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Inequality between and within countries is the outcome of capitalist development, and not a natural outcome of social processes, as seen in Tanzania and Zambia. New models of development are needed to resolve the structural contradictions of endemic poverty in the Global South. This Analysis first appeared on Pambazuka News under the title: “Uneven development: Understanding the roots of inequality”
According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Barber 1998: 384), development is defined as “a significant change in a course of action, events, [and] circumstances” on one hand and “Industrialisation or economic advancement of a country or an area.” With that definition as a starting place I will examine different views of the meaning and practice of “uneven development.”
My purpose in doing so will be to show how capitalist, market-based advancement has worked against social, economic and political advancement of the rural populations in Tanzania and Zambia. In my argument I will present views from the Marxist and neoliberal schools of thought. I will then present specific examples of uneven development in Tanzania and Zambia with a special focus on resource extraction. I end the paper by considering some strategies for countering continuing processes of uneven development.
What is “Uneven Development?”
There are two major schools of thought that can help us shed some light on this concept, namely the Marxist and neoliberal schools of thought. Regarded as the leading school of thought that came up with the term “uneven development” (even though not explicitly), Marxists perceive capitalism as characterised by structural (Smith 1984: xi) inequalities that produce uneven effects. To make this clearer, uneven development is viewed as “the historical product of past and continuing economic and other relations between the satellite underdeveloped and the now developed metropolitan countries” (Frank 1969 – GDR[i] 2007: 77). The most crucial argument here is that “core or metropolitan countries [now known as the global north] developed by under-developing the periphery” [known as the global south], (Kiely 2010: 11).
The reference made here to under-development of the countries in the “periphery” is exemplified by resource extraction from countries in the global south by countries in the global north. This partly explains the differences in the historical and contemporary wealth between countries in the global south and those in the north.
Marxist scholars writing in the 1960s-1970s further developed the idea of the extent to which the wealth of the so-called “developed nations” had occurred through the exploitation of the former colonial countries. Scholars like Frank (1969), Cardoso (1972), Rodney (1972) and others who may rightly be considered contemporary Marxists, call this “dependency theory.” The concept they are talking about here sees plunder of the nations of the global south as the direct cause of the wealth that is enjoyed in the global north through resource exploitation for raw materials. This does not stop there but extends to “cheap labour and larger markets” for the “need to increase their [global north countries’] wealth,” (GDR 2007: 71).
To drive the above point home even more precisely, Cardoso (1972) says that, “as a mode of exploitation, imperialism should tend to restrict the economic growth of backward countries to mineral and agricultural sectors in order to assure raw materials for the advanced capitalist nations in their drive for further industrialisation” (GDR 2007: 87).
While Frank (1969) examined these processes in relation to South America, Rodney (1972) made an important contribution in his analysis presented in his book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” by analysing a 500-year history of European interventions in the African continent. He showed that the contemporary underdevelopment in the global south countries, “expresses a particular relationship of exploitation […] of one country by another.” He goes on to say explicitly that “…the underdevelopment with which the world is now preoccupied is a product of a capitalist, imperialist and colonialist exploitation,” (1972/2012: 14). Another interesting factor is when Rodney, in the same breath, makes reference to the fact that before the repressive foreign rule emerged to oppose the notion of ‘primitive societies’ in the global south, “African and Asian societies were developing independently until they were taken directly or indirectly by the capitalists’ powers.” The latter invasion introduced massive “exploitation and the export of surplus ensued, depriving the societies of the benefit of their natural resources and labour” (1972/2012: 14). This is a fact that neoliberal theorists as well as the naturalists would want to bury and forget.
More recently, Harvey, after a critical analysis of earlier Marxist scholars’ work on uneven development, coined the phrase “accumulation by dispossession” as a continuing form of uneven development occurring globally. Taking it from Marx’s views on “primitive accumulation,” Harvey lists “commodification and privatisation of land and the forceful expulsion of the peasant populations […] the commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption” (2003: 145) as features of capitalism occurring everywhere on the planet.
Another interesting aspect that Harvey brings is that of “co-optation” and “suppression” of different governmental departments dealing with economic advancement. Tanzania and Zambia underwent the same processes which were introduced in the 1980s with the structural adjustment policies (SAPs) that were pioneered by the Bretton Woods systems. This process did not just identify sectors that would make ‘significant’ contribution to the national economy but also pushed forward the agenda on reviewing the policy, institutional and legal framework to allow economic development to take root. I cannot express this better than Harvey who says that:
“In some instances the pre-existing structures have [were] violently repressed as inconsistent with labour under capitalism, but multiple accounts now exist to suggest that they are just likely to be co-opted in an attempt to forge some consensual as opposed to coercive basis for working class formation. Primitive accumulation, in short, entails appropriation and co-optation of pre-existing cultural and social achievements as well as confrontation and suppression,” (2003: 146).
