John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Response to Africa Glass Half Full or Half Empty

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
November 30, 2012

An Ethiopian man carries a stack of hay near Korem in the mountainous region.. 14/12/2004. (Radu Sigheti/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with USAID.

The discussion over whether Africa’s glass is half full or half empty simply allows each side to argue their case–over and over again.  McKinsey will argue that Africa’s long-term prospects are strong while the African Development Bank will counter that, in fifty years, one-third of Africa’s population will still be living with an income below $1.25 a day.

A look inside the glass may be more instructive. Illustratively, every year seventeen million young people enter the job market in sub-Saharan Africa. This number will grow to three hundred and thirty million by 2025, or nearly the population of the United States. The glass is simply overflowing.

Where will the jobs be found? The development community argues in agriculture. That is after all, where the people are. And the community is half right. Agriculture still accounts for a high percentage of Africa’s GDP, trade, and employment. Modernization of the agricultural sector has been the historic precondition to more diversified, productive, and job rich economies. But, agricultural modernization is also labor displacing (returns accruing disproportionately to capital and technology over land and labor). A glass half full or half empty?

Where then is the future to be found? I would argue for a more careful look into the prospects for rural Africa. This is especially true regarding the relationships between on-farm and off-farm employment, agriculture and industry, rural settlement and urban centers. A more careful look also presupposes an increasing positive role for the state.  Indeed, one sees signs that African governments and related institutions are moving away from the neo-liberal ideal of minimal state intervention and exploring new ways that the state can and should promote both growth and equity. One example of this, the New Partnership for African Development’ (NEPAD) Rural Futures initiative is, directly to point, seeking to accomplish five objectives:

Re-energize development discourse, particularly the transformation of productive capabilities and structure, reintroducing the discipline of development economics, and placing transformation at the heart of the development discourse.

Give greater attention to industrial/urban and technology/innovation policies and strategies, as they relate particularly to NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program and the World Bank’s 2008 Agriculture for Development Action Plan.

Respect the methodologies of development institutions and strategies across Africa as they coalesce around new practices and theories of development, in keeping with the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and Accra Agenda for Action.

Explore the implications of globalization and liberalization, playing into a more contemporary understanding of comparative and competitive advantage, where returns in the new global economy favor capital and technology (an external advantage) over land and labor (a local advantage).

Promote local and national development through the institutional and productive transformation of regions, implying a more territorial approach to what is traditionally thought of as rural development.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by John Stuart Blackton

    Cylke takes a very Mellor-esque perspective, and one with which I agree.

    But Mellor might expand the picture of the interaction between agricultural technology, agricultural prices, labor demand in the urban sector and urban wage rates in Africa.

    This complex, and potentially virtuous, circle helps to illuminate how Africa can focus on technology change in agriculture and improvements in the urban economy at the same time.

    As we know, agricultural technologies vary substantially in their distributive bias. The choice of technologies therefore on the farm has important implications for the generation of employment in the cities.

    This is true because the different demand elasticities among various income classes of farmers affect the size of the marketable surplus of the wage goods that is generated by the agricultural sector

    As Mellor and Cylke (separately) have noted, technologically induced changes in income distribution in the agricultural sector affect the demand for food in the foodgrain sector and the marketable surplus of food impacts the price of foodgrains on terms of non-foodgrains output and the rate of labor transfers to the urban and non-agricultural sectors of the economy.

    Cylke’s admonition that the “glass” is neither rural nor urban, but both, is a sensible nudge towards re-examining Mellor’s advice about the technology/price interaction with the rural/urban welfare nexus.

  • Posted by Matthew Kustenbauder

    With respect to Mr. Cylke, this rambling blog post illustrates why America’s development diplomacy is bankrupt, and why it is good news that he’s retired from USAID. Hopefully a younger generation will steer development diplomacy away from the meaningless jargon and pie-in-the-sky policy-speak and toward a tough, pragmatic plan for how the US can partner with developing countries to sell (not give) expertise and technology. Let me give just two examples of what I mean.

    First, though it is a grammatical nightmare, this development goal makes sense:
    – Give greater attention to industrial/urban and technology/innovation policies and strategies.

    Why? Because it acknowledges that cities and modern technology are economy-drivers that also have a direct impact on the lives of rural people.

    This second statement, however, is meaningless:
    – Re-energize development discourse, particularly the transformation of productive capabilities and structure, reintroducing the discipline of development economics, and placing transformation at the heart of the development discourse.

    Why? Because “development economics” does not need to be reintroduced (it is gospel); and “transformation” means a thousand different (contradictory) things; and development does not need to be “re-energized,” it needs to be aligned with trade priorities. Until African governments are treated more like legitimate trade partners and less like paupers with their begging bowls out, our so-called development projects will be unsustainable and a waste of American taxpayers’ funds.

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