Africa’s development dilemma – Part I


This article is written by Africa’s Potentials journalist & blogger Abdullahi Boru (picture on the left side), Abdullahi is a Kenyan native and is currently an intern at United Nations High Commission for the Refugees (UNHCR) in New York City, at the same time as he’s pursuing his studies at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs in New York. Candidating for Maters in International Affairs, International Security Policy. Has also been working with news production and feature articles in English and Swahili at the BBC East African Bureau, Uganda Radio Network, Guardian Newspaper as well as carrying through UN Millennium Campaign in the media in East Africa.

Writing about Africa’s development, one is always overcome by the guilt because in most instances there is little to write home about in terms of Africa’s development.  However, one needs to go beyond the prevailing contemporary situation to find the forces shaping Africa’s development. One inescapable fact in Africa’s development discourse, African and Africans have been portrayed as passive and people who’re not in charge of their destiny. However, this assessment is not based on historical fact, because several Africa’s initiatives were sabotaged.

This paper will be a three part series looking at the process of economic development and the challenges in Africa. The paper will take a historical format, beginning with the earlier initiatives in the 1980’s and followed by the later ones Nepad in the 2000’s. Further, the paper will be in form of debates between the external and internal forces pushing for development in Africa. It will illustrate the impact on development in Africa whenever an external force prevails. Finally, the paper will offer by way of conclusion, how the trend in Africa’s development can be achieved. The first part of the paper will be the debate between Lagos Plan of Action 1980 and the World Bank’s, accelerated growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action Berg Report (1981

Africa’s Dilemma; Pursue endogenous development agenda without means to achieve them, or pursue an exogenous imposed development agenda with negative consequences

“… Prior to the 1974 oil shock, the growth rates were positive: for the whole continent, they were around 3% in the early 60s, close to 2% in the late 60s, and slightly below 1.5% between 1970 and 1974. The growth rates for sub-Saharan Africa were only slightly smaller. Things changed dramatically in the second half of the 1970s. The growth rate for the countries south of the Sahara desert became negative 0.5% in the late 70s, negative 1.2% in the second half of the decade and zero between 1980 and 1985. The growth dropped dramatically to a record negative 1.5% per year in the first half of the 1990s”  [1]

On the political front, the situation is even grimmer. From Harold MacMillan’s “wind of change” speech on 3 February 1960, to Bill Clinton’s much vaunted “new breed of African leaders” of 1990’s, African political elites seem to be falling short of the expectation of their people and the world in terms of the expected normative standard of political “discipline”. According to the Freedom House report 2008, only 10 countries are judged free, 19 are judged partly free and the rest are not free[2]

Sobering statistics like the ones above have been become norm when describing African economic and political development.  However, devoid of context, while true, these statistics tell only half the story. Further, by implication to a casual observer, these statistics indicate a people who are passive and who have not done enough to change their circumstances. While on one hand these observers can be excused for having a sense of urgency and even outrage as a result of present circumstance, on the other hand, the African leadership has been alive to their circumstances and has undertaken several Pan Continental initiatives to address these crippling challenges. However, by and large, these initiatives have failed or have been sabotaged.

NEPAD is the latest in a long series of initiatives that have been undertaken by African leaders in order to arrest the dire political and economic situation in Africa. NEPAD was however, preceded by other initiatives like the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA,) The African Alternative Framework to SAP for Social Economic Recovery  and Transformation ( AAF –SAP).

“There is no gainsaying the fact that, in the long term, the very heart of successful and genuine economic and social self-sustainment and transformation in Africa will be the indigenization of development. Hence, the region as a whole has to aim explicitly at achieving an increasing degree of technological internalization and financial autonomy as well as viability.” [3] By all accounts this is a bold and inward looking approach to development, which has been the defining feature of all the earlier initiatives. “The effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world. Indeed, rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have made it stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialized countries. Thus, Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate, or satisfactory index of general well-being, in the past 20 years. Faced with this situation, and determined to undertake measures for the basic restructuring of the economic base of our continent, we resolved to adopt a far-reaching regional approach based primarily on collective self-reliance[4]

While the principle of inward looking and indigenization, self reliance and independence,  is at the core of these pre –NEPAD declarations ,  NEPAD is “outward” oriented, and makes the case for Africa to be re-oriented towards the global system by placing greater emphasis on aid from the Western countries . To achieve the estimated seven per cent annual growth rate needed to meet the IDGs particularly, the goal of reducing by half the proportion of Africans living in poverty by the year 2015. Africa needs to fill an annual resource gap of 12 per cent of its GDP, or US $64 billion. This will require increased domestic savings, as well as improvements in the public revenue collection systems. However, the bulk of the needed resources will have to be obtained from outside the continent”[5]

