African Perspectives on Development: Controversies, Dilemmas and Openings; Democracy and Development in Africa

In This Review

African Perspectives on Development: Controversies, Dilemmas and Openings

Edited by Ulf Himmelstrand, Kabiru Kinyanjui, and Edward Mbu
St. Martin's Press, 1994
35 pp. $49.50

Democracy and Development in Africa

By Claude Ake
Brookings, 1996
173 pp. $36.95

These two works review Africa's lackluster record of economic and political development in recent decades and focus on the inability of standard theories adequately to explain, predict, or prevent Africa's current development crisis. Having discarded the modernization theories of the 1960s and the neo-Marxist and neoliberal paradigms of the 1970s and 1980s, Africans and Africanists now find themselves peering into a theoretical and ideological void. This has inspired a logical impulse toward stocktaking, and the collection of 23 pieces edited by Himmelstrand, Kinyanjui, and Mburugu surveys a wide range of economic and political debates in light of the familiar paradigms in order to show how imperfectly, if at all, theory has illuminated reality. The result is a rich and focused analysis of viewpoints on critical development issues, ably and provocatively synthesized in concluding essays by Goren Hyden and Samir Amin. Nearly all the contributors are African, and each of the digestible-sized chapters has an extensive bibliography. The articles emphasize East and Central African cases.

As a stocktaking exercise, Ake's book is less satisfying. The causes of Africa's crisis are enumerated and labeled but only superficially analyzed. The author, a leading Nigerian intellectual, deplores the hegemonic influence of development models and theories formulated for Africa by non-Africans but scarcely mentions the equally disappointing results of the home-grown economic and political experiments of Nkrumah, Toure, Nyerere, Kaunda, and others. Africa needs governments led by people more seriously committed to economic progress and more democratically accountable to their citizens, Ake asserts; self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and popular participation in setting policy agendas must take priority, while institutional mechanisms that moderate destructive political competition must be devised. These are sound if pretty familiar recommendations. Yet if a new and constructive development paradigm, by Africans and for Africans, is to emerge, these vague prescriptions are an index of the distance still to be traveled.

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