I. The Problem

          There is a long-term development crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty of the thirty poorest countries of the world are in Africa, and the rest of the continent is not much better off. The oil-importing countries of the region have an average per capita income of only $316. In the decade of the 1970s, the World Bank estimates that per capita incomes in the region rose by only 0.2% per annum; and in 15 countries it actually fell. For the next decade, the Bank forecasts a per capita rise of only 0.1% per annum.  


Petra, Jordan           1973

          Two recent studies originating in the World Bank have described the African development situation and prescribed remedies: an article by Uma Lele which appeared in Science in the February 6, 1981 issue entitled "Rural Africa: Modernization, Equity, and Long-Term Development;" and a staff study led by Elliot Berg entitled "Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Agenda for Action."  The latter was done at the request of the African governors of the Bank, an indication that the crisis is not one in the minds of donors alone. The Lagos Plan of Action, approved by the African heads of state at an OAU meeting in April 1980, also is a testament to the urgency with which African leaders view their development problems.

           Compared with other regions, Africa has a number of disadvantages that affect the pace of development. These are well articulated by Lele and Berg and need only be referenced here:

  • Agroclimatic factors, such as poor soils, low rainfall, and diverse ecological conditions. These are a particular problem because most of the world's agricultural knowledge is based upon temperate-zone research.
  • Low population density, raising the unit cost of transportation, schooling, health services, agricultural extension, and other development services.
  • Lack of political cohesion, as a result of national boundaries drawn by colonial powers with little regard for tribal or linguistic groupings.
  • Social traditions that in some cases inhibit development, such as communal grazing of individually owned livestock, tribal allegiances, etc.

·         Relatively low educational levels and literacy rates.

  • A high rate of population growth that outstrips the ability of poor countries to provide education and health services.

In addition to these inherent or inherited problems are a number of policy problems identified by Lele and Berg as complicating the development process. These are more controversial than the list above, and many African leaders would disagree with t hem, but they deserve serious attention by development professionals. They include: 

  • Peasant agriculture is generally accorded low priority, despite the rhetoric of national development plans.
  • Public-sector management or control is preferred for many economic functions that could be more efficiently performed by private enterprise.
  • Research and training tend to be neglected in favor of activities promising more immediate results.
  • High fertility rates are encouraged regardless of economic and social consequences.

None of these factors is surprising; indeed, the list would be familiar to one who had last worked in Africa twenty years ago. What has changed most perhaps is the optimism with which the problems of raising incomes and spreading benefits are now approached. Twenty years ago there was the heady feeling that the end of the colonial era would release pent-up African energies and lead to widespread advancement. Much has been accomplished in these two decades, particularly in expanding education, but there is now a more realistic understanding of rigors of the path to development. The momentum of the independence movement has in most countries played out, and the road ahead looks grim.

          For those concerned with development, one of the most disturbing elements of the current assessment is found in Uma Lele's observation that the efforts of international and bilateral donors to Africa are not really affecting long term trends.

II. The Donor Role

International sources of development assistance have not neglected Africa, at least in recent years. Many countries receive between $10 and $20 per year, and some in Southern Africa receive $30-70 per capita per year. This contrasts with Asia, where some of the poorest countries receive $2-4 per capita. The case for special attention to Africa on the part of Western donors is fairly clear:

  • Africa is the poorest region, not only in terms of per capita incomes, but in terms of other indicators as well, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, food consumption, and disease rates.
  • Medium-term growth prospects for the non-oil producers are poor.
  • Africa is not well situated to benefit from the growth of world trade.
  • Many African countries are unattractive to private-sector investors and lenders because of the size of markets, political instability, and limited credit-worthiness.
  • The continent is important to the industrial world. It is the source of a number of rare natural resources needed for industry and defense, and it has a large number of votes at the United Nations.

The relative abundance of foreign assistance makes Lele's assertion that it has had relatively little impact on long-term development the more disturbing. In part, the limited effect is due to the magnitude of the problems and the relatively low level of local capacity for dealing with them. Other factors that she suggests include:

  • A donor preference for project financing, which enhances accountability but limits the breadth of impact of the resources.
  • The general lack of coordination among donors, which places a heavy burden upon inexperienced bureaucracies and often yields an unbalanced allocation of available resources.
  • The en masse shift of donor attentions to the rural areas in the mid-1970s, which resulted in poor maintenance of earlier institutional investments, and the neglect of higher levels of education and of the policy levels of government.
  • The frequent divergence between donor objectives and those of the host government, a fault she ascribes largely to the desire of African leaders for rapid "modernization."

