"Africa is on the move (1)". Global growth is creating a "rational
dynamism (2)" and for the first time in a generation there are
encouraging signs of progress (3). "Hope and real success are
transforming the continent ... The changes we are witnessing,
building foundations for prosperity and welfare, are creating a new
sense of hope in the future (4)".
So say Michel Camdessus, director of the International Monetary
Fund, Evangelos A. Calamitsis, the IMF's director for Africa, and
Callisto Madavo and Jean-Louis Sarbib, vice-presidents of the World
Bank. Confirmed by recent reports from noted experts in the major
international organisations. Is this the good news we have long been
waiting for or is the optimism misplaced?
According to the IMF report, the 1996 results for Africa are
particularly encouraging and there is evidence to prove it (5). The
World Bank report for 1997 calls for effective international
cooperation in pursuit of global collective action. Roughly half of
the developing world's people (in Sub-Saharan Africa especially) have
not yet benefited from globalisation. With collective action they
will be able to profit from the much-discussed rise in the volume of
international trade and capital flows, and Africa as well as Asia
will be able to enjoy an economic miracle (6). In the meantime, the
1997 World Human Development Report suggests we take steps to
eradicate extreme poverty from the world by the beginning of the next
century and make it a thing of the past (7). This was the first time
anything like this had been heard since the promise of "a brighter
and better future".
Some people believed that Africa was moving inexorably away from
the development model created after the second world war and
independence. For years, the endless civil wars - in Ethiopia,
Somalia, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire
- created thousands of victims and successive waves of refugees in
the camps. Villages were devastated and areas abandoned to the war
lords. The continent was prey to desertification and malnutrition,
deforestation and pollution, the destabilisation caused by the rural
exodus, the insecurity and squalor of the cities, crushing debt,
impoverishment of the population and the state. It was less and less
able to sustain public services, finance infrastructures and provide
everyone with access to education and decent living conditions.
Economists, statisticians and experts from 20 or so international
organisations are confident that they can prove the contrary. The
World Bank alone is spending $100m on research, and 500 experts and
the same number of outside consultants are compiling appropriate data
and spreading the good news (8). You just have to go there.
Sub-Saharan Africa is well worth a visit and it has a few
surprises in store. In the mass of development statistics published
by the World Bank, the hundreds of tables with figures from the most
reliable sources seem to show the whole picture. But when you look at
them more closely, it soon becomes clear that data for many of the
headings are incomplete or totally lacking. Many of the figures that
are available need to be treated with caution and, even when this is
not so, they show the opposite of what is intended.
First of all, none of the 48 countries in the region can provide
full and reliable basic statistics. Some of the most important are
lacking, such as figures for industrial activity (in Angola, Chad,
Eritrea, Guinea, Mozambique, Namibia, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe, for
instance). Or they date back ten years or more (as in the case of
Nigeria, Rwanda and Gabon). The same goes for agricultural surveys or
water resources. Some are so fragmentary that it is impossible to
identify trends over the years, whether in access to health care,
drinking water or mains drainage.
Also many of the data supplied, in some cases by other
international organisations, are meaningless or lack credibility. For
instance the latest international figures available for three key
indicators - the mortality rate for children under five, the net
percentage of children of primary school age attending school and the
percentage of children under five who are underweight - date back a
year for Senegal, five years for Nigeria, ten years for Gabon, 15
years for Angola (for 32 countries, the figures are three or more
years old), although they appear in the 1997 statistics. A few
countries have no known figures for certain indicators. The data
published for those countries are normally estimates based on
neighbouring countries with similar per capita GNP (9).
Massaging the figures
In addition, the figures are manipulated with varying degrees of
subtlety. This is normally done by changing the previous headings to
new ones to cover up the true position, making it impossible to
compare trends which might be at odds with official claims, or
choosing the most favourable reference periods to prove the point.
