Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Dream versus the Reality Self Reliant Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (Part I)

Kodwo Mbir Bullard

Can Africa ever be self reliant? The theory has been bandied about for quite some time and Africa's economic problems blamed on the lack of it. In this article the writer examines the record of self reliance and how successful it has been.
There is not one country in Sub-Saharan Africa that does not aspire to achieving Self-Reliance in the very near or distant future. This objective is emblazoned in one national development plan after another. So attractive has this objective been that several international conferences, seminars and workshops have been held on the theme during the past two decades or so.

There is no doubt that if national development were a function of the frequency of conferences or the incidence of sloganeering on Self-Reliance, no Sub-Saharan African country today would be underdeveloped and certainly Tanzania, which helped popularize the concept in post-colonial Africa from the early 1960s, would be one of the most advanced and industrialized countries in the world today.

It is argued that Self-Reliance for neo- colonial mini-economies such as we have in Sub-Saharan Africa, though a noble objective, is nonetheless sheer wishful thinking and a misguided ideal. To preach it is to display an ignorance of both economic history and the realities of the modern global division of labour, ie. the internationalization of modern national economies.

The objective of this article is a limited one. It is firstly to define the term Self- Reliance, and secondly to examine the record on how successful those countries have been that have tried to operationalize the concept in the real world. Then lastly I will offer some suggestions regarding what it is that Sub-Saharan African countries today should be emphasizing in their development policies and pro- grammes if they are to escape the rut of underdevelopment that now engulfs them. DEFINITIONS What does Self-Reliant Development mean?

Within the African context, the one name that has been associated the most with Self- Reliance is Julius Nyerere, until last November the President of Tanzania. We shall use his definition as a point of departure. In Part Three of the Arusha Declaration of 1967 which deals with the policy of Self-Reliance, Nyerere defines Self-Reliance in the following terms:
"TANU believes that everybody who loves his nation has a duty to serve it by cooperating with his fellows in building the country for the benefit of all of the people of Tanzania. In order to maintain our independence and our people's freedom we ought to be self-reliant in every way possible and avoid depending upon other countries for assistance. If every individual is self- reliant the ten-house cell will be self- reliant; if all the cells are self-reliant the whole ward will be self-reliant; and if the wards are self-reliant the District will be self-reliant. If the Districts are self-reliant then the Region is self- reliant, and if the Regions are self- reliant, then the whole nation is self- reliant and this is our aim."

This is quoted from Julius Nyerere's Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism, published in 1968.
In essence therefore, a self-reliant economy may have the following characteristics: its structures of production are geared towards meeting domestic demand and needs. The means of production ie. machinery, equipment and plant etc.

As one commentator described it, Self-Reliance was a call to Tanzanians to concentrate their energies and efforts upon what they can do with their own resources. Nyerere did not rule out foreign aid, far from it, but he wanted it to be regarded as supplementary to a national development effort. It was a call for self-respect.

Over the years this theme has been echoed and resounded by many. One of the advocates of Self-Reliance during the past decade has been Dr Adebayo Adedeji, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.

In an address to the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of Ministers and Thirteenth Session of the Economic Commission at Kinshasa in February 1977, Adebayo is quoted as saying, inter alia, that it is imperative that African states should reformulate their policies and economic strategies and instruments with a view to promoting national and collective self- reliance. He went on to define Self- Reliance as not more of the same ie. not more foreign finance, technology, skills and exchange - but rather a fundamental reassessment of all external linkages.

Instead of the criteria for development being externally and internationally defined, they would be based on internal needs. Such a break would be designed to maximise internal exchanges and national autonomy and to overcome externally oriented growth and local disarticulation.

In essence therefore, a self-reliant economy may have the following characteristics: its structures of production are geared towards meeting domestic demand and needs. The means of production ie. machinery, equipment and plant etc. are produced locally, as far as possible. There are no external 'leaks' that drain the national economy unnecessarily.

This means that increased domestic demand is met from domestic supply sources that depend on locally generated raw materials and intermediate inputs. Consequently increased domestic demand generates new employment and new income that gives the economy a forward push. In other words the economy is internally driven.

