Having teachers is a wonderful thing! They tutor us in the ways of the world and always impart nuggets of wisdom that become the bedrock of our worldview. But often, that worldview is colored by its own inadequacies and limits. So in many case we grow up believing and regurgitating untruths that our wonderful teachers imparted to us. It’s not until we are way too old to change the world that we realize we never ever changed the world because we were normalized by our teachers to be mediocre. Here are a few things I have always believed that I suddenly realize are hogwash.
1. That rural to urban migration is a bad thing. How many times do you here a public figure restating this fallacy. Truth is that by 2050, most of the world’s population will be urban. They will either be white collar or blue-collar workers as we move into a knowledge society. So the natural progression of development is that machines free up labour from the rustic task of tilling, which then moves to the cities. If well educated, join the workforce and contribute to an even higher national productivity. Agriculture of the future is a thing for machines, controlled by fewer and fewer humans.
2. That elections equals to democracy and that democracy is necessarily a good thing. African countries now hold regular elections but because the elections are not issue-based, they are not a true reflection of the aspirations of the African people. Neither do they create a more equitable resource distribution or result in a more tolerant society. Indeed the voting African does not think and the thinking African does not vote. Democracy is also not necessarily a good thing where there is lots of poverty. It only serves to legitimize the class with the means to arrogate resources to themselves through corruption and rent seeking. A corollary is that dictatorship is necessarily a bad thing and that revolutions are necessary to bring about regime change.
3. That private sector led growth will hasten the transformation of developing countries. Nothing could be more unfortunate. The private sector in Africa is largely an appendage of the state and reflects the balance of rent seeking opportunities. It does not have the resources to create the infrastructure needed to transform our societies. The state is there very critical in directing development and funneling resources in the right direction. But the state must not be dysfunctional, or it will fail to deliver its mandate.
4. That ‘development aid’ leads to development. This lie, heavily peddled by Mr. Geoffrey Sachs has become the anthem if International Financial Institutions. If you haven’t heard/read ‘ Lords of Poverty’ then you have another think coming. Development aid creates employment for developed country bureaucrats and provides easy corruption pickings for rent seeking public officials. Apart from destroying the local work ethic, in many instances it does very little to touch the lives of those it is intended to benefit. Development aid is used to buy four-wheel drive vehicles, laptops and photocopiers, and pay people called consultants like me. It is never used for buying up the local milk supply or bananas. Think again, if you think development partners owe you a living. After all, the Americans say, here is no such thing like a ‘free lunch’.
5. That industrialization will hasten development. An economy may grow because of industrialization but if that industrialization is not geared to improving the local value chain, then most of the local people will simply remain bystanders. Economies develop because of the quality of the human resources they have and this requires a conscious effort. Then again, economies develop if the industrialization process is driven by the country’s comparative advantage and the local population can be impacted by the trickle down effect of that industrialization because they earn incomes from their natural economic activities. Not from the transplanting of industries from one geography to another.
If you have believed all these untruths. Think again, but remember that thinking, is rarely taught in schools. For how long can we unquestioningly accept paradigms that do not make sense? Next time somebody repeats these received ‘wisdoms’, blink and be a doubting Thomas. If you also believed that the world is round, think again, it is actually—pear shaped!