This paper will trace the genesis of these initiatives, beginning with the Lagos plan of action for the economic development of Africa 1980-2000,) The African Alternative Framework to SAP for Socio- Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP) (1989) and finally, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development( NEPAD) . Further, I will place these initiatives within the larger global prevailing circumstances when they were put forward, as well as the undergirding philosophy, in doing that I will highlight the inherent fundamental differences between the earlier initiatives and NEPAD. Additionally, for the purpose of easier and clear analysis, I will divide the two, namely LPA and AAF-SAP, initiatives, in one group and NEPAD, into another group, Further I will conduct literature review of competing discourses.  The second and the final section will be the conclusion, where I will offer some suggestions on how Africa’s current political and economic challenges can be addressed .Overall, the central thesis of this paper will about the African dilemma of pursuing an endogenous agenda, which they do not have a capacity to implement, and an imposed exogenous agenda imposed by the Western power.

LPA 1980 and the World Bank’s, accelerated growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action Berg Report (1981)

LPA stemmed from the disappointment of African leaders with the continent’s economic progress and their conviction that the inadequacy of exogenous development strategies contributed importantly to Africa’s poor development record (Ake, 1996).The preamble of LAP captures the frustration of the African leaders with the political and economic order, and their aspiration to take charge of their development agenda, “the effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world. Indeed, rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have made it stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialized countries. Thus, Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate, or satisfactory index of general well-being, in the past 20 years” [6]

It was against this background that the LPA was put forward; however, its timing couldn’t be better in the West.  In the United States and the United Kingdom two market friendly governments were elected on the eve of LPA declaration.  “…It should be noted that the Monrovia Declaration and Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) were launched on the eve of election to government of conservative neoliberals in Britain and United States, and the Plan of Action in particular advanced a vision at sharp variance with the gathering thrust of global capitalism and the views that the key elites in the developed world”[7] No wonder the plan lacked the requisite support from the very beginning.

As a response to the LPA, the World Bank released the report, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa “An agenda for action” also known as the Berg Report.  This set in motion two contradictory development agenda’s: one exogenous another one endogenous, both espousing distinct ideological frameworks with respect to development, thus setting the stage for a contest. However, while both documents underlined the dire situation of Africa’s development, they both agreed that Africa needed action.  The two documents have distinct diagnosis and thus offer a prescription out of the current situation. While the LPA blames the current African development situation on external forces, by and large,  it assumes the solution to the crisis is essentially local, the Berg report lays blames for the dire African situation on local institutions and leadership( apart from a slight mention of exogenous factors too) therefore, its solution, for most part,  is external.

Further, as to recommendations addressing the problem the two documents differ. While the LPA identified agricultural primary production as part of the problem, the Berg Report looked at it as part of the solution and wanted African countries to specialize in export agricultural production.  As the LPA states, “we view, with disquiet, the over-dependence of the economy of our continent of the export of basic raw materials and minerals. This phenomenon had made African economies highly susceptible to external developments and with detrimental effects on the interests of the continent”[8].   The Berg report, on the other hand, notes, “The agriculture-based and export-oriented development strategy suggested for the 1980s is an essential beginning to a process of long- term transformation, a prelude to industrialization”[9]

In reaction to the Berg Report in its seventh annual session United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Tripoli, African Ministers declared that, “The strategy recommended by the World Bank Report, which emphasizes export orientation in general, and primary product export in particular, regards industrialization and economic cooperation and integration in Africa as a long term issues and completely disregards external factors as being major constrains on African development and economic growth “[10].

This ideological commitment between the African governments and the World Bank was clear from the outset. It was born out of a “clash” of agenda and ideology. Moreover, while the African position on development, as articulated by the LPA, was motivated by the need for self-reliance and independence within the globalized world, the World Bank’s insistence of a certain development agenda was more of a commitment to an ideological dogma, which emphasizes the market and efficiency. These initial differences, have colored all the engagements between the West and Africa within the realm of development. While Africa was focusing on inward-looking self-sufficient mechanisms, which were national, regional, as well as Pan African in outlook, the World Bank report called for the need to increase more aid to African nations. This was not an appropriate policy option considering that the continent was already bearing a huge debt burden.. Further, the notion of increasing aid which was recommended by the report is contrary to the “efficiency doctrine,” which was among the key thematic issue that the report was calling for.