Knowing that the significant economic and social development noted in
many countries between 1960-80 has since slowed down or regressed
under the structural adjustment schemes, the temptation will be to
try and camouflage the negative effects by taking 1970 as a reference
point, rather than 1980 when the optimum results were achieved,
whether for infant mortality or life expectancy. For instance, the
infant mortality rate in Mali dropped by 23% between 1960-80, then
rose by 26.5% between 1980-85, reverting in 1994 to a level close to
that of 1980. By comparing 1970 and 1994, the increased mortality is
concealed, giving the misleading impression that there has been a
There are other examples. One encouraging sign is that the
statistics show a significant drop in the infant mortality rate in
the region. The statistics are calculated according to the number of
births. Under the structural adjustment schemes, it was recommended
that the beneficiaries should pay for health care themselves.
Consultations and hospital deliveries have become too expensive and
are on the decline. For women who can still afford to be monitored
during pregnancy and give birth in hospital, the risks of
complication are actually being reduced. But the growing number of
deliveries not in hospital and the associated maternal and infant
mortality are not taken into account.
Finally, in the absence of statistics, the assessment criteria
have a strong ideological bias, but no scientific validity. The
recent World Bank report, The State in a Changing World, is a typical
example (10). In its concern not to reform the state (as some
commentators have claimed) but to justify its role being confined to
the maintenance of law and order (with the primary aim of protecting
foreign capital), the Bank tries to back up its ultra-liberal views
with a mass of statistics and graphs.
The evidence for the corruption and credibility of the states is
highly subjective. We are shown with the aid of artificially
generated figures that countries pursuing the right economic policy -
it goes without saying that this is the policy advocated by the World
Bank - grow more rapidly than others, and the more closely they
adhere to the policy, the quicker their growth. We learn how a state
can become efficient by progressing little by little from zone 1, the
least capable state which tries to do everything with very limited
resources, to zone 3, the most capable state which concentrates on a
small number of essential functions after relinquishing most of its
activities to the business community in zone 2.
There is even a small free market propaganda guide, suggesting
responses to six objections to privatisation, and a country is held
up as an example to be followed. This year Uganda is unquestionably
the star pupil amongst the structurally adjusted African countries,
succeeding Ghana as an "economic miracle". It has been congratulated
on its skill in bringing about large-scale reforms by downsizing the
public sector, and encouraging competition by sub-contracting public
services to non-governmental organisations, and opening up to outside
competition. Participation in the global economy gives extra
protection against arbitrary state action. It restricts the rights of
the state to the taxation of capital and exposes monetary and
budgetary policies to the watchful eye of the financial markets (11).
Clearly, the interests of the population are not the primary concern
of the experts in the international financial institutions.
It is still not clear why the vice-presidents of the World Bank
have identified this "rational dynamism" generated by "Africa on the
move (towards) prosperity and welfare" when the figures provided by
their own organisation and confirmed by others - notably the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for
1997 (12) - reveal quite a different picture. Of the 50 countries in
the world classified as the poorest according to the UNDP human
poverty index, 33 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. There 45% of the
population (255 out of 590 million people) suffer from a poverty more
acute than in any other part of the world (13).
The global Disneyland
In the meantime, the situation is deteriorating. The poverty rate
has increased and the number of people living on less than a dollar a
day rose from 179 million in 1987 to 218 million in 1993. That is 85%
of the population in Zambia, 72% in Madagascar, 65% in Angola, 61% in
Niger, 50% in Uganda (14). Between 1981-89 per capita GNP fell by 21%
in Sub-Saharan Africa, both in the structurally adjusted countries
and elsewhere. The most dramatic declines were in Gabon (58%),
Nigeria (50%) and Ivory Coast (42%).
Even in the 1990s nearly 32% of people in the region die before
the age of forty (15). There is only one doctor for every 18,000
inhabitants (compared with one for every 350 in the industrialised
countries). Two-thirds of the 23 million people who are HIV positive
live in Africa and the virus is spreading more quickly there than
anywhere else. Less than one in two has drinking water, one people in
every two has no access to medical services, food production per
capita has dropped since 1980. And illiteracy has increased from
125.9 million in 1980 to 140.5 million in 1995, and so on. At the
same time inequality is on the increase globally. In 1994 the ratio
between the income of the richest 20% and the poorest 20% was 78 to
1, a marked increase on the 30 to 1 ratio in 1960 (16).
