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Obstacles to popular national, autocentric and delinked development

The obstacles to the implementation of these principles are obvious. But are they unstoppable? What are the most serious obstacles? We can think of five.4

a) The obstacle of size, especially of the African countries, is evident. But it has much greater impact on industry than on agriculture. In fact many of the immediate problems facing agriculture could be solved by direct action at the base, and by the base. Undoubtedly, solution of these problems would require some materials to be imported if they cannot be supplied by local industry. The obstacle here is less the impossibility of supplying the means than the social framework imposed by the global strategy. If the role of agriculture is to provide a surplus for - at best - an unrelated industrialization or, more often, parasitic consumption, it is useless to expect rural mobilization, since an attempt is being made to smash the peasants' autarky not to improve their lot but to exploit them. The methods envisaged reveal this option: a preference for huge dams and enclosed settlements, plantations for the multinationals and the green revolution associated with modernized large and medium scale properties (driving the poor peasants off the land), state farms and cooperatives, imposing on the country the crops and techniques that produce an increasing surplus. These methods suit the agribusiness supplies of inputs; but they are extremely expensive and of dubious efficiency, owing to the very factor of peasant resistance. A diffused progress, based on thousands of small improvements - assured water supply for small holdings, intensive agriculture and livestock, among others, calls for an entirely different social framework and an overall strategy that does not aim at securing an increasing surplus from the peasants. Size is not much of an obstacle at this stage. And it can be seen that some of the large African countries, where this obstacle does not exist, do no better than the others.

This obstacle should not prevent the beginning of an autocentric industrialization, at least for the countries with a population of more than five million. Undoubtedly the industrialization for these countries would not be 'complete' and would not avoid fairly heavy dependence on imports. Moreover, the obstacle could be lessened by intra-African co-operation, founded on planned complementarities. But this co-operation is incompatible with the 'common market' formula that encourages rather than reduces inequalities.

b) The effort required of Africa to achieve the agricultural revolution is gigantic. The problem of the agricultural revolution in the contemporary Third World is in no way comparable with that Europe faced in centuries gone by. Development economists nearly always forget that the European agricultural revolution involved a vast movement of expulsion from the rural areas. At the time the migration had two trump cards to play: the industry of the day had jobs on offer out of all proportion to the jobs available in modern industry; and Europe had an outlet in overseas emigration that is closed now days to the Third World. It suffices to recall that the regions inhabited through European migration (the American continent, Australia and New Zealand, white South Africa...) have nowadays ten times the population of the regions of Europe where these populations originated to see the difficulties population pressures would have meant for Europe in the absence of the migration.

In today's Third World the agricultural revolution has to be made at the same time as the majority of the population must for some time to come be maintained in the countryside. This is still possible in South and South-East Asia, and in China, and in some regions of Africa. But already, as in the Arab and Latin American countries' urbanization is accelerating at such a rate that it will be too late to do it tomorrow.

c) Advanced, sometimes maniacal, urbanization is a new and additional obstacle. In this case, what has been said of relations between agriculture and industry is also true of relations between the modern urban activities and the so-called 'informal' sectors. In other words, forms of useful activity that show low productivity must be rediscovered to ensure the long transition. The latter must not be conceived as the source of financing for the other activities, as is the case in current capitalist relations, where the 'modem' sector benefits from super-exploitation of the 'informal' sector and it is the latter that supplies cheap components for reproduction of the labour force. The relation must be reversed.

d) Integration in the world system is of itself an obstacle. This integration benefits those centres that have peripheries - whether true colonies or not - to contribute to their own accumulation, while the peripheries - who are not in a position to exploit colonies in turn! - are expected to do the same. Undoubtedly the external obstacle would have been lessened if the demands the Third World formulated in the plan for a 'New International Economic Order' had been met. To be sure the NIEO was not in itself an autocentric strategy, since it was basically a revision of the international division of labour on terms beneficial to the South. But this improvement in the resources available to the South might have been put to use in making autocentric development less difficult. The NIEO plan was aimed at changing for the better the mode of Third World integration in the world system, by 'adjustment' of the North to the demands of the South's development. It is clear that the fight has to be fought on two grounds, the long-term strategy, which must be for delinking, and the medium-term strategy, which aims at reducing the damaging effects of the world system as it is.

e) If the internal factor is decisive, it is in the sense that in the final analysis the real obstacle is emphatically social, since autocentric development sacrifices the privileged growth of the middle classes. The adjustment policies proposed serve to reinforce these classes, through the liberalization of prices and transfers, for example. The aim is obviously political; it is a matter of reinforcing the class allies of international capital, of creating a 'comprador' state and society.

In the remaining chapters we shall return in greater detail to the conditions for national and popular development, the internal factors (popular alliance, democracy, new state, and so on, in Chapter 6) and the external factors (South-South co-operation, in Chapter 7: favourable international evolution, in Chapter 8).