Finally, there is yet another side of uneven development that is often ignored. That is the unevenness of development that occurs within countries – both in the global south and north – that leaves a segment of a society marginalised and impoverished while other social sectors enjoy an increased level of material accumulation. In his writings on what he calls “uneven and combined development in India,” D’Costa examines the software industry which he terms as “integral to uneven and combined capitalist development.” Noting that “while the sector’s coexistence with slow growing agricultural and industrial sectors makes the development process convoluted,” he makes a further observation that “these different sectors are functionally integrated as part of a single social system” (2002/2003: 212).
In the foregoing therefore, we should draw the conclusion that “uneven development” as a term used to show societal economic disparities does not “simply” refer “to the geography of capitalism but also to the uneven rates of growth between different sectors of the capitalist economy” (Smith 1984: 99).
Neoliberal Views on Differences in Economic Development
Unlike the Marxist school of thought, liberal theorists do not explain economic differences between countries as the outcome of political processes of exploitation but rather as a simple historical fact pertaining to where they are located in a supposedly natural, evolutionary process of economic development that every society is thought to go through.
According to Smith (1984), some theorists claimed that economic differences between countries could be explained in terms of natural differences in resource endowments (such as a favourable climate, soil fertility, presence of mineral resources, etc.). In other words, some countries were simply more naturally advantaged than others. Smith cites Sir Halford Mackinder (1919), a British geographer, who asserted that “the unequal growth of nations […] is not wholly due to the greater genius and energy of some nations as compared with others; in large measure it is the uneven distribution of fertility and strategical opportunity upon the face of the globe. In other words, there is in nature no such a thing as equality of opportunity for the nations,” (Smith 1984: 102).
Such a view, apart from obscuring and denying colonial exploitation, contradicts the fact that many European countries lacked the extensive natural resource endowments found in countries of the global south. This theory does not therefore explain the wealth of these relatively resource-poor European countries! Nor does it explain the impoverishment of resource-rich countries in the global south, of which Tanzania and Zambia are prime examples. Furthermore, the implication that some countries develop as the result of the “greater genius” of their populations is a clearly racist assertion. For instance, renowned Congolese philosopher, V. W. Mudimbe (1988: 12 – 20), notes that colonialism and anthropology both made use of racist notions of a hierarchy of human nature, human societies and by extension human economies; it was asserted that there was a natural classification of societies into a system that began from the “primitive” and developed toward the “modern” or “civilized”. Such thinking can be contrasted with structural (Marxist) analysis of histories of exploitation of some societies and countries by others.
Such depoliticised or “naturalistic” thinking was most influentially synthesised by Walt Rostow who in his ‘most’ celebrated work sees the current economic development disparities in terms of stages. In his article, “The Stages of Economic Growth: a Non-Communist Manifesto” (1960), Rostow looks at the contemporary world from a ‘primitive’ perspective which suggests that the wealth that is seen in the global north is the result of a ‘natural’ metamorphosis process. Therefore the under-developed countries in the global south will have to also go through the same process to be able to catch up! Hence his suggestion that the starting point should be transition from the first stage – traditional way of life.
In his view, “a traditional society is one whose structure is developed within limited [primitive] production functions, based on pre-Newtonian science and technology and pre-Newtonian attitudes towards the physical world” and he goes further to suggest a deficit in knowledge which he describes as resulting “from the fact that the potentialities which flow from modern science and technology were either not available or not regularly and systematically applied,” (GDR 2007: 47). What a bold and arrogant statement!
