Roundtable VII

Developmentalism in African history

Tuesday, 22 March 2016, 11:00-12:30

Convenor: Benedetta Rossi (University of Birmingham)

Panelists: Felicitas Becker (Cambridge University), Reuben Loffman (Queen Mary University of London), Gary Blank (London School of Economics)

Frederick Cooper and Monica Van Beusekom disagree on the periodization of what may be called the ‘developmentalist turn’ in colonial governance: the former focuses on decolonization and the establishment of international aid funds in Europe after the Second World War, whereas the latter shows that the ideology of mise en valeur has been around since the 1920s. Their disagreement depends at least in part on how historians imagine and define ‘development’. Should we think of developmentalism as we think of colonialism – a governmental rationale that represents Africa and Africans in particular ways and makes possible specific forms of control over people and resources? Is developmentalism a consequence of colonization and decolonization? Or are there equivalents of developmentalism in pre-colonial history – for example in early relations between African societies and European empires, or in the strategies of Muslim reformist movements and expansionist African kingdoms? How has developmentalism contributed to the making and unmaking of African states, over the longue durée and in recent political dynamics? Is the association between developmentalism and state power overstated? How should we study decentralized forms of non-state development and everyday development initiatives that started from a position of weakness – and remained there? This roundtable raises questions on how to interpret developmentalism in African history, politics, and research. Henrietta Moore argued recently that ‘the age of development is over’ and a forthcoming BBC Africa Debate event at the British Museum is entitled ‘Has Africa Outgrown Development Aid?’ At a time when ideas and practices of ‘development’ are being questioned by both policy and research, this round-table interrogates the developmentalist impulse as a historical and cultural explanandum.


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