which may be irreversible: deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, depletion and contamination of water resources, loss of fertility and erosion of soils, and widespread habitat destruction may be permanent. A major consequence of these processes is a decrease in production in many rural areas. The volume of exports is lower; therefore, less foreign currency is entering the countries. Coupled with the need to service the continent’s $140 billion debt, these factors are increasing the difficulty of acquiring many basic imports.

As a consequence of changing many farming areas from subsistence to commercial production and decreased production, rural migration rates are high, producing continuous, unsustainable demographic growth of cities throughout the continent.

In some countries, there is a trend toward consolidation of the strongest national groups, providing the minimum political stability necessary for defining new, sustainable developmental alternatives. In other countries, with two or more national groups competing for power, political instability may increase. In some cases, the trend toward political fragmentation may succeed. It is possible that there will also be realignments beyond the inherited “colonial” borders. Generally, the trend seems to be one of progressive substitution of the “colonial-type” state, with its formal institutions and economy poorly adapted to African conditions, by a system that is based more on traditional institutions and the informal sector.

In the more densely populated areas, acceleration of urbanization processes appears to be taking place, with development of a new “Afrourban” culture that may gradually allow the sowing of the seeds of a new institutionalization. The tendency also seems to be toward a renationalization of states with redefined borders and institutions. This process is taking place mainly as a result of a succession of conflicts, which may persist for several decades with continuous effects of disarticulating production systems, affecting the quality of life of the populations of many countries for some time to come. If this trend continues, famines may develop and mortality rates may increase again (although perhaps in a localized manner in relation to armed conflicts or epidemics such as AIDS). This is likely to occur simultaneously with a continued decrease in birthrates, which, coupled with migration, may tend to stabilize the population levels in the medium or longer term. It can also be expected that, as in Latin America and some Asian countries, the growth of African cities may slow as they become less and less attractive places to live because of social and environmental degradation.

The failure of the “colonial,” “socialist,” and “capitalist productivist” models will promote the search for new models based on African indigenous resources and cultures. Gradually, we expect that a revaluation of the role of the agricultural village and the communal grazing system will take place, together with a trend toward political decentralization as a result of a predictable shrinking of the central power. The new indigenous-based models may allow management approaches combining traditional systems with scientific know-how.

Generally, the renationalization process may begin with greater dependence on foreign aid, which may later decrease because of a “drying up” of funds or “aid fatigue” in developed countries. At a still later stage, the deterioration of state economies resulting from the decreasing resource base and disarticulation of the formal production systems may promote forces of self-management and self-development in a framework of growing decentralization. They may even include reruralization processes.

Outside interference has proved to be the cause of much unhappiness for African society. A successful, sustainable, and equitable model, respectful of Africa’s diversities and resources, will only be developed through the indigenous growth of authentic, locally inspired solutions. This process will be difficult and painful, but it is essential if Africa is finally to define its future in its own terms.