The West’s development agenda and Global South

This is the second instalment of a series of articles of the introductory part of a book, Rethinking and Unthinking Development in Africa, by the two scholars.

Cowen and Shenton’s Doctrines of Development (1996) provides a comprehensive history of the origins, invention and design of the doctrines of development. Shanmugaratnam (2011) provided an excellent up-to-date historical overview of development studies research centred on the ideology of development. Shanmugaratnam (2011) provided an excellent up-to-date historical overview of development studies research centred on the ideology of development as shown in the table.
In spite of all these “development” efforts, the social, economic and political inequality of the poor, marginalised and exploited people in the Global South is worsening. Where development takes place, some people get excluded because of their gender, ethnicity, regionalism, age, sexual orientation, disability or poverty or other factors.
As a result, the idea of development, peddled under the hegemony of neoliberal economics since the end of the Cold War, has been one of the most globally contested ideas across different historical timeframes. While it originated from and is hugely uncontested in the West, the process towards “achieving” development has been contested greatly in the non-Western world.
According to Easterly (2007), the main challenge is that like Marxism to some extent, development aspires to be scientific, and finding one correct solution to poverty is seen as a scientific problem to be solved by experts, the international aid bureaucrats, “the self-appointed priesthood of development”. It favours collective goals such as national poverty reduction, national economic growth and the global Millennium Development Goals (Easterly 2007).
In other words, according to Easterly, the ideology of development promises a comprehensive final answer to all of society’s problems. It shares the common ideological characteristic suggesting that there is only one correct answer and it tolerates little dissent. It deduces this unique answer for everyone from a general theory that purports to apply to everyone universally. The “one correct answer” referred to ‘free markets’ and, for the poor world, was defined as doing whatever the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank prescribed.
For Easterly (2007), the ideology of development is not only about having experts design the free market for states; it is about having the experts design a comprehensive, technical plan to solve all the problems of the poor. These experts see poverty as a purely technological problem, to be solved by engineering and the natural sciences. However, countries having the potential to develop are wise to avoid too strong and one-sided Western-centric ideas that emanate from the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), among others (Easterly 2007).
Human economists advocate that development policies in the public and private sectors should enhance people’s concrete activities and aspirations in societies, a development approach that is rooted in the local people’s lived experiences (Hart 2008a). This involves the use of approaches that emphasise endogenous efforts that have sustained local communities in the light of the failure of states to provide for them. Economic anthropologists have argued that the project of economics needed to be rescued from economists, who have tended to portray the economy as an impersonal machine, remote from the everyday experience of most people, but with devastating consequences (Hart et al. 2010: 4–5).
Hart (2008a) argued that economics, which ought to be a science for human emancipation, has become a dehumanised expert ideology remote from people’s practical concerns and from their ability to understand what to do. The 20th Century market economy, sustained by a concern for individual freedom, generated huge inequalities, but submission of the economy to the political will on the pretext of equality led to the suppression of freedom (Hart 2008b: 2).
Easterly (2014) reiterated that the experts’ idea that they can have a purely technical approach to resolving problems of poverty without any moral implications was an illusion. He noted that development tactics (in the fight against global poverty) trampled over the individual freedom of the world’s poor, and in doing so suppressed a vital debate about an alternative approach to solving poverty: freedom.
An understanding of “how can people be more free to find their own solutions” can contribute to the development of a more appropriate development ideology. Easterly thus argues that only a new model of development, one predicated on respect for the individual rights of people in developing countries and one that understands that unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution, will be capable of ending global poverty once and for all. He regards the attitude that views the poor as helpless individuals without any dignity to be respected as condescending and paternalistic.
He therefore criticised experts as being too arrogant in their own knowledge and too oblivious to the moral consequences of their overconfidence and about how this can lead to damaging other people. In other words, there is a technocratic blindness to the moral dimension of development. Worse still, according to Easterly, in development, people at times tend to ignore the following question: who has the power (interview between William Easterly and Kent Annan, April 2 2014)? James Ferguson (1990) correctly postulated that development is not neutral of power and cannot be understood outside of current power dynamics.
