Growth vs. development

Development defined

I define development as people’s struggle for liberation from prevailing structures of domination and control over national policies and resources. It is based on Africa’s experience in the nearly one hundred years of struggle for its independence from direct colonial rule, and then since independence since the late 1950s the struggle against those who continue to rule, indirectly, through their control over state policy and the economy. However, this is not an Africa-specific story. Development is part of a global historical struggle.

Further elaboration on the definition of development

Economists define development in terms of growth. But growth is not the same as development. Development is a long democratic process, that starts “from within” the individual, the community and the nation, where people participate in the decisions that affect their lives in the realisation of their potential for self-reliance. In the context of Africa and the countries of the South, Julius Nyerere, the founding president of Tanzania and the first Chairman the South Commission, defined development in terms of the following five headings:

1.     Development shall be people centered

2.     Pursue a policy of maximum national self-reliance

3.     Supplement that with a policy of maximum collective South–South self-reliance

4.     Build maximum South–South solidarity in yourrelations with the North

5.     Develop science and technology.


These were written down by Nyerere in his own handwriting.  (A plaque copying these words is at the Geneva-based South Centre). Using Marx’s distinction between “productive forces” and “production relations”, the last of Nyerere’s points roughly corresponds with the concept of productive forces, and the first four with production relations.  Bourgeois economists caricature Marx by a reductionist logic that states that the “economic base determines social relations”.  This misses out the dialectical relation between the two; they interact, each influencing the other.   In the very long span of history the productive forces play a dominant role, but in the immediate and short run “politics are in command”.  In fact, Marx went on to say that when production relations become stultified, it is class struggle at the level of social relations that is the effective agent for change.


Bearing this in mind, and against the background of the struggle for emancipation from colonial and imperial economic exploitation and national oppression, development from a historical and humanitarian perspec­tive may be defined by means of the following formula:

Development = SF + DF + PF – IF


·       SF is the social factor – the essential well-being of the people free from want and exploitation

·       DF is the democratic factor – the right of the people to participate in state policy making that affects their lives and livelihoods

·       PF is the development of productive forces (industry, science, technology and the organisation of production)

·       IF is the imperial factor – the right of nations to liberation from colonial and imperial domination.


This definition of development is in sharp contrast to the mainstream formula:

Development = Growth + Wealth accumulation + Trickle down


·       Growth = open markets + foreign investments + good  governance (as defined by the West); and

·       Wealth accumulation = ensuring that the rich continue to get richer and are able to amass fortune, with “trickle-down” of some of the benefits to the poor.


The social democratic version of the mainstream definition of development, in simple terms, is:


Development = Open markets + Investments + Good governance + Redistribution where Redistribution is taxing the rich to give to the poor.


However, even in the Scandinavian countries, in practice it means taxing the less poor and the middle classes, for the rich employ clever lawyers and accountants to get around tax laws. The result, as the OECD’s 2011 study – “Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising” shows, the gap between the rich and poor even in these countries is widening.

So, how do we break away from the dysfunctional growth formula towards the liberating formula of:  SF + DF + PF – IF?

This is where learning from peoples’ struggles – Global Intifada and National Chimurenga – is so important.

The above definition is further explored in my forthcoming book tentatively titled: “Kicking away the Crutches”. The metaphor alludes to the crutches of dependence on aid and the flawed paradigms of development espoused by institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the mainstream academia and the media.


Mandela’s Legacy