The old socialist planners encouraged the use of false statistics.
Whilst the production units, inspired by the brilliant ideas of
Comrade Stalin, cheerfully exceeded the five year objectives in a few
months, shortages were widespread. Stalin explained that the failure
was due to "the vertigo of success" (17). It was the time of the
"gaping heights" (18). Now we are in the age of the virtual economy,
the great Disneyland of globalisation. Visit its enchanted growth,
its wonderful world of development, its miracle-working dragons, its
dwarves, docile and "well-governed" countries led by the Bretton
Woods Snow Whites. Look through the magnificent guide to world
development produced by hundreds of experts on $100,000 a year, with
its pretty pastel graphics showing children how a country can grow
better and more quickly by adopting the sound economic policies in
The whole thing is a farce. The obvious failure of the structural
adjustment policies imposed on the African countries 15 years ago,
solely to benefit the G7 members, and the damage caused by capitalist
globalisation cannot be disguised. The greater the gap between rich
and poor, and the more that poverty spreads through Sub-Saharan
Africa, the more the illusion has to be maintained. The neo-liberals
might be expected to be more rational, but they are peddling a myth
of progress, development and an imminent economic miracle, apparently
relying purely on divine intervention, about which even the churches
have their doubts.
The age of "development" was ushered in by the American president,
Harry Truman, in his State of the Union address in January 1949. From
then on, there would be no Berbers, Thais, Ashantis, Guaranis and so
on, but just "underdeveloped" nations, now "developing" with the help
of aid from the "developed" countries, headed of course by the United
States in a hierarchy based on a new indicator, gross national
The imperialists had found a new ideology to legitimise the spread
of capitalism, threatened in the South by the demand for a new world
economic order and by "third worldism", before it was sacrificed to
the universal laws of the market like a lamb to the slaughter (19).
In future, all they had to do was to control the relationship between
strong and weak, rich and poor, North and South. The good liberal
doctors would administer the shock treatment to the victims - the
structural adjustment which is a product of humanitarian
interference. On 25 September 1972 Robert McNamara, president of the
World Bank, urged the board of governors to attack poverty and the
deprivation threatening human dignity. Looking at the results 25
years later, it is time the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa
challenged a Western growth model designed to cover up the injustices
committed in the name of development (20).
(1) International Herald Tribune, Paris, 21-22 June 1997.
(2) According to Michel Camdessus in Les Echos, Friday 25 and
Saturday 26 April 1997.
(3) Interview by Evangelos A. Calamitsis, IMF Bulletin, Vol.
26, no 13, 14 July 1997.
(4) International Herald Tribune, op. cit.
(5) "World Economic Outlook" quoted in the Financial Times, 14
(6) World Bank, "World Development Indicators 1997", Oxford
University Press, 1997.
(7) United Nations Development Programme, "Human Development Report
1997", Oxford University Press, 1997.
(8) Catherine Caufield, "Masters of Illusion, The World Bank and the
Poverty of Nations", quoted in Bank Check Quarterly,
no 17, June 1997.
(9) The Progress of Nations, UNICEF report, Geneva, 1997, p.68.
(10) World Development Report 1997, World Bank 1997, op. cit.
(11) The State in a Changing World, World Bank report, 1997, summary
in French, pp. 11 and 13.
(12) See Alain Gresh, "L'Ombre des inégalités", Le
Monde diplomatique, September 1997.
(13) UNDP Report, op. cit., pp. 23 and 37.
(14) "World Development Indicators", op. cit., p. 31.
(15) UNDP Report, op. cit., pp. 35 and 26.
(16) Idem, p. 27.
(17) Title of a famous article by Stalin, published in Pravda,
2 March 1930.
(18) Alexander Zinoviev, "Les Hauteurs béantes", Laffont,
(19) See the dossier published under this name in Le Monde
diplomatique, May 1985.
(20) See Gilbert Rist, "Le Développement, histoire d'une
croyance occidentale", Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences
politiques, Paris 1996, and Serge Latouche, "La Planète des
naufragés, essai sur l'après-développement",