Assess The Value Of Dependency Theory In

Explaining Social Inequalities In Africa Essay, Research Paper

Public and intellectual concern with economic growth and social transformation can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, but the idea of development as a specific domain of inquiry and state intervention is of relatively recent origin (Watts, 1993). Indeed, the term ‘development’ only came into the English language in the Eighteenth Century. Its root meaning was of unfolding, but a metaphorical extension of this idea was soon in place, extending its meaning to growth. `The theory of development is of European origin and so it was only with the onset of colonialism that it began to take on global implications. The colonial powers rapidly exported the concept to all parts of the world however, interpreting development as becoming more and more like the Mother Country. In this way, the colonial powers used the idea of development as a way to justify their imperialistic actions: ‘By the Nineteenth Century, the central thesis of developmentalism as a linear theory of progress rooted in Western capitalist hegemony was cast in stone.’ `(Watts, 1993) In Africa therefore, the notion of ‘development’ has only a relatively short history, with development programmes only being set up late this century. The true implications of the concept are still being realised however. It is only since the 1980s that Western thought has really cast a critical eye over exactly what development has achieved and begun to look at the alternatives. This reappraisal has been encouraged by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, which undermined faith in the power of the Capitalist model, since instead of producing a single model of capitalist democracy, it created ‘a new world disorder’ (Anderson, 1992). This acted as an illustration that the world’s economic system is not evolving as many people once thought it would – that is, slowly incorporating all underdeveloped countries into the capitalist mode of production which, it was suggested, would of benefit to everyone. Many attacks have now been made on the applicability of ‘development’ ideology in the Third World context. For instance, Kothari (1988) suggested that the ideology behind ‘development’ is neo-colonial: ‘…where colonialism left off, development took over.’ Sorj (1991) attacked the negative attitudes engendered by the concept of ‘development’, by suggesting that it is the ’sociology of the non-existent’; while Sachs (1992) suggests that it is the development process itself which is most damaging, calling it ‘a universalising discourse of westernization’.`Dependency Theory The ‘development’ issue has therefore become a full-scale argument in recent years. Dependency Theory, as one branch of ‘development’ ideology, has been one of the main elements of this discourse. Dependency theory emerged from research by Frank who looked at the Latin American experience. It was his reaction to the numerous theories and models which emphasised that the development process is an evolutionary one, with the implication therefore that the Developing World would ‘grow out of it’. The fact that Africa is disadvantaged by the present world market was deemed unimportant, as it was assumed that this would be a temporary situation which could be remedied by the development process. `Dependency theory refuted this idea. The incorporation of Africa into the world market, as colonialism progressed, had not had the desired effect of improving living standards in Africa. Instead, it had simply undermined Africa’s self-sufficiency, ensuring that Africa could no longer survive without the world market. Dependency Theory explained this situation by suggesting that ‘development’ and ‘underdevelopment’ are not stages of development, but are instead opposite sides of the same coin. Underdevelopment in the Third World is therefore crucial if the advantages of the Developed World are to be maintained. Frank often asserted that Latin America will not develop as long as it remains within the world capitalist system, but instead will only experience the ‘development of underdevelopment’ (Frank, 1969). The same could equally be said of Africa. I am therefore going to look at the applicability of Dependency Theory to the African situation and its role in explaining social inequalities. `The African Experience Originally, Africa and Europe had different trade arenas. Long distance trade did occur, as early as Pharaonic times, but this trade was only in luxuries such as gold and spices. In such a system, the market is determined by effective supply (not demand) and so temporary stoppages in trade had few repercussions other than for those directly dependent on the trade (Wallerstein, 1976). The exporting and importing areas were therefore not heavily dependent on one another. `The next major development was the slave trade in the Sixteenth Century, which began as just such a ‘luxury trade’. The arrival of more and more Europeans in Africa however, led to a stepping up of the slave trade and slaves soon became Africa’s major ‘export’. This lead to the expansion of coastal regions and certain states, such as Dahomey and Oyo. As Hopkins (1973) points out however: ‘It would be mistaken to imply that the slave trade was a necessary condition for the formation of large centralised states in West Africa.’ The point is rather that, initially, external trade with Africa strengthened the regions involved. However, European traders soon ensured that profits from African trade were being sent overseas. Furthermore, as sea routes became available for the export of slaves (and goods), Africa’s supplies were no longer so isolated. The market therefore became increasingly dominated by demand rather than supply and, with the arrival of more and more Europeans (using firearms to ensure they got their own way), was increasingly manipulated for European benefit. In this way, the: ‘… slave trade served as the cutting edge of the peripheralization of Africa in the period 1750 to 1900.’ `(Wallerstein, 1976) The European powers soon began to realise that slaves were not the only resource which Africa had to offer and therefore began to diversify. Of particular importance was the production of cash crops, which rapidly became more profitable than the slave trade. A local workforce was needed however, and so Africans began to be more useful in Africa than as exports. Cash crop production therefore used Africans from the West, forcing slave traders to look further and further East. According to Boahen (1974), it was this change of course which acted as the stimulus for the British to move to abolish the slave trade; since the abolition of the slave trade: ‘…rendered illegal as much as nine-tenths of European trade with the coast of West Africa. A huge economic vacuum was thus created and the British hoped that it might be filled by the encouragement of the cultivation of exportable commodities such as white rice, indigo, cotton, coffee and palm oil.’ At this point, European powers were experiencing a process of industrialisation, which gave them an important advantage where exports are concerned, as Europe had a monopoly on industrial production. European colonial powers were keen to keep this monopoly and so attempts were made to prevent Africa from developing rival factories. France, for instance, outlawed the construction of processing plants in most of her territories. A situation therefore emerged whereby Europe exported raw materials from Africa, processed them into industrial goods in the ‘Mother Country’ and then sold the manufactured goods at great profit – some of them were even re-exported to Africa. Africa had therefore become truly peripheralized or, as the Sierra Leone Company stated, made to conform to: ‘…the true principles of Commerce’, that is: ‘…the export of British manufactures in return for African produce’. `Wallerstein (1976) has interpreted the Scramble for Africa in economic terms, by suggesting that non-British European powers (especially France and Germany) began to become concerned with Britain’s increasing market power because of her African territories. They therefore attempted to seal off market areas from Britain by colonising them. Britain therefore joined in to protect her trading advantages. `When European rule over colonial territories began to falter and finally decolonisation occurred, Africa was again left to oversee its own economic policies. However, Africa’s colonial legacy had left her in a very weak position economically. The implementation of cash cropping was particularly important as this had undermined Africa’s self-sufficiency, since subsistence crops had been replaced by cash crops. In The Gambia, for instance, groundnuts accounted for 90% of money earnings at the time of decolonisation (Rodney, 1972). Africans therefore had no choice but to remain in the world market economy in order to make a living. Rodney even went so far as to suggest that monoculture was a conscious policy on the part of the colonial powers, to lock Africans into a relationship of dependency: ‘From a capitalist viewpoint, monocultures commended themselves because they made colonial economies entirely dependent on the metropolitan buyers of their produce.’ Whether this is true or not is still a matter of debate, but it is certainly true that the effect of the introduction of cash crops has been to encourage dependency. `This dependency was reinforced by the peripheral position which Africa played where labour is concerned. According to Barratt-Brown (1974): ‘Britain’s Colonial Empire established what was in effect an artificial world division of labour that has lasted down to our times.’ The developed world had found itself a niche, specialising in industrial goods over which they held a monopoly on the means of production. In some cases, the colonists actually destroyed industrial infrastructure on decolonisation in order to reduce the competition which the new nation would otherwise provide. For Africa, the only means of keeping the economy turning over was by producing food crops and, increasingly, industrial raw materials such as sisal and lubricants. Unfortunately, the competition to sell these products was intense, since numerous ex-colonies were competing for the same small, Western market. This Western market was also prone to fluctuations which could gravely affect the raw material market. The market for manufactured goods however was largely independent of local fluctuations in raw material supply, since there was always another supplier willing to fill the gap in supply. This model became known as the International Division of Labour (IDL). According to neo-classicists, the IDL is a natural consequence of specialisation in production and free trade and is of benefit to all concerned. Marxists, on the other hand, take a dimmer view and on the evidence provided by Africa, I am inclined to agree with them. They hold that the IDL is a form of exploitation of the Developing World by the Developed and that the only way for the Developing World to free itself is by maturing to a Socialist economic system. `Colonial education systems also effectively ensured that Africa remained in a dependent position relative to Europe. Pre-colonial education was largely informal in African societies and was centred around practical lifestyle training – which plants are edible, where to find water and so on. The main purpose of the colonial education system however was to train Africans to perform lowly administrative duties and help run private companies. According to Rodney (1972): ‘In effect, that meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole.’ Western evolutionary ideas of economic development and capitalism were also introduced – alien concepts to people who were used to living largely in communal, socialist societies. Africans were taught ‘…a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist’ (Rodney, 1972). Once one generation had been taught to embrace capitalism, the Western unquestioning acceptance of the virtues of this model began to set in, so that nowadays, many Africans still believe that this is the only way to progress. As Babu (1972) summed up: ‘We have twisted their (Third World peoples’) education in such a way that the ’skills’ we direct them to develop are geared towards serving the same ends of the world market, rather than towards development of an internal material base…’ The history of colonial Africa therefore seems to hold the key to many of Africa’s current economic problems. To what degree however does Dependency Theory help to explain these inequalities.`Dependency Theory and Social Inequality in Present-Day Africa The current economic situation in most African countries today is very poor. Africa contains many of the world’s poorest countries, such as Mali, Chad and Zambia, and has not seen the improvements in living standards which have become apparent in many Asian and Latin American countries. So why is this the case? Numerous hypotheses have been put forward, ranging from environmental-deterministic suggestions, such as that the African climate is unfavourable to hard work, through to more credible suggestions about Africa’s position in the world economy. It is here that Dependency Theory has a role to play since it helps to explain Africa’s position in the world economy. `It seems, from the evidence above, that it is true that Africa is performing a peripheral role in the capitalist world economy. Africa exports largely low-value agricultural produce and raw materials, frequently in an unprocessed form. There is therefore a heavy dependence on primary sector activities. Employment in manufacturing in 1986 to 1987, for instance, came to only 3.9 million, compared with 30.5 million in Western Europe, despite her smaller population (Peet, 1992). Furthermore, many of the industrial installations which do exist in African countries are foreign-owned and so a large proportion of profits go overseas. Most of Africa’s workers are poorly-skilled and many of the most-skilled positions in African companies are taken by foreigners. `At the moment, there seems to be very little challenge to this status quo. Despite being independent for anything up to thirty years, it seems that little has changed since the colonial period. Indeed, in some cases things appear to have worsened. The regular famines which have hit the Sahel region, for instance, exacerbated by increased population pressure, have been especially devastating in recent years, 1984 in particular. It seems to me therefore that most African countries are in a dependent position at the moment which came about because their economic structures are still largely left over from the colonial period and are therefore not designed to maximise Africa’s benefits from them. There has been very little evidence of changes to this structure so it seems unlikely that Africa’s relationship with the Developed World will alter in the near future. I think it is fair to say that, Dependency Theory does explain Africa’s social inequality with the rest of the world, although many other credible models also exist. `By looking at other parts of the world however, the situation changes slightly. Many countries, especially in Asia, have been experiencing rapid “development” and some (such as Singapore) are soon to achieve developed status. These countries therefore suggest that underdevelopment can lead to development along an evolutionary process. Many of these so-called Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs) were once colonies in just the same way that African countries were (Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina and India) are all examples). Their independence generally came earlier however – 1947 in India, for instance, earlier still in Latin America. It seems to me therefore that these countries have had more time to shake off their colonial pasts, and realign their economies to serving their own best interests. In this way, I think that there is a hope that Africa may follow suit in the future. `However, an alternative possibility is that the Developed World does indeed need an Underdeveloped World (the crux of Dependency Theory thinking) and so these NICs could equally be seen as the few that got through the net, because of particular local conditions. Singapore, for instance, has had great economic success because of her strategic position on a main trade route, which has earned her a living as an entrepot port. If this is the case it may be true that Africa cannot (apart from in exceptional circumstances) break out of her underdeveloped position, as long as the Capitalist system dominates the world economy. `The Future for Africa The future for Africa can still not be determined therefore, so advice on the best “development strategies” is difficult to give. Owing to the huge number of variables involved, perhaps the only conclusion which can be reached is that “only time will tell”. Three main camps have developed on this issue however. `The classical train of thought (which has been widely-followed to the present day) has been summed up well by Babu’s (1972) discussion of the arguments: “Growth in underdeveloped countries is hampered by inadequate financial resources and is made worse by “population explosion” in these countries.” The traditional solutions are therefore to: “step up exports, increase aid and loans from the developed countries and arrest growth in population” (Babu, 1972). Most development organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank still assume that this w


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