To give a better summary of Rostow’s perspective on the uneven development which is also known as the natural theory, I shall turn to a summary of each of the five stages stipulated in his perspective. The first is, as I have already stated, basically a ‘primitive stage’ which calls attention to the fact that the world run by the traditional ways cannot develop and needs a drastic transition to be able to realise economic development. Failure of such societies, he argues, were caused by their (the communities’) “value systems” which were “geared to what might be called a long-run fatalism; that is the assumption that the range of possibilities open to one’s grandchildren would be just about what it had been for one’s grandparents,” (GDR 2007: 48). Second, the [preliminary] “preconditions for take-off” stage where he sees a formation of statutes that would ensure that transformation from traditional way of carrying out activities were done smoothly and in agreement with other forces behind this supposedly transitional yet transformative stage. He argues that this would be time consuming “for it takes time to transform a traditional society in the ways necessary to it to exploit[ii] the fruits of modern science, to fend off diminishing returns, and thus to enjoy the blessings and choices opened up by the march of compound interest,” (GDR 2007: 48). Third, is the “take-off” stage where what he calls “the old blocks and resistances to steady growth are finally overcome” and in his perception “growth becomes its normal condition, compound becomes built… into its habits and institutional structure,” (GDR 2007: 49). Fourth, “the drive to maturity,” this is a stage where he sees a society with a “regularly growing economy” that “drives to extend modern technology over the whole front of its economic activity,” and “some 10 – 20 per cent of the national income is steadily invested, permitting output regularly to outstrip the increase in population,” (GDR 2007: 50). His last stage is “the age of high mass-consumption.” Rostow describes this as the time when “the leading sectors shift towards durable consumers’ goods and services: a phase from which Americans are beginning to emerge…” (GDR 2007: 51).
I have delved much into this section especially with respect to Rostow’s article as it is a clear indication that while he romanticises these processes, they are the very basis upon which the contemporary development project was established. This project can be understood as a central strategy in the emergence of American imperialism as it began to replace the earlier European empire; it was further associated with America’s determination to prevent Japan and the Soviet Union from increased economic ascendancy and global influence. It should be remembered that at the time of Rostow’s writing, both Japan, a technological ‘power-house’, and the Soviet Union, which had achieved major influence in the African continent, the Caribbean, and some regions of Asia, posed a threat to America’s economic and political interests.
Neo-liberal economic ideology and policy advice can be seen to continue the kind of thinking so popularized by Rostow. This neo-economic ideology traces its background to the economic policy articles that were prescribed by John Williamson in 1989 but the main idea came from the era when neo-conservative movement emerged during the global oil crisis in the 1970s followed by the debt crisis.[iii] Later in 1989 the implementation of the SAPs were modified in response to sharp criticism from development stakeholders who pointed out that SAPs deepened uneven development. One of the earlier and most influential critiques of the SAPs was the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). An excerpt from the State of the World’s Children Report of 1989 issued as a reaction to the SAPs stated that, “over the course of the 1980s, average income has fallen by 10% in most of Latin America and by over 20% in sub-Saharan Africa. For many, the story has been even worse… in many urban areas, real minimum wages have declined by as much as 50% […] “…it is essential to strip away the niceties of economic parlance and say that… the developing world’s debt , both in the manner in which it was incurred and in the manner in which it is being ‘adjusted to,’ […] is simply an outrage against a large section of humanity,” (Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice – ECEJ 1990: 8, 9). In summary, liberal and neoliberal claims that “natural” or market-led economic development would eventually eradicate “unevenness” of development between (and within) countries proved to be wrong.
The Development Project
The discussion above leads us to one of the most contemporary phases of the neo-liberal movement – the development project. Each institution that was established to have oversight of global economic development took as a priority the interests of the global north countries. For example, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were the catalysts of the dreamed-of-economy. The former was to be responsible for “borrowing money in the international capital markets to raise money for development” while the latter would be responsible for disbursing “credit where needed to stabilise national currency exchanges,” (McMichael 1996/2012: 58). Apart from the above roles, the World Bank was “the key multilateral agency responsible for underwriting Third World development,”; it “framed development priorities” […] “channelled loans,” and “trained Third World officials in the theory and practice of development,” (McMichael 1996/2012: 60). The latter I call brain-washing of the global south leaders.
Rostow’s argument with regards to the stages of development is an interesting one as it acts as the launching board upon which the development project found its place. Considered as the “master concept of the social sciences” and “an evolutionary movement bringing rising standards of living,” (McMichael 1996/2012: 216) the prescribed strategies and the expectations required rapid developmental growth on the part of nations in the global south in the same manner broilers[iv] grow. The prescriptions were made forgetting that in the face of the most celebrated economic development and growth in the global north countries, a painstaking process was undertaken. A process of cunning planning and high levels of scheming led to massive looting coupled with co-optation of leaders in the global south.
