Taking the Ideology out of Development

Development is a vision. A vision of how to make people’s lives ‘better’. But sometimes the vision overtakes the results. This is the problem of ideology in development.

The most important aspect of politics and governance is policy. Policy is tangible, you can see the effects- depending on implementation time. Policy should be defined by results however this can often become undermined by the ideological underpinnings of the policymakers.

Development at the end of the day is about policy. Development has become an umbrella term for the, at times, experiments of governments, International Government Organisations (INGOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Sometimes it seems that the ideological colouring of the message is more important than what it actually says.

Many postcolonial states have gone through what I will call the typical move towards a greater monitoring of government expenditure. This is now linked to so-called neoliberal policies. Tanzania is a prime case study of this journey. The first President of an independent Tanzania Julius Nyerere adopted a social and economic policy known as ‘Ujamaa’- ‘familyhood’ in Kiswahili. The Ujamaa policy drew its inspiration from socialism and called for a rejection of capitalism and a self-reliance at both the individual and national level. The key tenet of Ujamaa was that of Villagisation.  saw the creation of larger agricultural settlements in replacement of the traditional smaller, more isolated, rural settlements. Ultimately villagisation and therefore Ujamaa are regarded as having failed given that the expected result- the increase of productivity- did not occur and there was rather a drop in productivity.

Feans/Creative commons license

Feans/Creative commons license

Tanzania is not alone in implementing a socialist post-independence development policy. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa many liberation movements and anti-colonial movements drew their inspiration from socialist ideology. However, while a case can certainly be made for the failure of socialism as a developmental ideology one has to be aware that this does not mean that any other alternative will work ‘better’. In response to this perceived failure we have been bombarded with the rhetoric of ‘neo-liberalism’. Neo-Liberalism has quickly gained traction as one of the most controversial policy/ ideological programmes. The key tenets of neoliberal economic development are those of reducing the role of the public sector in economic development via a greater role for the private sector. This has been seen as controversial in some developing countries given that the state can often be the biggest employer. There has also been a growing controversy over whether neoliberalism actively encourages austerity and cuts in government expenditure, as well as the fact that private sector investment from abroad does not always result in benefits for the majority of the population.

What the above should highlight is that there is no one size fits all development model. At its core development is about what is best for the society and individuals. Ideological models do have value but we should be wary of the dangers of dogma in ideology. Labels such as socialist or neo-liberal can serve to divide stakeholders and create opposing camps. Policy should not be driven by ideology but rather by what works- in this case what produces the best possible outcome for the population of a country- and this will more often than not be an amalgamation of several different ideological positions.



The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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