Meanwhile, is there something positive to be done?

a) Returning to the example of the CILSS, it should be noted that the advantage of the position taken by the Arab Bank for the Development of African States (BADEA) is that it does not, in the ingenuous way of the World Bank, assume that the world environment is by definition 'favourable'. On the contrary BADEA seeks to define the relations between the (more or less favourable) modes of integration in the world system and the possible modes of agricultural development.

From this point of view it is easy to identify two approaches, each in its way extreme, and possibly a provisional compromise solution.

The first extreme approach: acceptance of the current forms of integration in the world system, depending on mining or oil royalties (when there are any!) or exporting tropical agriculture, and seeking to develop import substitution industry on this basis. This is ultimately the World Bank option. But it is a mediocre one, as history shows.

Moreover, this option is a dire prospect for the regions without mining or tropical agricultural potential. For the Sahel it means famine and beggary, with an effort to make them the least explosive possible by preserving the archaic structures of the rural universe and crowning them with a naturally despotic comprador state.

The second extreme approach: delinking through national and popular revolution, strengthened by regional, or African, unity. In the long run there is no other answer.

Meanwhile is it possible to imagine a better form of integration in the world system and agricultural development?

A better world integration is possible if one is able, in regard to:

i) mining or oil royalties, to impose a new negotiated, stable and 'acceptable' guaranteed level, with good popular management of this income to avoid the pure and simple waste that commonly occurs; ii) agriculture, to complement the effort to export specific tropical crops (with arrangements ensuring stable remunerative prices) through an effort to develop food and similar crops (dry-farmed and irrigated cereals, fruit and vegetables, extensive and intensive livestock, fish) for the local market and in the expectation of greater South-South trade, especially between the African and Arab countries; iii) industries, to move out of the narrow horizon of substitution light industry on small country scale to a complementary programme of machine tools and light industry on the scale of a group of associated countries. As an example, the iron mining in Mauritania could serve as the basis for ship construction giving Senegal, whose maritime role is obvious, a place in the establishment of West African merchant shipping and ensuring genuine industrialization of fishing.

Better agricultural development for a region such as the Sahel also requires relinquishment of archaic structures, without thinking that marginalizing them through the emergence of a kulak class would meet the challenge. The middle road is acceptance of some measure of 'inequality', but on a regional rather than social basis. Does common sense not suggest that it is easier to bring one million peasants from yields of one to ten tonnes than to bring five million people in the countryside from one to two tonnes? But this option implies a concentration on the 'best regions', those suitable for irrigation to ensure a constant supply of water, without prejudice as to the kind of irrigation (large, medium or small-scale hydraulic). The accent should be on policies to reduce social inequality in the areas of advance. As for the regional inequalities, could we not reduce their breadth by national policies of redistribution and by migration from one rural area to another?

There are, of course many obstacles to the options proposed by BADEA. An enumeration of them would provide a snapshot of the current situation: (i) defence by the former colonial powers (who retain great influence in Africa) of the routine interests of the old colonization (commercial trading companies, for example): (ii) the fragility of states and corruption of the ruling classes (and hence waste...); (iii) micro-nationalism as an obstacle to regional cooperation; and (iv) financing difficulties, inherent in any strategy conceived within the framework of worldwide expansion but capable of being lessened through better use of income and South-South financial co-operation (which goes much further then 'add' end includes financial associations).

b) It is also always possible to act, even in a medium size and exposed country, provided that great care is taken as to what can be achieved within modest bounds. In a first step no more can be expected than to reduce external vulnerability (by avoiding worsening the pressures of the double deficit in public expenditure and external commitments) and to reinforce national and popular support. A participatory democracy, direct involvement of the communities in preparing and managing small projects, denial by the state of seeking immediate profits from them (at this stage the profits must revert in their entirety to the communities at the base), reinforcement of an international policy of non-alignment and South-South co-operation, are undoubtedly the chapter headings of a viable programme. The late President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, chose this option. Is it surprising that he was assassinated in circumstances that left the blame for their authorship open to doubt?


1. Amin, Samir, 'Democracy and National strategy in the Periphery'. Third World Quarterly. October 1987; 'Comments on Senghaas', (SUNY) Review, No. I. 1988

2. For the technical significance of Lorenz curves and the Gini coefficients see Chapter3 of the original French text of La déconnexion, Paris. La Découverte, 1986. Or an English version of the chapter published by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York as Amin, Samir, 'Income Distribution in the Capitalist System', Review. 8. 1. Summer 1984, 3-28.

3. Amin, Samir, Delinking, Zed Books 1989; Samir Amin's preface to Mansour, Fawzy, The Third World Revolt in preparation, Amin, Samir, 'On the intelligentsia'. Qadaya Fikriyya, 1988 (in Arabic).

4. See introduction to Amin, Samir, (ed.) Modern Migrations in Western Africa, BADEA, Rapport sur le Sahel. 1985.

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