With increased marginalization within the global economic system and the state's heavy handed intervention, some segments of African economies have withdrawn from the formal sector and taken refuge in the informal sector. However, the rise of the informal sector also signifies a return to a self-reliant auto-centric development. The shift in the production of export crops to foodstuffs and the relative vigour of the small enterprises that are oriented toward meeting internal social needs are clear indications that an auto-centric approach to development needs to be taken seriously in Africa.

The goal of an auto-centric approach is to correct the neglect of internal dynamics in Africa's development effort. Another essential characteristic, for Mengisteab, of an auto-centric development strategy is to base African economies primarily on social needs and thereby to promote internal dynamics without discarding the benefit of external dynamics. Under an auto-centric strategy, social needs replace external demand as the primary engine for the production system. The strategy thus aims at transforming the marginalized subsistence peasantry to raise its productivity and levels of consumption, thereby fostering integration between the traditional and modern sectors of the economy.


A principal hypothesis of Mengisteab's, in fact, is that in Africa's case all three levels of integration – internal, regional and global – are compatible with each other if implemented in a manner that is properly sequenced and balanced.

As things currently stand, only enclaves of African economies are closely linked with the global system. The origins of this structural distortion go back to the incorporation of African economies into the global capitalist division of labour, mainly through colonialism. With incorporation, African economies were restructured to supply the colonial powers with inexpensive labour, raw materials and primary commodities. Hardly any production system that would benefit the general population and link it with the global system was introduced.

African economies have essentially reached a dead end, for Mengisteab, as they remain unable to control the process of capital accumulation and to involve the general population in the modern production process by significantly expanding the enclave sector.

It seems, for him then, that it is critical for African countries to promote an autocentric development strategy that pays more serious attention to correcting the internal fragmentation by placing the general population at the centre of the production process and thereby realizing the internal sources of dynamism. Access to such factors as appropriate tools, fertilizers, seeds, educational and training facilities, health care, transportation, irrigation, banking services and credits is essential in transforming the subsistence peasantry.


Another development that has engulfed most of the African continent since the second half of the 1980s is a wave of democratization. Africa, for Mengisteab in the 1990s, is clearly at a turn in history, as is much of the developing world. The crisis of socialism and the collapse of socialist regimes in many countries has been celebrated as the victory of capitalism and its twin, liberal democracy. For some, the crisis of socialism represented the end of history. The essential principles of liberal democracy, as we saw in Chapter 2, include:

• securing democratic rights such as freedom of expression and association;

• separation of powers between executive, legislative and judiciary;

• a representative assembly elected by popular vote;

• a limited state and separation of public and private sectors;

• a premise that there is no final truth on what is good for society.

A truly minimalist liberal democracy rarely exists in actuality. The current wave of neo-liberalism and globalization, however, has pushed liberal democracy in this direction in many countries. Neo-liberals in fact make a strong case that the state, especially in Africa, is a self-serving predator that uses its allocative power to favour the politically more potent segments of society, thereby promoting a negative redistribution of income. Yet how is the existing deprivation of the peasantry to be corrected? How is a post-apartheid South Africa, for example, to correct the deprivation of the victims of apartheid if the state's involvement in the economy is to be kept to a minimum?

The commercial sector around which the market centres in Africa is too small, too dependent on external sources, and too removed from the subsistence sector to be able to bring about meaningful transformation through a trickle-down process. Without the transformation of the peasantry – and indeed the resolution of ethnic conflicts – the uneven dualism and fragmentation of African economies cannot be corrected. Democracy as such has to be clearly aligned to redistributive forms to be relevant in sub-Saharan Africa. If liberal democracy fails to satisfy the basic needs of all citizens and to narrow societal inequalities not only in terms of income but also in terms of the levels of human resource development, it fails to be genuinely democratic in the political sphere as well.

The second problem of liberal democracy is perhaps less fundamental but important, nonetheless. Considering the dualism, fragmentation, gross uneven development and pervasive ethnic animosities and cleavages they face, African countries are still grappling with the difficult task of state-building. Under these conditions, the winner-takes-all majority-rule system is dysfunctional and divisive. It leads to the neglect of the interests and concerns of the minority. In extreme cases, majority rule may even lead to civil war and secession.

These identified limitations, for Mengisteab then, do not invalidate liberal democracy altogether. Compared with the existing, self-serving authoritarian regimes, it is worth struggling for. It has the potential to free producers from "extra-economic correction" by separating the market from the state. Safeguarding civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, press and association, protecting human rights, and ensuring the rule of law, are all critical achievements of liberal democracy.

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