Lele and Berg make a number of explicit and implicit recommendations to donors, and to African policy makers. Both believe that the most promising route for economic advance for most sub-Saharan countries is to develop a science-based peasant agriculture. This would require overcoming the systematic structural and policy bias against peasant agriculture that they find in most countries. In addition, both recognize that faster economic growth in Africa requires accelerated development of human resources.

Lele feels that more effort is needed to find the appropriate balance between immediate efforts to alleviate poverty and long-term development requirements, an important point to which we will return. With respect to human resource development, Lele challenges the emphasis given by donors to primary education, vocational training, and adult instruction, believing that high-level and secondary education have been slighted.

Berg finds primary-level investments in education still have a higher rate of return than investments at higher levels, but does call attention to the need for better policy analysts, economic planners, and public service managers. He and Lele agree on many of the highly skilled tasks that need to be undertaken with donor assistance, such as exploration and exploitation of natural resources, engineering and economic analysis in the energy field, and institutional development.

Higher aid levels are strongly recommended, but even higher priority is assigned to the need for greater attention to peasant agriculture and for more effective employment of existing resources.

III.  Implications for AID

AID is in the process of reviewing its policies on many aspects of development interventions. Policy papers exist in draft on such subjects as institutional development, rural development, private enterprise, and policy interventions. These are only in part motivated by the perception of a development crisis in Africa, but the problems of that continent are clearly on the minds of all authors. It is the one region where the success of the development process in which we are all engaged is seriously in doubt.

The contribution of an outsider to the intellectual ferment in the Agency should be designed to add yeast to the process. Although I have examined some of AID's policy documents and program plans, what follows is in no sense a critique of past or future AID efforts. Instead, I have drawn largely upon my own experience in the Ford Foundation and the ISTC Planning Office in the hope of adding a dimension to the thinking of AID policy makers and program staff.

This discussion accepts the Lele/Berg analyses as being essentially correct, although as noted above some elements may be controversial. Several general observations are made below before turning to possible program responses to the key problems that emerge from the analyses.

A. General observations

The general observations concern AID's perception of its role:

1. The first observation concerns the appropriate time horizon for development assistance interventions: that is, at what point are the benefits of an activity expected to be realized. The New Directions mandate of the mid-1970s focused AID's objectives in a healthy way upon meeting the basic human needs of the poor. But it makes a difference if an activity is designed to meet the needs of people this year, next year, in five years’ time, or in the next generation.

Donor agencies have the ability, and some would say the responsibility, to take a somewhat longer view than most governments, which must grapple with pressing day-to-day matters. Some donors, such as foundations, can often take a longer view than official donors; they are under less legislative pressure to produce observable results. There is no optimal time horizon for development interventions; it depends upon the nature of the problem and the type of intervention required to meet it. In the case of Africa, it appears from Lele and Berg that the development crisis is chronic, likely to persist for at least a decade and probably longer, and the nature of the problems is such that they will take a very long time to resolve. As Uma Lele suggests, we need to find a better balance between immediate efforts to alleviate poverty and long-term development requirements.

2. A second observation concerns US comparative advantage in relation to African development problems. When the US is the major donor, as was the case in Korea and Taiwan in the 1950s and in Egypt today, it is appropriate to shape the assistance program to conform to the range of needs of a country. Given the resource limitations of the US assistance program in sub-Saharan Africa now, it may be more appropriate to ask what it is the US is best able to supply. The comparative advantage factor becomes more important as the US share of the total assistance burden declines.

There is, for example, a serious shortage of technicians in Africa in nearly every field. Are we the best donor from which to seek assistance in technician training, or are we likely to be a better source of policy-level training, management education, resource exploration and exploitation, scientific and social research methodologies or some other rare talents?

3. A related question concerns the breadth of activities AID conducts in a country. The Country Development Strategy Statement (CDSS), required of most missions annually, implies attention to all facets of a country's development. There would appear to be substantial resource savings available, including savings of field staff time, from a greater concentration of AID efforts on activities it is uniquely or best equipped to do, leaving the other problems to other donors.

It is true that someone ought to do a country development strategy statement to ensure that all critical problems are receiving attention. Ideally, the host government would conduct an annual review of its requirements and preferred sources of assistance. From the donor side, perhaps the World Bank could be encouraged to make an annual assessment of development assistance requirements in consultation with the host government and interested donors. That assessment could serve as the basic country analysis for all donors.

