Development is an indispensable aspect of socio-economic progress and civilisation — development should be thought of far more than just economic growth. As Thandika Mkandawire has put it, the search for development has become so consuming that it, more or less, assumes the form of an ideology to which post-colonial African leaders subscribed to under various clichés immediately after independence. In the desperate search for development, Africa has become a sort of laboratory in which various developmental experiments are performed.

While Africa has some home-grown development strategies at the continental level (eg the Lagos Plan of Action and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development), most of the strategies for achieving socioeconomic development in Africa have been externally devised, conceived, dictated and enforced on the continent by those who see Africa in Hegelian terms of being the pupil, nay, undeveloped, hidden and dark continent of the world that is in need of parenting, tutelage and salvation.

Arguably, the starting point should be to problematise the idea of development itself. What is development? In whose interest is it being pursued, and by who as well as how? Are there alternatives to the dominant paradigm of what is generally accepted as development? Are there alternative routes to this desired end? The crisis of development in Africa is underpinned by the ideological and epistemological confusion and imposition that define the pursuit of development, justice and freedom. The pursuit of development has generally followed a pattern defined by the West, in which a unilinear process is deemed sacrosanct, characterised by higher rates of private accumulation and exploitation.

African countries are expected to “catch up” or achieve “convergence” with so-called developed countries — essentially, development is interpreted as the Euro-American missionary task of developing the global south in general and Africa in particular. An uncritical acceptance of this view of development has resulted in the subservience of the political elites in Africa to subordination of “politics to economics”. The demonisation of a state as an incapable agent of transformation has given way to the hegemony of market.

Discourse on development has been hijacked and hegemonised under what Adebayo Adedeji calls the Development Merchant System in which the so-called advanced economies, acting through agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, dictate development strategies that developing countries must adopt. Granted, the implementation of market-induced strategies has led to some economic growth. However, it is growth without development, in which only owners of capital and their cronies in government and the private sector benefit while the majority of the people remain largely worse off.

It is against the backdrop of the injustices of the past such as the forceful dispossession of lands, the scramble for and the partitioning of Africa (which formed the basis of the current micro-states that continue to depend on the colonial masters for handouts), the continued exploitation of minerals, the use of multilateral institutions to further certain interests and the increasing militarisation of the continent under various guises that the consciousness of Africans must be raised to reject, oppose, and pursue an alternative path to the complete liberation of the continent, if not the whole world. Critically conscious citizenry should also be geared towards removing the African leadership that Africa does not deserve.

Any meaningful conception of development that is relevant to the African condition must take a cue from the 1955 Bandung (conference) declaration when developing countries sought to reclaim their identity, dignity and prestige. The Bandung concept of development is that it is a “liberatory human aspiration to attain freedom from political, economic, ideological, epistemological, and social domination that was installed by colonialism and coloniality”. This goes beyond the current grains of fetishism of gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic performance. Even some leading economists, including Joseph Stiglitz who has recently somersaulted after feeding the world neoliberal dogma or “zombieeconomics” as Ben Fine describes it, have recognised this fact: GDP is a poor measure of socio-economic progress.

I keep appealing that we need to better understand the pre-colonial African economy in order to see what modern-day Africa could learn from it. It is about time that Africa discards concepts and theories that are not applicable to her context. In this instance, I venture to argue that even Marxism or communism or socialism may not be applicable to African realities — communalism, perhaps a refined form of communalism, could be a better socio-economic development paradigm for the African continent. As argued by some of our leading economists, such as Samir Amin, it might very well be that Africa should delink from the rest of the world while we get our house in order, then reconnect with the global economy on our own terms than we did through the slave trade and colonialism.

The idea of development I just sketched should also include claiming the policy space, which has been lost since the colonial intrusion and worsened by the structural adjustment programmes and other neo-liberal agendas. It must also involve agency — the state (and its institutions) must play more active roles in formulating socio-economic development policies. In addition, knowledge production is critical. Arguably, the curricula needed for Africa’s renewal has to, at minimum, advance critical consciousness — many African scholars (such as Es’kia Mphahlele and Toyin Falola) have written extensively regarding how education was used as an instrument to oppress, brainwash and inferiorise the African). In the context of further developing Africa, education, or knowledge production broadly, should be based on an Afrocentric paradigm and on Africanity — African thought leadership must be able to produce not only a critical but a conscious African citizenry that is grounded in pan-Africanist philosophies and driven to implement the African renaissance programme.


  • Vusi Gumede is a professor at the University of South Africa, also with the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute. He was previously an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg and he has also lectured public policy at the Graduate School of Public and Development Management (now the School of Governance) at the University of Witwatersrand. He worked for the South African government, in various capacities, for about twelve years. He serves on various boards and committees, including the Presidential Economic Advisory Council, the International Preparatory Committee of the Pan-African Federalist Movement and the National Council of the South African Association of Political Studies. He holds postgraduate qualifications in economics and policy studies, including a Ph.D in Economics (2003) from the erstwhile University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal). He has been Distinguished Africanist Scholar at Cornell University and Yale World Fellow at Yale University, among other fellowships. He was in the boards of Southern Africa Trust and ActionAid South Africa and he is the former coordinator of Afrocentricity International for the South African chapter. He currently also holds an Honorary Professorship at the University of Cape Town. He has published 14 books and numerous journal papers & book chapters as well as written many essays and opinion articles and blogs. He is Editor-in-Chief for Africanus & Africa Insight as well as serving in various Editorial Boards/Committees.


Vusi Gumede

Vusi Gumede is a professor at the University of South Africa, also with the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute. He was previously an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg and he has...

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