There are other significance differences between LPA and the Berg report is, whereas the LPA emphasizes self-reliance and self-sustaining development based on integrated and dynamic national, sub regional, and regional markets, the World Bank’s agenda puts the emphasis on external market and on the continuation of the colonial export-oriented economies inherited at independence. Further, while the World Bank’s agenda identifies agricultural exports as the motor for African development; the LPA recognizes that the motor in each country will depend on the nature of its natural resource endowment.  Additionally, the World Bank’s agenda goes on to draw the mistaken conclusion that it is poor export performance rather than the worsening external economic environment (which manifested itself in the collapse of the commodity market) that is responsible for Africa’s poor overall economic performance. Finally, whereas the LPA emphasizes the delinking of Africa, the World Bank’s agenda was regarded as their vision of how the global economy should be ordered and would like to see Africa remain the storehouse of natural resources necessary for the maintenance of the West’s industrial power and leadership—hegemony “… It was felt that the West and the World Bank saw in the self-reliant development strategy and the almost inevitable delinking from the capitalist system too much orthodox Marxist thinking, which must be counteracted.”[11]

The Breton Woods Institutions without necessarily opposing the LPA pushed an anti-LPA idea that made the operation of the plan impossible. With biting economic reality African countries, while generally opposing the World Bank-led development, accepted the neo-liberal policies that were championed by these organizations, there impacts notwithstanding.  Coupled with the grim economic reality which was well illustrated by the World Bank report on the state of world economy, titled World Development Report, 1984, Africa’s opposition to the neo-liberal ideology in the form of the LPA had to give way to the sobering reality. The World Development Report whose assessment was primarily via population, painted a severe economic situation for sub-Saharan Africa. “Many countries in the developing world will have great difficulty making progress in years ahead. Indeed, the prospects for much of sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly grave.”[12] Even more illustratively the report warned that the falling GDP will not look up until 1995. “Though its total GDP growth was not much slower than in other regions in the 1970s, Africa’s population run, grew faster; for the region as a whole, GDP per capita fell during the 1970s. It could well do so again in the years up to 1995.”[13]

In an attempt to address this cruel reality, African leaders had to act. In anticipation of the United Nations special session to address Africa’s emerging emergency,  African countries, after broad consultation prepared a document, The African submission to the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on African Economic and Social Crisis.  Whereas, this document claims to be rooted in Lagos Plan of Action, on the contrary, it was nothing more than just an abridged version of the Berg Report. This submission was taken up by the United Nations,  in the form of United Nations Programme of Action on African Economic Recovery and Development (UNPAAERD). I will not discuss the trajectory of debate and contest over the UNPAAERD.  The merit and lack thereof of this submission is not within the scope of this paper.   Instead, I will discuss the response between African leaders to the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program in the form of the AAF-SAP.

[1] Elsa V. Artadi,  Xavier Sala-i-Martin, The Economic Tragedy of the XXth Century: Growth in Africa, page 2


[3] The African Alternative Framework to SAP for Socio- Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP) page 19

[4] Lagos plan of action for the economic development of Africa 1980-2000, Page 4

[5] The new partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) October 2001, page 41

[6] Lagos plan of action for the economic development of Africa 1980-2000, Page 4

[7] Taylor, Ian NEPAD, Towards Africa’s Development or another false start, Page 22-23

[8] Lagos plan of action for the economic development of Africa 1980-2000, Page 6

[9] Accelerated development in Sub-Saharan Africa An Agenda for Action The World Bank

WASHINGTON, D.C. page 6 Public

[10] Ake, Democracy and Development , 1996, page 25

[11] Adjei Ako and Akrofi Victor, An Alternative Strategy for Africa’s Sustainable Economic Development: The Case for a Non-NEPAD Approach, page

[12] World Development Report 1984, World Bank, Oxford University Press

[13] World Development Report 1984, World Bank, Oxford University Press, page 2

Part II of this article will be published soon…

//Africa’s Potential.

Bookmark and Share

...back to blogpage

3 Responses to “Africa’s development dilemma – Part I”

  1. Matthew Stevenson says:

    September 23rd, 2009 at 20:51

    This article is well written, and covers a lot of important material. I look forward to part II. Clearly the challenge for Africa is to find a model of economic development that does not mimic the capital-dependent industrial world, but allows for job creation, domestic and international trade, and sustainable development in a wide range of industries. It will be interesting to read about success stories across the continent, and programs that have succeeded. We all know the failures, which is why your more positive Web site is important.

  2. Kimemia Mugo says:

    October 26th, 2009 at 20:52

    Yes! Localizing development is the way to go. There is a Kikuyu saying that goes thus: He who sits under the tree is the one who knows what thambo (tree ants)eats. The World Bank and other donors must shore up local innovations instead of imposing ideas.

  3. Lizzy Edelstein says:

    December 17th, 2009 at 19:03

    This is so interesting. I am really impressed.

Add Your Comment