4. A final comment concerns equity considerations. Lele and Berg urge increased attention to peasant agriculture because of the potential economic gains to be made in those areas, not primarily because the poorest people live there. In African countries, the issue of equity can present very difficult choices. In the Sudan, for example, the people who live near the Nile are much better off than those in the western savannah, yet until recently most agricultural research was directed to the problems of Nilotic agriculture rather than of the savannah. This allocation may reflect power relationships, but it also reflects the greater potential for increasing yields in the already more productive region of the country.

B. Specific operational possibilities

General observations such as these can become meaningful only in the context of specific operational possibilities. It is, of course, difficult and risky to propose concrete projects or programs from Washington, despite the frequency with which it is attempted; sound country programs can best be designed in the field missions. The examples of program opportunities below are therefore more appropriate to the functioning of the Science and Technology Bureau than to a field mission. The approach used for identifying program opportunities could, however, have field applications.

In approaching a complex set of problems such as those which constrain African development, it is sometimes helpful to consider them in the framework of the principal tools or instruments we use for dealing with problems; namely, policy, organization, and technology. Under these headings we can consider the types of corrective action needed, the comparative advantage of the US assistance program in dealing with them, and the potential role of the S&T Bureau. Human resource development is a crosscutting dimension that will be discussed separately, following consideration of program opportunities under the policy, organization and technology headings.

1. Policy

a). The problem

 The economic policies most criticized by Lele and Berg are those that discriminate against peasant agriculture in favor of industry, consumption or commercial agriculture. Examples cited are in the areas of trade and foreign exchange policy, the allocation of resources in the public sector, and agricultural pricing policies. Overvalued currencies, for example, tend to subsidize imports and penalize exports, most of which come from the agricultural sector. A good discussion of key policy variables may be found in a draft paper on policy alternatives being prepared by Michael Crosswell of PPC.

b). Discussion

The Bank's views on policy are not necessarily accepted by African governments. In some cases the Bank tends to ignore political factors that cannot be ignored by those who must live with the consequences of the policies they impose. In other cases, the Bank may misjudge technical factors, such as the inflationary impact of devaluation. In general, however, the Bank is probably on the right track in the long run. A substantial part of African policy deficiencies may be credited to inadequate capacity for analyzing and formulating policy alternatives.

c). Program response

As a major power, the US is not well placed to supply policy advisors; African governments are sensitive to the possibilities of undue influence or domination. Policy advisors, where necessary, should be supplied by the World Bank, the UNDP or smaller bilateral donors. The private foundations have in the past been an important source of policy advisors, but they have generally retired from the field. The US can improve host country policy-making capacities, however, in several ways, such as:

  • Training. Special training programs for economic policy-makers have run successfully for many years at Harvard and at Williams College. The Kennedy School at Harvard draws on the extensive field experience of the Harvard Institute International Development (HIID). Williams has several excellent economists with experience in Africa.
  • Policy seminars. AID could play a valuable role in helping African policy-makers share the experience of other countries and analyze the applicability to their own situations by sponsoring seminars for high-level participants on well-defined policy issues. HIID is one of the best resources in the world for mounting seminars on such issues as exchange rate policy, agricultural pricing, and parastatal management policies. The seminars could be held in Africa at institutions such as the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi or the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Ibadan.
  • Research. The impact of various policy alternatives that have been tried in Africa needs to be analyzed more carefully than it has been to date. AID could sponsor joint policy-oriented research projects with African and US institutions participating. The Stanford Food Research Center, the University of Michigan, HIID, Williams, Boston, and other US universities have excellent skills in research methodology and experience in Africa. Joint research projects can be a means of strengthening the research capabilities of African institutions. To avoid African fears of domination by academically stronger US collaborating institutions, the projects could be funded through the African participants. The results of the research could of course feed into the policy seminars suggested above.

2. Organization

a). The problem

Africa has lagged in institutional development since independence. Good managers of large organizations are in particular short supply. Paradoxically, African countries tend to entrust a greater share of their economies to the public sector than any other region. Public administration and management training has been high on the agenda of several donors for twenty years, but the results are almost uniformly disappointing. Berg suggests that improvements be sought through organizing smaller parastatal organizations, forming cooperatives, and placing greater reliance on the private sector. The private sector role could be expanded, especially in such fields as marketing of agricultural products, transport, and civil works.

          b). Discussion

          Although the US has vast experience in training modern managers, these skills do not transfer easily to other cultures. The Europeans and Japanese have learned much from the US, but they have adapted our methods to their own cultural setting and developed systems that sometimes, like the Japanese, can outperform their mentors. This adaptation has not happened as yet in Africa; modern management remains an alien conception which can be acquired, but only at the cost of still current traditional values. Public and private morality are often in conflict, resulting in the corruption of one system or the other.