In a self-reliant economy, imports are kept at a minimum and limited to the barest essentials, ie, real necessities like oil, etc. and not the so-called 'essential commodities' like sardines, corned beef, mackerel, etc. that Africans are wont to fight over whenever they are available.

Exports are important to a self-reliant economy to the extent that they provide resources for the importation of vital commodities which the economy cannot generate internally. An important aspect of exports in a self-reliant economy is that they represent a real SURPLUS over and above what the local economy needs for both system maintenance and growth. The larger the exports relative to imports the healthier the economy. A self-reliant economy is by no means autarchic. There are foreign links but they do constitute the life blood of the national economy.

From what I have described above it is clear that the economies of most Sub-Saharan African countries are far from being self-reliant. Their production and consumption systems are at variance with each other. A significant proportion of local resources are oriented towards production for export, eg. cocoa for Ivory Coast and Ghana, oil for Nigeria, peanuts for Senegal, rubber for Liberia, cloves and sisal for Tanzania and Uganda.

At the same time a large part of local consumption is met from imports. There are historical reasons for this situation which dates back to colonialism; notwithstanding. These countries are so heavily dependent on their exports for national economic and social development that the deteriorating terms of trade over the years has greatly diminished their capacity to import.

They have thus had to resort to borrowing from abroad to supplement declining export earnings. Foreign borrowing and external indebtedness have come to impose severe constraints on the pace of development in these countries. According to figures released by the World Bank, the largest borrowers are shown in table 1 below. The table also shows the huge debts which have been accumulated by these countries.

The experience of the past twenty-five years with respect to Self-Reliance has not been at all encouraging. Development plans which have been formulated with the expressed aim of trying to increase Self- Reliance have ended up accentuating foreign dependency. Far from developing maximizing internal exchanges and over- coming externally oriented growth, all the evidence points to greater integration of Sub-Saharan African countries into the international economy and therefore greater dependence upon the international system.

I will illustrate with the case of Nyerere's Tanzania. Tanzania is an excellent example because she has had the good fortune, denied to many countries in the region, of having enjoyed twenty-five uninterrupted years of assiduous implementation of the concept of Self-Reliance. It illustrates the dreams as opposed to the realities of Self- Reliance as a development concept.

The successes of Nyerere's tenure are many. For example nearly 80 per cent of the country's population is literate. Basic health care and clean drinking water are available not only to the urban population but also to a majority of the rural population. Life expectancy in 1983 was 51 compared with an average of 45 for most countries in the region. Tanzanians are united by a common language, Swahili.

These achievements notwithstanding, after nearly a quarter of a century of vigorously pursuing Self-Reliance as a national development goal, Tanzania is today one of the world's highest per capita recipients of foreign aid. Without the loans, grants and aid from abroad, Tanzania would be down and under without any adequate support or props. In 1983 Tanzania received a total of $274 million in publicly guaranteed medium and long term loans. This was up from a mere $40 million in 1970. Tanzania's foreign debt rose from $250 million in 1970 to $1.6 billion in 1982 and $2.5 billion in 1983. External public debt in 1983 was nearly 60 per cent for most African countries. This average excludes runaway cases like Togo (114 per cent), Zaire 92 per cent) and Mali (89 per cent). The industrial sector is unable to operate beyond 25 per cent capacity because the sector depends on imported raw materials, spare parts and machinery, and the country lacks the foreign exchange to import them. Tanzania's foreign dependency is thorough in spite of Nyerere and the Arusha Declaration.

Table 1 Outstanding External Debts of Major African borrowers in million US $.

Country Year
1980 1981 1982
Ghana 1,100 1,100 1,100
Guinea 1,000 1,200 1,200
Ivory Coast 4,300 4,400 4,500
Nigeria 4,100 5,000 6,100
Tanzania 1,300 1,500 1,600
Zaire 4,200 4,100 4,000

Source: Adebayo Adedeji "Foreign Debt and Prospects for Growth in Africa During the 1980s" in Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 23, No. 1, 1985.

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