Those seeking to promote development that reduces inequality and poverty, but from within the confines of neoliberal economics, talk of inclusive approaches to development in Africa. Inclusive development is one of the human development approaches and it integrates the standards and principles of human rights, including participation, non-discrimination and accountability. It originated from the realisation that many people in societies tend to be excluded from development because of their gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability or poverty.
Inclusive development refers to the improvement of the distribution of wellbeing along many dimensions (falling poverty, narrowing inequality, education and health) alongside the improvement in average achievement (Kanbur and Rauniyar 2009). Decoloniality thinkers push for the interrogation of the contradictions between the epistemic location of development theory in the academy and the social location of the intended beneficiaries of development in the non-Western world. They contend that the hand of “invisible power structures” still haunts the majority of the citizens now long after the end of formal colonialism (Ndhlovu 2016).
The strength of the decolonial epistemic perspective is that it does not attempt to claim universality, neutrality and singular truthfulness. It is decidedly and deliberately situated in those epistemic sites, such as Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, that experienced the negative consequences of modernity and that are facing development challenges. At the same time, it openly accepts its partiality, the awareness that all knowledges are partial (Ndlovu Gatsheni, Chapter 1 in this volume). Decolonial epistemic perspectives are predicated on the concepts of power, knowledge and being.
Coloniality of power locates the discourse of development within the context of the politics of constitution of a racially hierarchised EuroAmerica-centric, Christian-centric, patriarchal, capitalist, heteronormative, hegemonic, asymmetrical and modern global power structure (Grosfoguel and Cervantes-Rodriguez 2002; Grosfoguel 2007). Deploying decolonial epistemic perspectives can reveal the coloniality embedded in development discourses.
Easterly (2007) also argued that development’s simple theory of historical inevitability is highly hypocritical. In other words, experts argue that poor societies are not just poor, but that they are “developing” until they reach the final stage of history, or “development”, when they “catch up” with the West, at which stage poverty will soon end. However, and unfortunately, development ideology has had a dismal record of helping any country actually develop and the regions in which the ideology has been most influential — that is, Latin America and Africa — have done the worst.
From the above, it is therefore clear that there is now a need to embrace an interdisciplinary approach in attempts to solve development conundrums and avoiding pretensions of “the [purported] superiority of [the narrow focussed orthodox] economics” (Ndhlovu 2016: 188–9; Fourcade et al. 2015: 89).
In 1991, Immanuel Wallerstein argued that the presumptions of nineteenth-century social science, which were previously considered to possess a “liberating of the spirit, serve today as the central intellectual barrier to useful analysis of the social world” (Wallerstein 1991: 1–2).
Chabal reiterated this in 2012 when he argued that: Those instruments — that is, the social sciences we employ to explain what is happening domestically and overseas — are both historically and conceptually out of date … I show that these theories are now obstacles to the understanding of what is going on in our societies and what we can do about it (Chabal 2012: viii) … The end of conceit is upon us.
Mpofu is a senior researcher at AMRI, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa. His main research interests include Third World urbanisation and the history of African cities, urban poverty, inclusive development, development discourse and theory. His publications include The Urban Land Question, Land Reform and the Spectre of Extrajudicial Land Occupations in South Africa, Africa Insight (2017) and The Land Question, Agriculture, Industrialisation and the Economy in Zimbabwe: A Critical Reflection, in O Akanle and JOT Adesisa (eds), Development of Africa: Issues, Diagnoses and Prognoses (2018). Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the acting executive director of Change Management Unit (CMU), vice-chancellor’s office at the University of South Africa. He has published extensively in African history, African politics, and development. His major publications include The Ndebele Nation: Reflections on Hegemony, Memory and Historiography (2009); Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009); Redemptive or Grotesque Nationalism? Rethinking Contemporary Politics in Zimbabwe (2011); Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity (2013); Coloniality of Power in Post-colonial Africa: Myths of Decolonisation (2013); Nationalism and National Projects in Southern Africa: New Critical Reflections (2013); and Bondage of Boundaries and Identity Politics in Postcolonial Africa: The ‘Northern Problem’ and Ethno-Futures (2013).