Some aspects of management, such as economic analysis and accounting, are more universal than others, such as personnel practices and incentives. Some industries, such as the airlines, have management systems dictated by the technology and international conventions. There is much room for experimentation and research in this field to find patterns of human organization that function best in the African context.

      For an excellent analysis of the experience of private foundations in this area, see Francis X. Sutton, "American Foundations and Public Management in Developing Countries" (Appendix A). Sutton notes that “the foundations have been of more consequence in building economic competencies than in any of the other efforts they have made to assist the governments of developing countries” (p. 10). This may be due to the strength of the analytical tools of the discipline and to the pervasive role of planning ministries in most developing countries. 

A review of the extensive Ford Foundation work in economic planning and administration in East Africa, 1963-76, is found in Appendix B (C. Nelson, "Administrative and Economic Program Review - East Africa", March 1977).

c). Program response

The organization and management problems of African states are so serious that they cannot be ignored, yet the US has itself little applicable experience in the context of African society. Perhaps our most useful assets are methodologies for research and experimentation, and knowledge of successful experiments in Africa and elsewhere. Some program ideas that could be explored are the following:

  • Fostering private enterprise. In countries where there is no strong policy bias against private enterprise, AID could build upon ARAMCO's experience in creating small businesses in the Eastern Province (Nedj) of Saudi Arabia. ARAMCO originally set up to meet all its own logistical requirements in Saudi Arabia, but then offered its employees financial backing and guidance to set up small businesses to supply ARAMCO's needs. Some of the employees who took advantage of the offer are extremely successful today. The scheme had several advantages that it would not be easy to replicate. The employees were known to ARAMCO, ARAMCO dominated the economic life of the province, the industry was growing at an extraordinary rate, the Saudis have a powerful tradition of honesty, and ARAMCO provided a ready-made market for goods and services. Some similar conditions could be found in Africa where mineral exploitation was a primary industry, such as Liberia, Zambia, and Zaire. Large corporations engaged in mineral exploitation or processing could be persuaded to examine the ARAMCO experience and determine its applicability to their circumstances. AID could be prepared to share in the costs, for example by offering credit or training to fledgling entrepreneurs. (More detailed information on the ARAMCO experience has been requested from the company.)
  • Sharing successful experience in the public sector. African governments have had a variety of experiences since independence in the management of their public services and parastatal organizations. A US institution, such as HIID, which has worked with parastatals in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, could do case studies of the more successful experiences in collaboration with local scholars. A series of seminars could then be held to permit managers from a number of countries to examine these cases and determine their possible applicability. Examples include the organization of an Economic Service in Kenya, which offers a separate career ladder and training opportunities for its members, and generates professional pride and ethics. (Described in Appendix B.)   The Berg report notes Botswana’s planning and budgeting system (p. 34) and Senegal's public enterprise contracts system (p. 39) as successful examples.
  • Social science research. Professor Gaston Rimlinger of Rice University conducted a study of rural social sciences in Africa in 1981. His report to ISNAR, entitled "African Rural Social Science Study," will shortly come to AID through that organization, but Rimlinger has agreed to share an advance copy (Appendix C). He proposes a twenty year program to build up the social science capacities of African governments and research / teaching institutions.
  • The social sciences, Rimlinger notes, have to do on the one hand with understanding human behavior and the prediction of responses, and on the other hand with understanding the functioning of institutions and organizations. It takes highly trained people and a great deal of information to analyze and predict the level and distribution of costs and benefits of major policy alternatives, and to anticipate the sometimes unintended consequences of social changes which accompany economic development.

Rimlinger visited nine countries in Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Upper Volta, and Zimbabwe) to survey the quantity and quality of social scientists and the patterns of their utilization. His recommendations involve strengthening African social science manpower and institutions, networking, and utilization. The dimensions of the program are potentially vast, but it involves activities that can be tailored to the amount of funds available.

          The US has a substantial share of the world's social science resources, and should be a major participant in this program. ISNAR would presumably manage the project.

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