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Assess the Value of Dependency Theory in explaining Social Inequalities in Africa

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Assess the Value of Dependency Theory in explaining Social Inequalities in Africa Public and intellectual concern with economic growth and social transformation can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, but the idea of development as a specific domain of inquiry and state intervention is of relatively recent origin (Watts, 1993). Indeed, the term 'development' only came into the English language in the Eighteenth Century. Its root meaning was of unfolding, but a metaphorical extension of this idea was soon in place, extending its meaning to growth. `The theory of development is of European origin and so it was only with the onset of colonialism that it began to take on global implications. The colonial powers rapidly exported the concept to all parts of the world however, interpreting development as becoming more and more like the Mother Country. In this way, the colonial powers used the idea of development as a way to justify their imperialistic actions: 'By the Nineteenth Century, the central thesis of developmentalism as a linear theory of progress rooted in Western capitalist hegemony was cast in stone.' `(Watts, 1993) In Africa therefore, the notion of 'development' has only a relatively short history, with development programmes only being set up late this century. The true implications of the concept are still being realised however. It is only since the 1980s that Western thought has really cast a critical eye over exactly what development has achieved and begun to look at the alternatives. This reappraisal has been encouraged by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, which undermined faith in the power of the Capitalist model, since instead of producing a single model of capitalist democracy, it created 'a new world disorder' (Anderson, 1992).


`Wallerstein (1976) has interpreted the Scramble for Africa in economic terms, by suggesting that non-British European powers (especially France and Germany) began to become concerned with Britain's increasing market power because of her African territories. They therefore attempted to seal off market areas from Britain by colonising them. Britain therefore joined in to protect her trading advantages. `When European rule over colonial territories began to falter and finally decolonisation occurred, Africa was again left to oversee its own economic policies. However, Africa's colonial legacy had left her in a very weak position economically. The implementation of cash cropping was particularly important as this had undermined Africa's self-sufficiency, since subsistence crops had been replaced by cash crops. In The Gambia, for instance, groundnuts accounted for 90% of money earnings at the time of decolonisation (Rodney, 1972). Africans therefore had no choice but to remain in the world market economy in order to make a living. Rodney even went so far as to suggest that monoculture was a conscious policy on the part of the colonial powers, to lock Africans into a relationship of dependency: 'From a capitalist viewpoint, monocultures commended themselves because they made colonial economies entirely dependent on the metropolitan buyers of their produce.' Whether this is true or not is still a matter of debate, but it is certainly true that the effect of the introduction of cash crops has been to encourage dependency. `This dependency was reinforced by the peripheral position which Africa played where labour is concerned. According to Barratt-Brown (1974): 'Britain's Colonial Empire established what was in effect an artificial world division of labour that has lasted down to our times.'


It seems to me therefore that these countries have had more time to shake off their colonial pasts, and realign their economies to serving their own best interests. In this way, I think that there is a hope that Africa may follow suit in the future. `However, an alternative possibility is that the Developed World does indeed need an Underdeveloped World (the crux of Dependency Theory thinking) and so these NICs could equally be seen as the few that got through the net, because of particular local conditions. Singapore, for instance, has had great economic success because of her strategic position on a main trade route, which has earned her a living as an entrepot port. If this is the case it may be true that Africa cannot (apart from in exceptional circumstances) break out of her underdeveloped position, as long as the Capitalist system dominates the world economy. `The Future for Africa The future for Africa can still not be determined therefore, so advice on the best "development strategies" is difficult to give. Owing to the huge number of variables involved, perhaps the only conclusion which can be reached is that "only time will tell". Three main camps have developed on this issue however. `The classical train of thought (which has been widely-followed to the present day) has been summed up well by Babu's (1972) discussion of the arguments: "Growth in underdeveloped countries is hampered by inadequate financial resources and is made worse by "population explosion" in these countries." The traditional solutions are therefore to: "step up exports, increase aid and loans from the developed countries and arrest growth in population" (Babu, 1972). Most development organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank still assume that this w

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