Friday, August 12, 2005

Villages and Development

When I think about development I think about "village projects." This is weird, for a rather significant percent of poor people live in urban areas (Senegal is about a third urban), and I have no conception of what "development" means in urban areas, besides providing infrastructure and basic services (that is, making sure public goods are provided). Just one more example of how odd is our -- my -- conception of Africa.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The population of many African nations is still majority rural so it's not surprising that underdevelopment gets invariably conceptualized in those terms. But what I think is complicated is the way that once we were past the vogue for brute-force modernism in development planning in the early 1960s, a lot of development thinking (and government rhetoric in Africa) returned to an almost colonial sense that the rural and the urban need to be maintained as they are, with a presumed sense of a static relation between the two, and a sense that the rural was the habitus of "untouched" or "untainted" Africa, the Africa untransformed by globalization and modernity. So, for example, nobody approaches the problem of cyclical drought and food crises in the sahel with the proposition that long-term development rests in getting large human populations out of areas prone to cyclical drought and encouraging large-scale irrigation-driven agriculture by much smaller populations instead. There's too much that sounds creepy and hubristic about that: too much an invitation to the authoritarian state to frog-march whole communities from one poverty-stricken location to another, too little an interest in what people themselves aspire to. But the converse is equally bad, this sense that what needs to be done is somehow making small-scale agriculture a stable, viable system for all the human beings living in the rural sahel, because on some level that can't be done.

So one way to come at it from a different angle is, "What if African cities were more attractive, satisfying, "developed" places to live even for the poor?" That might cover the middle ground between a compulsory migration and a desperate attempt to make rural life in marginal environments sustainably developed for large populations. And it might suggest that the project of development could and should focus on cities as much as or more than it does on villages.

T. Burke

10:00 AM  
Blogger Isaac said...

Exactly. Though in the report I linked it says that by 2025, or something, Senegal will be 60% urban (it is currently about a third urban; though I'm not sure I trust statistics produced in Senegal anymore, but that's a different story).

I'm reading "The End of Poverty" and Sachs has very specific ideas for what to do in farming villages and absolutely no clue for what to do in cities (all he points to is that the poor can organize, and...that's it!). It's odd that the option that perhaps these communities simply aren't viable never occurs to him. And he really ought to have some idea of what should happen in cities. Though this is perhaps unfair, and will be elaborated on at length once I've recommenced and finished the book.

This also comes up in the context of cinema: the French government, which funds most feature length films produced in West Africa, will only fund films set in rural areas because, apparently, that is the real Africa.

12:51 AM  

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