A prelude to re-thinking development

first world problems
The world as we know it comprises of two different contrasting worlds with a third world in between. This is how we are:

The First World -Successive revolutions starting from the industrial to the electronic and ICT have given us a level of comfort that previous civilizations may not have even dreamed. We can communicate with each other whenever we want, travel around the world, consume as we wish and live in comfort and opulence hitherto unimagined. This is heaven on earth and we are lucky to be among God’s fortunate children. Science and technology have combined to give us this power and comfort and mastery over the world and its affairs.

The Third World – We are taught that most of us are destitute. Consumption is limited and so is income. Transportation remains poor and while communication has improved in recent decades it remains nowhere near that of the First World. While some of us live in opulence imitating the lives of the First World, most of us live a hand- to- mouth existence. We are told that industrialization is the answer to our problems.Third world

In the 1960s, they told us that the agricultural methods imparted to us by our fore-fathers and refined over generations were not productive, that our agricultural practices were out-dated, that we should make use of new technologies, use the seeds, the fertilizer and the pesticides invented by those with the know-how we did not have. They told us that by doing these things we would create a green revolution of abundance and plenty in our land. Fifty years down the line, we realize that we have been fed a myth. Our environments remain polluted, our food poisoned, our land degraded with climate gods wrecking unpredictable fury on our meagre existence. Yet we toil on, for we have invested too much and changed our ways to the point where we do not know our old ways. The powers that be do not want to tell us that there is no solution. Perhaps, they do not know an alternative either. As we follow the path dictated to us, telling us that we will be lifted from our pitiful state only if we had the know-how, the resources and the markets, our spirits are lifted momentarily. Then, realization dawns when the crops fail or an abundance of harvest is met with the lack of access to markets and middle men steal our toil for a pittance.

Second World – We are almost there to touch shoulder to shoulder with the First World but not yet there. Our leaders after World War II followed a socialist development model which hindered us from achieving the consumption levels of the First World. We don’t like to admit that socialismSecond World helped us achieve a level of self-sufficiency. We were highly captivated by the consumption patterns and freedom enjoyed by those in the First World and we revolted against our regimes. After the end of the cold war, we have vigorously sought to re-structure our economies according to global capitalism and improve ourselves to become the First World. We continue to believe, as we have been for the last 20 years, that we will get there though the discerning among us have grown disillusioned in recent years.

Okay! I admit. These 3 models generalize but they also distinguish the world we live in today. Its parameters were developed in the aftermath of the Second World War when a hitherto unknown concept called “development” was foisted on the world in accordance with the preferences of the First World. The linear model outlined as the goal for mankind envisaged all countries striving and achieving mutual prosperity through sustained economic growth through increase in the use of goods and services otherwise known as consumption. The concept of development had to be continuously refined as it was found inadequate in each stage but the power discourse that dominates our knowledge and by extension its politics, continue to feed us its variants – sustainable development, human development, development as freedom etc. etc.

Sixty years down the line, much of the world remains in the Third and Second Worlds while the First Worlds have invented crises of its own. As climate change, global warming, food crises, energy crisis, resource scarcity etc. etc. have created a continuous global crisis, the simple question has to be asked – Can Mother Earth sustain us any longer? In other words, can the Earth tolerate China and India (with a combined population of around 3 billion) adopting the same consumption patterns of the USA (population around 350 million)? If not, isn’t this whole model, which is based on increasing greed and material wealth, a myth and a disaster? Is there an alternative?

Two quotes to ponder over:
– “Development was- and continues to be for the most part- a top-down, ethnocentric, and technocratic approach, which treated people and cultures as abstract concepts, statistical figures to be moved up and down in the charts of progress. Development was conceived not as a cultural process (culture was a residual variable, to disappear with the advance of modernization) but instead as a system of more or less universally applicable technical interventions intended to deliver some ‘badly needed’ goods to a ‘target’ population. It comes as no surprise that development became a force so destructive to Third World cultures, ironically in the name of people’s interests.”

{Escobar, A. (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Page 44-45.}

– “The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape. Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work. Moreover, the historical conditions which catapulted the idea into prominence have vanished: development has become outdated. But above all, the hopes and desires that made the idea fly, are now exhausted: development has grown obsolete. ”

{Sachs, W. (1992) The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. London: Zed Press. Page 1.}

(to be continued…….)


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