First Things First in Nepad

(16 May 2002)

The drawing up of the NEPAD document, as a Continent-wide Development Plan, whose aim, also, is to mobilize the minds and the will of all Africans, and the assistance of the rest of the world, is of historic importance; it is nothing less than a decisive watershed in the history of Africa and of the world.

I have argued all along that the African Slave Trade and the domination of Africa brought about horrendous material and spiritual damage to entire Humankind. Africa suffered horrendous material and political damage; the West did indeed benefit materially from the African Slave Trade; however, entire Humankind suffered horrendous spiritual damage. The slogan binding the efforts and determination of the nations of Africa and of the rest of the world, should be: As we fell together, so we must rise together.


NEPAD draws its historic importance from this background and world-historical fact.

What has brought about the urgent necessity of NEPAD, and of the AFRICAN RENAISSANCE, is the present failure of development in Africa, and the general crisis generated by that failure: The World Bank, in a document titled, “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century”, has stated the following: “Despite gains in the second half of the 1990s, SubSaharan Africa (Africa) enters the 21st century with many of the world’s poorest coutries. Average income per capita is lower than at the end of the 1960s, incomes, assets, and access to essential services are unequally distributed. And the region contains a growing share of the world’s absolute poor, who have little power to influence the allocation of resources. Moreover, many development problems have become largely confined to Africa. They include lagging primary school enrollments, high child mortality, and endemic diseases –including malaria and HIV/AIDS- that impose costs on Africa at least twice those in any other developing region. One region in five lives in countries severely disrupted by conflict. Making matters worse, Africa’s place in the global economy has been eroded, with declining export shares in treditional primary products, little diversification into new lines of business, and massive capital flight and loss of skills to other regions…Moreover, Africa will not be able to sustain rapid growth without investing in its people. Many lack the health, education, and access to inputs needed to contribute to –and benefit from- high growth.” (World Bank, “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?”, http://wbln0018.worldbank…./9D48D6DCE826CCD0852568F1006DBF2E?OpenDocumen  9/27/00)


The World Bank, and its sister institution, the IMF, the UN, and many other documents on Africa, have listed many things that need to be done to repair the present damage upon Africa.

As in every major war, there is a strategy. We cannot fight all the battles, we cannot do everything, all at the same time. Military historians reveal to us that there is a particular battle, in every historic war, which proved to be decisive for the outcome of the entire war; a battle the loss of which broke the back of one side, and created the victor in the historic war.

Economic history, and economic historians, tell us the same.  We, who are drawing up NEPAD, must take careful note of that truth.

NEPAD mentions and lists many tasks which need to be done in order to eliminate underdevelopment, poverty, and misery in Africa.

We want to turn Africa around.

My point, drawn from the lessons of economic history, is that we cannot plan to do all these things all at the same time. Prioritization is necessary, but prioritization formulated on the basis of the data base drawn from the experience of the nations of the world in economic development.



Here is the primary lesson:

In every historic turning point in the economic history of the nations of the world, there has been one sector of the economy which economic historians have identified as the one that provided the greatest thrust to the forward or upward movement of the entire economy, which, in effect, moved the entire society forward from an historic point of view.

In the economic history of Western Europe, particularly of England, we know that the Industrial Revolution was preceded by the European Agricultural Revolution.

We also know that the successful emergence of capitalism in England was prepared by wholesale, major transformations in economic relations in the English countryside.


We know that the slave economy of the Southern States of America, producing cotton, and the TEXTILE INDUSTRY in England, were the foundation economic activity which lifted England above other nations, economically, politically and militarily.

We know that the construction of RAILROADS  in late 19th century America was the source of the major thrust which pushed the US economy forward or upward.

We can list many examples, all making the same point.


Two-thirds, or more, of the African population is found in rural areas. Africa has not had her Agricultural Revolution; and wholesale, revolutionary development transformations in rural areas have not occurred in Africa.

Between 70 to 80 per cent of the African population, which lives in rural areas, is not effectively incorporated within the commodity-market economy. The failure of rural development, and our inability, so far, to initiate the African Agricultural Revolution, have created mass poverty, even famine, in rural Africa.

The exclusion of 70-80 per cent of the African population from the commodity market economy, and their impoverishment, means that this large sector of the population cannot be a secure support-base for any industrialization. There does not exist, in Africa, the large-scale consumer demand for capitalist commodities, nor is there a sufficiently large buying power of the majority of African people, which can entice significant capitalist investments –which can bring about the industrialization and development of Africa.  Foreign investments shall only be drawn by minerals, and oil, which go to foreign markets, which do not increase the economic power of the indigenous African people.



We, Africans, in a team with agricultural scientists from the rest of the world, can draw up this Plan [in fact I have done so]; and we can together, Africa and the Developed world, focus our minds on this gigantically important Project.


In the economic historian  Walt Rostow’s term, this can bring about the “TAKE-OFF” of the African economy into self-sustained growth.


This shall have beneficial effects to the entire spectrum of African economic activities, and to entire African societies.


The collapse of the African rural economy, the catastrophe in the economic life of African Village Communities, is the root cause of the crisis of the African economy, is the root cause of the Crisis of Africa. The crisis of poverty in rural areas is forcing millions of Africans to move to towns and cities. These cities and towns do not have the appropriate infrastructure of housing, schools, hospitals, and employment, to absorb these millions of people.  The so-called informal housing emerges, and crime, and diseases, and all sorts of social pathologies. There emerges the syndrome of poverty, unemployment, and crime in the inner cities. Many upper-class people take their businesses outside the city proper, to suburbs The tax-base of municipal councils and city governments suffers. A fiscal crisis of government emerges, which results in very much diminished funding for social services and maintenance of roads, schools, clinics, police services, etc.


This is the root cause of conflicts in African societies. This is the root cause of the African crisis. This is what I call the fermentation deep below, which gives rise to bubbles at the top: these bubbles at the top are the political crises, which impact on the African State, on Legislation, on political insecurity, on crises over election matters, etc.


Alas! We focus only, and the African media and World media focus only, on the bubbles at the top –instead of dealing with the fermentation deep below!

I plead: let us focus on doing something about the collapse of the African rural economy, about the catastrophe in African Village Communities. If we do so as I propose, we can successfully turn Africa around.




About Professor Herbert W. Vilakazi

Professor Herbert Vilakazi was born at Nongoma, KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. He received his tertiary education at Columbia University, and at the New School For Social Research, both in New York City, USA. He has taught sociology and other social sciences at various tertiary institutions in and around New York City (City College of City University, Essex County College in Newark, Livingstone College, and State University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and University of Zululand. He served as Deputy-Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2004. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal (2005-2007). He is Chairperson of Vilakazi Development Strategies.
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