The 'Atinga' Development Model

Published on 2nd November 2009

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong continues his deliberations with Prof. George Ayittey on his argument that US President Barack Obama’s Accra public statement that Africa’s future is in Africans hands is an “intellectual vindication” for the “Internalist School” of African development

Q.How will an “Internalist School” paradigm or more personally your “African solution for African problems” resolve your assertion that “Africa is stuck in a veritable conundrum”?

Development must be people centered

Photo courtesy

A. Monumental leadership failure remains the primary obstacle to Africa’s development. After independence in the 1960s, the leadership, with few exceptions, established defective economic and political systems that set the stage for the ruination of post colonial Africa. The economic system of statism or dirigisme with its plethora of state controls created chronic commodity shortages, black markets, spawned a culture of bribery and corruption, virtually destroying Africa’s productive base. The political system of one-party states and military dictatorships degenerated into tyranny. These systems, with enormous economic and political power concentrated in the state, evolved into “vampire” or “gangster states.” “Government,” as an institution, ceased to exist, hijacked instead by a phalanx of unrepentant bandits and criminals, who use the state machinery to enrich themselves, their cronies and tribes. Quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself. But this “vampire state” does not endure. Eventually, it metastasizes into a “coconut republic” and implodes when politically-excluded groups rise up in rebellion: Somalia (1993), Rwanda (1994), Burundi (1995), Zaire (1996), Sierra Leone (1998), Liberia (1999), and Ivory Coast (2000).

These monstrosities were not colonial legacies; they were created by African leaders themselves. Traditional African political systems were characterized by participatory democracy based upon consensus under Africa’s chiefs. Traditional African chiefs don’t impose themselves on their people, nor declare their villages to be one-party states. Chiefs are chosen and can be removed at any time. Furthermore, traditional African economic systems were not characterized by onerous state controls. What is needed to turn Africa around is reform of its abominable political and economic systems.  But the leadership is simply not interested, period.

Ask them to cut bloated state bureaucracies or government spending and they will set up a “Ministry of Less Government Spending.” Then there is the “Ministry of Good Governance” (Tanzania). Ask them to curb corruption and they will set up “Anti-Corruption Commissions” with no teeth and then sack the Commissioner if he gets too close to the fat cats (Kenya), issue a Government White Paper to exonerate corrupt ministers (Ghana in 1996), or sned the anti-corruption czar off to the U.K. for graduate studies (Nigeria in 2007). Ask them to establish democracy and they will empanel a coterie of fawning sycophants to write the electoral rules, toss opposition leaders into jail, hold fraudulent elections and return themselves to power (Ivory Coast, Rwanda).

The reform process has stalled by vexatious chicanery, strong-arm tactics, willful deception, and vaunted acrobatics. Only 16 out of the 54 African countries are democratic and fewer than 8 African countries are “economic success stories.” Intellectual freedom remains in the Stalinist era: only 8 African countries have a free and independent media. But without genuine reform, more African countries will implode. Africa is stuck in a veritable conundrum.

Q. Ghana is promising as Botswana. But the difference between the Ghanaian case and that of Botswana is that Ghana is tackling certain inhibitions within its culture that have been blocking progress. Ghana recently held a workshop in Kumasi on culture and policy planning. Does this fit into the Internalist thinking?

A. You are confusing three concepts: social progress, economic development and internalist thinking. They are different things. All cultures undergo a process of transformation or modernization. Certain cultural practices become obsolete and are shed as old ones are adapted. Economic development deals with issues of poverty alleviation and raising income per capita. The internalist doctrine deals with the internal causes of Africa’s crises. Many of these internal causes are such factors as bad leadership, political repression, economic mismanagement, corruption, capital flight and senseless civil wars among others. They have nothing to do with African culture.

Q. Has Africa come up with a development philosophy that it can claim originated from its cultural values, experiences, history and the global prosperity ideals?

A. Not yet. I tried to develop one in my book, Africa Unchained in Chapter 10. I call it “The Atinga Development Model.” Atinga is a pseudonym for an African peasant.

An African economy consists of three sectors: the traditional, informal, and the modern sector. The vast majority of the African people who produce Africa’s real wealth – cash crops, diamonds, gold and other minerals – live in the traditional and informal sectors. Meaningful development and poverty reduction cannot occur by ignoring these two sectors. But in the 1960s and 1970s, much Western development aid was channeled into the modern sector or the urban area, the abode of the parasitic elite minority. Industrialization was the rage and the two other sectors – especially agriculture – were neglected. Huge foreign loans were contracted to set up a dizzying array of state enterprises, which became towering edifices of gross inefficiency, waste and graft. Economic crises emerged in the 1980s and billions in foreign aid money were spent in an attempt to reform the dysfunctional modern sector. Between 1981 and 1994, for example, the World Bank spent more than $25 billion in Structural Adjustment loans to reform Africa’s dilapidated statist economic system. Only 6 out of the 29 “adjusting” African countries were adjudged to be “economic success stories” in 1994.

Real development must start at the grassroots level – the village level or in the informal sector. It assumes that there is peace, order and economic freedom - that is, the country is not wracked by conflict and the Atingas are free to produce what they want, sell wherever they want, at whatever prices they choose to charge. It takes what is there and attempts to build upon it to improve its efficiency. In most cases, this would entail a mere reorganization of the existing ways of doing things. If Atinga produces 300 bushels of corn a year, the object is to raise his productivity to, say, 1,200 bushels a year, using whatever technology that is locally available. This technology must be simple and inexpensive.

The ingredients and strategies of this Village Development Model involve three basic steps:

1. Setting up a Village development committee or council (VDC) under a traditional ruler, say a chief, who still commands authority and respect. The chiefs constitute Africa’s most important human resource. They are closer to the people, understand their needs, and command their respect. It defies common sense to exclude them in any rural development strategy. The functions of the Village development council would be to provide some basic infrastructure and the following services on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis with either a district or a regional administration:

•Education by building simple schools for elementary education,
•Clean water through the provision of bore wells for common usage,
•Health care by building a simple clinic, encouraging the interaction between traditional and modern medicine,
•A civic center or hall,
•A market, a market, a market, and
•Feeder roads.

2. The second step is to mobilize capital for investment. Capital can be raised through participation in and modernization of existing revolving credit schemes (microfinance).

3. The third step is investment in cottage industries by young African graduates. The state or government should be left out of this.

I have emphasized peace because economic activity cannot take place in an atmosphere of conflict, violence, and chaos. A peaceful environment has eluded Africa and must be established as a first order of priority. Once peace and order are established, development can proceed under the traditional chief.

It is indisputable that chiefs play a crucial role in the development of any given country. Being the closest to their subjects, traditional rulers are expected to spearhead and successfully execute developmental projects in their areas; like building schools and clinics, sinking boreholes and other ventures to uplift the living standards of their people. And the Zambian Government knows that very well. That is why it has, from time immemorial, sought a closer working relationship with traditional rulers. Of especial importance is the building of a market and the providing of roads or access to the market.

This is only a sketch of the Atinga development model. Obviously, it can be improved. But the essential elements are that: It is focused on agriculture, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the GDP of most African countries; it involves the participation of chiefs; and is centered on the village level.

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