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Africans should have the intent to put development first. Many development strategies being advocated today, including industrialisation, are distractions from the main issue – poverty. The Netherlands has both the experience and capabilities to stress to African leaders that successful development elsewhere in the world was the result of strategies that were inclusive, pro-poor and pro-rural. Industrialisation can only be successful if it is based on policies that support a healthy rural economy, especially small farmers.
Africa is the region with the largest share of poor people of the population. Yet, these days there is a compelling narrative about high growth and rapid development in Africa. Though growth is impressive compared to other parts of the world, it is not enough and it lacks the structural transformation that would make a significant reduction of poverty and set the stage for inclusive development. For example, in Kenya still half of the population live under the poverty line and three quarters live in rural areas. Nevertheless, Kenya is considered one of the most advanced economies in the region. Most countries in Africa cannot feed their own population, food imports are increasing and nutrition levels are lowering.
Why is that? My answer is that African policymakers have abandoned or failed to implement necessary policy priorities with regard to agriculture and rural development, especially about increasing productivity among small farmers. Agriculture is not part of the modernity policymakers admire and it is coupled often with a condescending view on agriculture and rural life. Instead, we see attempts to build successful manufacturing and service sectors, without the foundation of a productive rural economy. Lessons on development and poverty reduction from other areas as e.g. South East Asia, where interventions in these areas were key, are making very little headway or hardly influence policies and interventions that could have a major impact on poverty.
Is the policy mix inappropriate? It s not only inappropriate , the industrialisation path is also a distraction from the main goal, which is poverty reduction, starting with policy priorities in regard to agriculture. The industrial transformation in Southeast Asia built on the agricultural revolution, as was the case in other parts of the world earlier. An industrial policy was never an important issue. When manufacturing did happen it was a private sector response to macroeconomic stability, economic freedom, adequate infrastructure and a healthy rural economy. Southeast Asian countries never succeeded with the North Asian development idea of nurturing ”infant industries” to compete in export markets, which seems to be a model followed by many African countries today.
Are donors influencing policies and interventions that could lead to more inclusive development? The answer; the jury is still out there,. Donors are often contributing to the distraction from the main goal, which is poverty reduction and more driven by their own politics and ambitions to put forward policies and interventions that are palatable to their own constituencies. Solutions are set out in advance. Reduction in poverty and advancing inclusiveness are often starting from the perspective that social services such as health and education are the best interventions, when opportunities to rise incomes and prosperity should take precedence and build the foundation for improved social services.
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