Done with a mentality that “poor nations lacked the right cultural values” (GDR 2007: 9) to attract development in their regions – an attitude that echoes the racist perceptions of a hierarchy of human development as discussed earlier – the development project was not just intended to acculturate countries in the global south but must be understood as a “political strategy to institute nationally [from the global north view], managed economic patterns as a replicable pattern” and a way to “organise states and international institutions around the [misplaced] goal of maximising national welfare via technology advances in industry and agriculture,” (McMichael 1996/2012: 216). Hite and Roberts identifies this as the point when the multinational corporations from the global north countries , the elites and the national governments in the global south countries [became] key agents who promote and thrive in the dependency scenario, (GDR 2007: 71, 72, 73).
Practical Implications of the Development Project
In discussing the economic development in the global south and the strategies that have been championed by countries in the global north, this paper will not be complete without touching on the practical implications of the “development project” in the global south. Since it would be a too ambitious to look at all the countries, Tanzania and Zambia, as noted from the beginning, will be the focus when discussing some of the implications that characterised the implementation of the prescribed strategies to realise economic development. The two countries went through what I would term as the most challenging period in the history of economic liberation. In the colonial era, Zambia’s and Tanzania’s minerals were used as economic supports to the Eurocentric rule and spread of the colonial operations not only in the region but in other regions where the British Empire was dominant. In the transition period preceding Africa ‘independence,’ the mining operations in both countries (Zambia and Tanzania) were fairly well managed and well run as they were still in the hands of the colonial masters who were running the mining sectors in both countries. Apart from this, the administration and management by the colonial representatives also meant that there was enough financial input in the running of the resource extraction sectors. During 1960 – 1980s African states took control of the mining operations, and were marked by failure in operations as the investors in the private sector divested from mining operations.
Due to lack of technical and financial capacity to successfully run the mining sector and make it a contributing sector to the economic development, a number of African countries including Tanzania and Zambia entered into debt in the attempt to run the economy through the mining sector. Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda, the founding fathers and main political leaders in the two countries, defiantly refused to comply and be co-opted into the neoliberal and capitalist market-led economic trends. But they had to give in and the results are well captured by Rusimbi and Mbilinyi[v] on their reflections on the trends of the economic development in Tanzania and struggles against neoliberalism.[vi] They state that:
“These struggles take place in the context of deepening struggles over neoliberalism as an ideology and the structures of power it supports. Following seven long years of refusal to “sign” with IMF, the government of Mwalimu[vii] Julius Nyerere was forced to accept the conditionalities of SAPs in the mid 1980’s. Debt and donor dependence of the post-colonial state left little room for manoeuvres. The resulting combination of SAP and trade liberalisation and privatisation has led to a radical change in patterns of ownership and controls of basic natural resources, including land, minerals, wildlife areas and water […] transnational corporations (TNCs) gained far more control over basic resources in the 1990s and 2000s than they ever had in the colonial era which ended[viii] in 1961. A small group of Tanzanians and non-Tanzanians benefit from economic reforms, whereas the majority in the low and middle income groups have been excluded – excluded from the labour market, from quality social services and from participation in decision-making about policy and the law,” (Santos & Rodriguez-Garavito 2005: 284, 285).
The above statement contradicts the belief that was echoed when the “Development Project” was being sold wholesale to the nations in the global south, on the one hand fostering the belief that this was the ‘best’ way to go while on the other hand coercing stubborn leaders like Nyerere and Kaunda to embrace this structure. All this was done in the spirit of what Wolfensohn[ix] describes in these terms: “One outcome of harnessing participation to poverty reduction […] the emergence of development policy solutions in the shape of universalising models which provide blueprints for invited participation,” (Cornwall and Brock 2005: 1048). Quoting Vandermoortele, Cornwall and Brock notes that, “the partnership between rich and poor countries takes many forms . . . In essence, there are two major dimensions to that partnership: one is concerned with ‘money changing hands’ the other with ‘ideas changing minds’” (2005: 1049).
At this juncture I would like to remind us of the metamorphosis process that capitalist, imperialistic and colonial rule has gone through such that the neoliberal capitalist market-led economy that is so westernised gives a feel that it is what is needed and, as we all know, is now accepted worldwide. Smith, in his ground breaking work on “uneven development,” drives the point home when he states that “capitalism has modelled itself in human beings life to an extent that it does not seem too foreign as industrial capitalism has cut into the accumulated meanings of nature so that they can be shaped and fashioned into concepts of nature appropriate for the present era” (1984: 1). We should not forget though that things are not different today from what they were in the 50 or so years of African independence especially in Tanzania and Zambia. The ‘former colonial masters are still in their colonial territories, they still hold century-long land leases, and they still hold the economy in check apart from the fact that there is a little participation window for selected elites. I would also like to share my frustration when I hear or read sentences which suggest that ‘colonial rule ended’ in Africa. The picture painted by Rusimbi, Mbilinyi and other writers whose works have been considered in this paper tells a story that is far too well known – and that is: the independence that was secured from the former European domination is only territorial in nature. Even formal administration of the territorial state is ‘remote-controlled’ and the leaders in most African countries are federal heads of colonial rule and domination in the ‘post-colonial’ era.
