Professor Dongala describes science as a "branch of thought", indeed, talks about science as if it were an entity separate from external influences; removed from subjectivity and ideals. This he then uses as the mainstay of his, quite correct, criticism of the social sciences: through seeking to mimic the natural sciences, excluding social, human differences, they are unable to offer solutions to what are, essentially, social problems. Surely it is better to view science not as a thing or a branch of thought, but rather as a particular way of thinking, a method of thought, as it were.
If we look at the scientific method, rather than as an abstract concept: science, we can view this method within its proper context, as a tool. If we view the scientific method as merely a tool, we can see how absolutely pointless it is attempting to hold `science' responsible for all the ills of the world. Just as a machete can be used to cut cane or throats, so too can the scientific method be used towards creative or destructive ends. Ultimately, it is what is in the head of the person wielding the tool that decides how that tool will be used. Thus to claim that 'science' has freed itself from the bonds of philosophy serves to perpetuate the myth of science as something of and for itself, rather than simply a tool that can sometimes be useful, sometimes not.
It was not science that led Albert Einstein to the theory of relativity, but rather his daydreams of what it would be like to experience riding a beam of light. Scientific methods allowed him to provide answers to questions arising in his fantasies. It is thoughts and, therefore, ideals that decide whether the scientific method is used to produce medicines and vaccines or biological and chemical weapons. The tool itself can never be to blame for the manner in which it is applied, whether in the 'natural' or the 'social' sciences. Thus, the problem we have with the application of scientific methods in the social sciences is not that these methods are used, but rather that they are misused.
Prof. Dongala quite rightly states that one of the most important aspects of the scientific method is the principle of falsifiablity or refutability: a theory or 'rule' being valid until 'disproved' by new evidence. Prof. Dongala suggests it is this "dialectic of a clash of truths" that propels 'science'. It is this same dialectic that is largely missing from the social sciences, in particular from that branch of the social sciences that has elevated itself to the position of the most natural of sciences: economics.
What we see in the fields of economic research and practice is a denial of the evidence, a denial of the 'decisive experiments' that demonstrate that economic theories are exactly that: theories, and that these theories cannot be applied universally. This, at least, appears to be the case if we consider economics to be the science of how to most efficiently employ the resources at our disposal to generate the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The Structural Adjustment Programmes of the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) provide a very good illustration of this. As, indeed, does the entire history of 'economic development' in Africa and Developing Countries (LDCs) in general.
According to neo-classical economic theory, price is determined by supply and demand. The greater the demand and smaller the supply, the higher the price, and vice versa. Every first-year economics student learns this and, ceteris paribus, we can take it to be true in a money-based economy. It therefore follows that if a large number of, for example, coffee producing countries increase their production of coffee, the price of coffee on the market will fall. Yet this has been exactly what the IMF has been demanding of LDCs: concentration of production for export, in order to raise hard currency to repay loans. The result of which has been increased production but reduced income due to falling prices. The point I wish to make here is that according to the existing economic 'rules', IMF policies are flawed. Yet despite all the evidence to the contrary, the IMF and many other economists continue to argue that it is not their policies that are at fault, but simply that they have not been applied 'correctly'. So either all the economists working for the IMF are idiots, or their aim has been not to generate development in LDCs, but to provide cheap resources for the 'rich' countries. An aim in which they have most certainly been very successful.
Turning to development, more specifically, to Africa, Prof. Dongala states that for more than three decades he has been "seeking in vain ... the theoretical propositions that will allow us to understand the reasons for the continent's failure on almost all fronts". I can only suggest he has been looking in the wrong place. There is a wealth of work available that provides the explanations Prof. Dongala is seeking. I am limited here by space, but would mention, as good introductory textbooks: "The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment", Charles K. Wilber and Kenneth P. Jameson (eds.), and "Economic Development", Michael P. Todaro. True, no existing theory or model will provide us with solutions to the problems Africa faces, they can, however, explain why Africa faces those problems.
In order to solve those problems we have to first of all define them. Something Prof. Dongala does very well in his four "urgent questions". We have to rethink exactly what it is we mean by development. Surely the first and most important aim of development should be to provide each and every African citizen with adequate food, water, clothing, shelter, health care and education. Any further form of 'economic development' must come secondary to these basic necessities. This means using Africa's resources for Africa's people, not paying 'western' companies to buy them from us, which is more or less what is happening at the moment. We have to realise and accept that no single African country will ever be able to compete fairly on a global market controlled by giant multinational corporations, a global economy where 51 of the world's top 100 economies are companies. Most importantly, we have to dare to dream. We have to dare to envisage a world where African children do not starve because the best agricultural land is being used to grow cash crops, a world where Africa's resources are not used to create profits for companies already richer than most African countries. Then we can set about making those dreams reality.
Pre-colonial African history is rich with models of participative democracy and economic models to match. We need to learn from that history and adapt those models to our present situation. Personally I believe that the only way forward for Africa, as a continent, the only way Africa can halt and reverse the downward spiral that has been in motion since Europe first 'discovered', colonised and began exploiting African people and resources for European economic growth, is as a continent.
These are just a few ideas, or correctly, dreams. Dreams that, given the political and economic situation in Africa, may seem to be totally impossible. How can there possibly be full union with political and economic integration on a continent where so many countries cannot even manage national unity? How do we move from despotism to full participative democracy, something not even the U.S. or Europe has managed? Not easy questions to answer, certainly not questions that can be answered here. I would, however, suggest that the answer ultimately lies with what we are prepared to accept, and what we are prepared to do to change that which we will not accept. Either we are prepared to accept Africa being run by the privileged few for the benefit of 'western' multinationals, which means being prepared to accept the continuing suffering of the majority and degradation and despoliation of the natural environment. And, yes, ultimately being left out in the cold in terms of western-based, corporate-led globalisation. Or we must dare to dream and together find ways of making those dreams reality.
Africa, as a continent, has the resources and technology required to be totally self-sufficient and provide every African with a decent standard of living. There is no shortage of ideas or theories as to how to best utilise those resources for the greatest benefit. All that is really missing is the will to put those ideas into action.
|Ross COPELAND was born in South Africa, educated in Britain and he taught Economics at the University of Kassel until last year. His chief academic interests lie in the fields of International Relations and the workings of the Global Political Economy. His research has been influenced by the Historical Materialist/Neo-Gramscian school of thought. "I believe in the liberalising role of education and the importance of choice" he says " and I feel it important that the social sciences be involved in improving the quality of life for all people on the planet, not merely restricted to a role of description and documentation. These ideas have informed both my research and my teaching. They also explain why I found it impossible to continue working in an environment where what was being offered was (is) completely the opposite of what, in my opinion, a university education should be. One cannot teach neo-liberal "market" theory as if it were fact. [...] Students were expected to learn "rules" and formulae by heart, whilst being processed through the faculty machine. [...] Surely the role of education is to free the mind, not to chain it?" Ross Copeland is now living in Hamburg trying to find his way as a 'writer', hoping to be successful in the short-term as a freelance journalist. See also his article: "The Politics of hunger" Mots Pluriels No.15 September 2000.|