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Home Uncategorized The View from the Veranda

The View from the Veranda

Eoin Dillon
This Present Darkness, by Stephen Ellis, Hurst, 256 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1849046305 After years of devising neoliberal-inspired policies of good governance for sub-Saharan Africa, it has been dawning in recent years on the international agencies – most notably the World Bank – responsible for their implementation that they have not had the desired effects. African political elites have learned the rhetoric of balanced budgets, privatisation, free markets, economic and financial accountability, efficient public services, as well as democracy, civil society and a free press. But the social and political realities, and not least self-interest, have precluded its internalisation as a form of political praxis. Local conditions and circumstances have determined what could and could not be done. To the extent that these policies benefited local elites intent on maintaining their position, they were utilised; otherwise, they were ignored, often with good reason. Meanwhile, China, while operating policies at odds with those of good governance, has achieved economic results outpacing anything in Africa or the West. It has also operated a policy of doing deals with anyone in a position to do them, so long as key Chinese positions – particularly on Taiwan – and interests are respected, and regardless of the internal policy orientation of the regime in question. Meanwhile secular trends pulling parts of central and eastern Africa towards the Indian ocean trading routes have continued. Sub-Saharan Africa, for so long said to be a place without a history, has been adapting, shifting, and acting according to the maxim that everything changes so that everything remains the same. The collapse of many sub-Saharan African economies in the aftermath of the oil price hikes of the 1970s, and economic and political mismanagement after independence, brought about a Western re-engagement with Africa based on the supposedly universal truths of liberal economics. These were topped off with the wholesale naivety of pop singers and Live Aid concerts that gave the politicians an aura of glamour and a gloss of humanity, something they badly needed. Those days are over. The West is on the back foot: high aid budgets are not universally popular and most Africans have no memory of colonialism. We are seeing the end of an era, a generational change. Western development policy has always sought a phrase, a trope, that explains what it is trying to do: poverty reduction; structural adjustment; good governance – something that it is practically impossible…



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