Last week, I was challenged to conclude that the current neo-liberal paradigm, that is the basis of organisation of our polities and pursuit of development, has failed and that we ought to think of other way of running our countries and economies.
What has been the result of more than 30 years of neo-liberalism? The failure of markets to deliver, jembe la mkono hadi sasa, wealth concentrated in the hands of the few despite general increase in prosperity, democratic deficit in many aspects, violence, creation of a welfare state, incapacity to reign in curable diseases, moral decadence, etc - you name it.
Even in developed countries, it is all the same. Without even mentioning the current wave of market failure, whether it is a Reagan or a Clinton or a Thatcher or a Blair in office, you have an underclass caught between welfare and low wages, a heavily indebted middle class increasingly subject to job and pension insecurity and a new class of the super rich who escape all rules of taxation and community.
The challenge is whether we will be able to organise a society in a manner that will enable us to escape this trap. Or, there is simply no alternative - that things are somehow "meant" to be the way they are (in fact, to emphasize the supremacy of neo-liberalism, Margret Thatcher coined the acronym TINA - There is No Alternative [to neoliberalism).
Some, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, say that actually there is an alternative, and for us in Africa, it is what they call a "Developmental State" (others say a 'Democratic Developmental State' but that is a debate for another day). The idea here is to dump what has held sway since mid-80s...that markets are everything, a "weak state" is the most facilitative of liberty and freedoms, that democracy as an ideal and an end should be pursued at any cost, that contentious politics have to institutionalized (in that the state ought to be challenged by strong media, strong labour unions, and NGOs) - this irrespective of the society's institutional and "sociological" capacity to handle contentious politics).
Anyway, what has happened since we adopted this model: more newspapers in newsstands (but not necessarily advancing the cause of free expression), the plague of the political-economy of disorder (everything goes in Bongo despite the elaborate superstructures of governing politics and social transactions), bigger but weak state (in that it is always not able to enforce laws and create order), rent-seeking tendencies by the private sector and the state. Of course, there has been improvement in the quality and delivery of social services and there has been growth in the economy but there has not been sustained and rapid growth and transformation of the economy. It may be too early to say that we have reached a "dead end", but others, including Prime Minister Zenawi have concluded so.
Now...what is needed: (i) A new focus on managerialism in public service....in that the state, rather public affairs, has to be managed competently. To this end, for a start, a culture of meritocracy has to be inculcated. The pull for entry into public service...in politics or in civil service...and the basis of which we assess our public servants has to change.
(ii) We need to rethink our overemphasis on crafting these elaborate participatory processes, or elabotate modes of inclusiveness, representation and accountability...basically a new look at the whole "hassle of democracy". While all these are important, they are not a panacea for deep-rooted deficiencies in the philosophical underpinnings of the pursuit of our development. Fine, it may be important that people participate in deciding their priorities but getting people to say what they want is different from availing the resources for actualising those needs or ensuring the quality of delivery and perfomance of public service...
(iii) Also, I think it is critical that, before we think of "economic development", basically, as currently popularly defined, assurance of material wellbeing for majority of the people, we should think, first and foremost, of the acquisition of "social development", in that there has to be a consensus on the values and norms that the society hold dear, and to use those values to reaffirm our identity and underpin our collective effort. Others call this the development of "social capital"....the creation of a blend of norms, values and rules to govern the society, ensure stability, reduce uncertainty and cost of "social transactions". What are those values and norms, as far as Tanzania is concerned?
Anyway, I am digressing. I will continue with this later.
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