My students make me much more optimistic about the future of Africa’s political economies. Unwilling to accept the criticism with which academics attack almost every actor involved in African development including politicians, businesspeople, international organisations and multilateral institutions, my students don’t just want to stand on the side-lines and analyse the problems, rather they want to get onto the pitch and find ways to change the world. This mission is particularly strong among my students from African countries, who see development, not as an abstract concept, but as a concrete and tangible future they want for their societies.
Inspired by our students, this year, Thandika Mkandawire and I decided to ask our African Development course students at the LSE to write critical and thoughtful blog-posts about the most pressing issues concerning economic and social development within African countries. We then asked students to vote on the best submission from each week. The results are now being published on ROAPE.net, Africa@LSE and ID@LSE. They represent the views of an emerging body of critical young scholars interested in structural economic transformation and development within African societies.
Their posts are cutting edge, both at the forefront of academic debates and current affairs. They tackle the pressing issues of today’s world such as UK-Africa trade after Brexit and the impact of the election of Trump having on ideological battlefields within development. They also bring fresh eyes to long-standing challenges such as driving agricultural diversification, tackling youth unemployment and mobilising domestic resource mobilisation.
Together, these blogposts grapple with the twin challenge of development: how can African economies transform themselves within a competitive world in which their development ‘partners’ are actively competing with them over the real spoils of development – knowledge and ‘dynamic rents’ – WHILST STILL dealing with the instabilities that economic growth brings with it, such as rising economic inequality, political rivalry and the often coercive means with which states and capitalists reshape land, property and relations of labour. Our course tries to engage with development on its own terms; it’s extremely hard (something that is often taken for granted). It’s often unfair (not all boats rise with the tide). And that it destroys as much as it creates. Yet, we come into the classroom with the core belief that development contains the seeds of a better world. To me, I study, teach and research development because I believe it is the greatest tale on Earth and like all great tales, there is no simple morality and the characters are fully fleshed and complex.
We hope these contributions will make our readers both more cognisant of the immense challenges facing African economies but perhaps more hopeful about the future as well. As our students make clear, there are real opportunities in 2017 for African development, both with the ideological shifts happening around us as well as the opportunities that new technology and growing domestic and regional markets offer up. Determining how and for whose benefits these opportunities will be realised will ultimately be a political challenge for each society. Development cannot be administered or delivered through best practice guidelines. It has to be fought over and improvised from day to day and from place to place. For this reason, it is crucially important for scholars and teachers to bring new voices into the discussion and to engage with young African scholars and activists who will take part in these struggles first-hand.
Laura Mann is a member of ROAPE’s Editorial Working Group and a sociologist whose research focuses on the political economy of markets and new information and communication technologies in Africa. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
These are the posts so far but watch this space for more:
Tinhinan El Kadi and Avelino Chimbulo
Marta Santoboni and Alexandra Karlsson
Elsa Makouezi and Tom Brady