develop me: Tapiwa Gomo
Today’s politics can be misleading as it creates the contentious illusion that the government of the day must deliver on everything needed to improve people’s lives. It allocates the entire burden of improving people’s lives on the shoulders of the government, reducing citizens to beneficiaries of jobs and services. In fact, poor African governments are under pressure to perform and deliver just like their Western counterparts.
For several decades since African countries got independence, this has been promoted as the ideal couched within the democratic framework and human rights. Several plans and strategies, that are often rooted in Western ideals, have been developed by various African governments to reduce poverty in their countries. Although some of the strategies have, in the immediate, addressed life-saving problems and somewhat assisted in addressing some of the urgent basic needs of the citizens, they have not addressed the overall poverty or helped to economically empower the people in a sustainable manner. Part of this is because such strategies are foreign-funded for a limited period of time.
While several reasons have been given on why African governments have failed to deliver, the promotion of this approach as the ideal has not interrogated the contextual differences between the West where that ideal is borrowed and the African countries where it is being applied. Because this ideal has not been questioned, African governments have been confronted with the huge and insurmountable burden of trying to do everything in a context that lacks the resources and the baseline to do so. And on their part, they have used lack of resources as an excuse instead of pointing out that the current global ideas on poverty reduction are not consistent with the realities of their countries’ contexts and needs.
And for their failure to deliver, African governments have been on the receiving end. Their failure to deliver has perpetually attracted international condemnation and civil uprising. Recently, there have been attempts by some African governments to shift the blame for poverty to the poor themselves as a way of evading blame.
Can an African government deliver on poverty reduction without having to establish a sound and solid economic base? Does the current global economic environment allow for an African government to establish a sound and solid economic baseline without being accused of operating outside the global norms?
Such an ideal where the role of delivering on all the public services and economic opportunities lies with authorities is mainly possible in developed countries which have gone through many decades, if not centuries of establishing an economic base that enables systems to ensure citizens can access services and opportunities.
Some of the recent Asia success stories have, however, shown that it is possible to achieve economic growth much faster than before, but citizens must be allowed to play a productive role.
And some of the lessons from the Asian region is that the absence of such supportive economic bases should not mean that citizens have to wait for an economic base to be established before they can access services and opportunities. It simply means that, under the guidance of a national strategy, the citizens can also contribute towards the establishment of such an economic base or instead work towards ensuring they become self-sustainable within their localities as the national government works towards building a solid economic base.
In view of the contradictions that bedevil African countries, largely inherited from the colonial and western economic systems, where a government that lacks the means is expected to deliver to all citizens, it has become both relevant and urgent that African governments adopt and pursue poverty reduction policies that promote self-reliance for citizens and communities in order to reduce over-reliance and over-dependence on the government. The self-reliance model places part of the responsibility to address poverty on citizens’ shoulders. However, this entails the government creating an environment that enables small scale projects such as farming, trading, production, manufacturing and others.
These will ensure that citizens have an income while the government focuses on the bigger national economic programmes. In Thailand, for example, between 1987 and 1996, small scale businesses employed about 45% of total industrial workers, whereas large firms employed about 47% and micro industries employed about 8%. Taxes coming from the small scale business ventures contributed towards the establishment of local services such as the provision of water and sanitation, schools, clinics and other public services.
Over time, as industrialisation picked up, employment in the micro industries and small-sized firms grew slower than employment in medium and large firms. In 1996, employment in the large firms increased to 48% of total industrial employment, and micro industries employed only 6% of total industrial employment. With increased taxes from large industries, the government in Thailand was able to improve service delivery for its people at national level.
That way, the government was at the onset able to relieve itself of the burden of signing imaginery “mega deals” to create an illusion of generating employment.
The role of leadership shifted from creating opportunities and delivering services to the people in the midst of lack of resources to enhancing people’s ability to be productive and be self-reliant, with the government facilitating trade and moderating the economic environment.