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8 African Views on Colonialism and Development Assistance (with Heidi Frontani)

Kathleen R. Smythe Indiana University Press ePub

THE GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT (GDP), a measure of a country’s goods and services, in Tanzania is again growing rapidly. Between 2000 and 2008, growth was 7 percent per year, and between 2009 and 2011, it was 6 percent per year. At the same time, Tanzania is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income, according to the CIA World Factbook. The first statement indicates that “things” are going well in Tanzania; the second that they are not. How can both be true at the same time? Both are measures of purported progress or development as determined by a Western-dominated economic and intellectual system. Both statistics mark the ways ideas and institutions that have developed out of a deeply contingent Western historical process have come to determine African countries’ trajectories and to be largely accepted by African leaders, if not Africans themselves.

One way to resolve the seeming contradiction between these economic facts is to ask: How are the fruits of economic growth distributed? Anthropologist Arturo Escobar notes that economists took some time to realize that the “Brazilian miracle” of growth rates of more than 10 percent per year masked increasingly unequal distribution of income and left low-income groups worse off than before. In 2006, physician and researcher Hans Rosling, using visualization software to animate statistical data, showed, among other things, how country-level statistics can hide wealth disparities in a country with a robust economy. In early-twenty-first-century China, people in the most well-to-do province had wealth and a life expectancy on par with that of the United States, but those in China’s least-well-to-do province experienced wealth and a life expectancy on par with Ghana. Likewise, Tanzania’s GDP numbers above are country-level statistics that mask great inequality among its citizens.

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10 An African Success Story: Somaliland

Kathleen R. Smythe Indiana University Press ePub

TO MANY both in the academy and outside of it, one of the challenges people face globally is achieving meaningful participation in the political process. African peoples can play an important role in helping to question dominant ways of thinking about political institutions and imagining different forms of organization. Such forms might be, first, better suited to African realities and, second, better able to respond to the environmental and economic challenges that many predict will profoundly shape our future. Somaliland in eastern Africa points the way to some effective means of addressing basic human needs in a rapidly changing world. What the media covers about Somalia—piracy and lack of governance, for example—bears little resemblance to the experience of half the Somali population in what is now Somaliland. Somalilanders have built effective systems based on local political and economic institutions; such institutions are one of the keys to creating more resilient and sustainable societies in Africa and elsewhere in the face of increasing global uncertainty.

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2 Early Subsistence: Gathering-Hunting and Agriculture

Kathleen R. Smythe Indiana University Press ePub

AFRICA IS NOT only the home of human evolution, but it is also one place where humans have practiced the full continuum of economic subsistence, first developing a gathering-hunting lifestyle and then different forms of agriculture. How societies obtain food is one of the most important aspects of history, but historians give it scant attention. One of the reasons is that in industrialized countries, like the United States, there is easy access to a great variety of food and usually little contact with the farmers who produce it, so it is easy to take this characteristic of societies for granted. But disconnection from the source of one’s food is relatively new and not universal. Throughout history, most civilizations relied on either gathering and hunting or farming to feed themselves.

Gathering and hunting was the longest-lasting lifestyle in human history. Since the dawn of Homo sapiens, about 200,000 years ago, humans were gatherer-hunters for all but the last 10,000 years. To put this in perspective, if the 200,000 years after modern humans first came into existence were condensed into one hour, then humans began to farm only in the last four minutes. And only within the last minute or so did farming become their primary means of subsistence.

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3 Early Adaptation: Climate Change and Pastoralism

Kathleen R. Smythe Indiana University Press ePub

ALTHOUGH GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE is much in the news recently, rarely is mention made of the significant ways the changing climate impacted human history in the past. Early African history demonstrates how peoples of the past have responded to drastic climate changes and, particularly, drying environments. Many of the major developments in early African history, such as important advancements in early human evolution, and the creation of a variety of domesticated food sources, were likely driven by climatic shifts. Even more recent dramatic examples of climatic change have longer histories than commonly thought, such as the shrinking of Lake Chad. Peoples of the Sahel and Sudan region of Africa have been responding to dramatic climate changes for millennia due in part to their geographic location.

In the United States, discussion of climate change tends to focus on changes in temperature, because that is what differentiates our seasons. Yet, in Africa, it is the presence or absence of rain that determines seasons and climates. As primarily farmers and livestock keepers, rainfall is the most relevant climatic variable of food production and the growth of pasture.

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7 Forms of Economic Thought: Wealth in People and the Entrustment Economy

Kathleen R. Smythe Indiana University Press ePub

AS HISTORIAN John Iliffe wrote, among the Africans’ chief contributions to world history is their ability to survive and thrive in a very challenging landscape. As in all preindustrial societies, Africans had to use their bodies to work for a living and to ensure the health of the next generation. Until the twentieth century, Africa’s history was primarily shaped by a combination of its vast landscape and sparse population. Therefore, the resource Africans lacked was people, not land, as it was for Europeans. One product of this situation is an African value system that is largely derived from the importance of human relationships for survival and success and particularly the availability of people for labor, reproduction, and security. Such “rights in people” have been at the heart of African economic and social history, as historian Jane Guyer has noted.

The related term “wealth-in-people” captures the value of relationships (and their collective knowledge and skills) in African accumulation and wealth reckoning. The term was first used in the 1970s to express the ways in which elders controlled the labor of others, such as children, in their societies. The term is now used much more broadly to note characteristics that are common throughout Africa, such as interpersonal dependency and network building that require investing in relationships at the expense of accumulating material personal wealth. The network of people, particularly dependents, upon whom one could rely for production and reproduction brought security in numbers and energy, as well as a variety of ideas, skills, and talents that would make for stronger families and societies.

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