The involvement of the transnational corporations has not only externalised profits and financial gains but has by and large appropriated spaces, displaced and denied primary sources of livelihoods from the local community members, created and abandoned satellite towns (which are now ghost towns), and polluted the environment leaving irreparable damage behind. From the community outcries and the criticisms from the activists and other rights organisations the capitalist market-led economists came up with the mass manufacturing of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose role in my view was not just to have oversight of the projects that were supported by the global north countries in the global south but by and large were to supersede state and government authorities. Clothed in modesty and eloquence:
“This new consensus is captured in a seductive mix of buzzwords. ‘Participation’ and ‘empowerment’, words that are ‘warmly persuasive’ and fulsomely positive, promise an entirely different way of doing business. Harnessed in the service of ‘poverty reduction’ and decorated with the clamours of ‘civil society’ and ‘the voices of the poor’, they speak of an agenda for transformation that combines no-nonsense pragmatism with almost unimpeachable moral authority,” […] “Carrying the allure of optimism and purpose, as well as considerable normative power, these words have not completely permeated the terrain of development policy. But their presence in the language of the most influential development agencies appears, at first sight, to represent a considerable shift in approach” (Cornwall and Brock 2005: 1043, 1044).
The economic disparities between the global north and south countries as we have seen can be attributed to the “capitalist, imperialist and colonialist exploitation,” (Rodney 1972/2012: 14). Unevenness of development in the global south as we have seen enshrined in the discussion above leads to the fact that the development strategies coined in the global south countries can never have any impact to have a constructive and productive economic input in these countries. This is true in the case of Tanzania and Zambia. In these countries it is clearly seen that all the above discussed phases of the capitalist market-led economic model have worked against the wellbeing of the citizenry but favours a select few in these communities. The emergence of the NGOs as the new wave of the capitalist movement would not make anything better.
There has been a surge of efforts from a number of governments from the global north like Norway and other Scandinavian countries who have shown a keen interest in supporting Zambia and Tanzania to realise optimum benefit from the resources that are harboured within their respective territories. The preceding is also countered by the ever emerging forces from Canada and other countries who have integrated their international aid with the operations of the transnational corporations working in Tanzania, Zambia and other resource rich countries in the global south. This poses a challenge to the activities that are being carried out by the local civil society organisations (CSOs) in collaboration with the CSOs in the country of origin of the transnational corporations. Adding my voice to what has been articulated well by other academics, [and echoing Harvey’s vision 1996: 159] “…a greater political engagement is called for to foster not so much ‘‘even’’ development but rather to ensure outcomes that are based on ‘‘genuine social choice’’ and not on the ‘‘logic of capital’’ […] “…uneven and combined development demands resolving the structural contradictions of endemic poverty, rural impoverishment, primordial social hierarchies, and regional inequality” (D’Costa 2002/2003: 212).
[i] Globalization and Development Reader
[ii] Italics mine
[iv] Broilers are force-fed chickens that grow to maturity in two weeks.
[v] De Sousa Santos & Rodriguez-Garavito (Eds): 2005. Law and Globalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality. Political and Legal Struggle over Resources and democracy: Experiences with Gender Budgeting in Tanzania
[vi] Which characterised a number of countries in Africa whose resource extraction sectors were used to further the agendas of the colonial rule
[vii] “Mwalimu” means teacher.
[viii] Italics mine.
[ix] Sir James David Wolfensohn was the 9th President of the World Bank
Barber, Katherine (Eds): 1998. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press Canada.
Cornwall, Andrea & Brock, Karen: 2005. What do Buzzwords do for Development Policy? A critical look at ‘participation’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘poverty reduction.’ Third World Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 7.
D’Costa, Anthony P: 2002/2003. Uneven and Combined Development: Understanding India’s Software Exports. World Development Volume 31, Number 1; Great Britain. www.elsevier.com/locate/worlddev
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