Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Developmental State and Economic Development: Prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Developmental State and Economic Development: Prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa

Article excerpt


This paper will argue that the demonization of sub-Saharan African state proposed and enacted by neoliberal institutions during and since the era of structural adjustment has no historical foundations. In making this argument, the history of development thinking prior to and after World War II will be analyzed to show that the state was and continues to be instrumental in economic development. Finally, drawing on the contributions of heterodox development economists, prospects for re-integrating the sub-Saharan African state to bolster economic development will be assessed by drawing on the development experiences of East Asia's high performing economies.

Keywords: developmental state, history of development, sub-Saharan Africa

1. Introduction

Economic development as a bona fide field in economics was born after World War II (WWII). The focus of this new field was to broaden the understanding on the necessary steps needed to increase capital accumulation and the general well-being of war ravaged countries in Europe as well as Japan. The rise of newly independent countries particularly in Africa increased the importance of this new field. In the earliest literature on development, little emphasis was placed on how development in these countries had occurred in the past and what lessons that past held for the future. Defining the appropriate role of the state in development has been a central concern of policymakers since the beginning of capitalism. The rise of development economics after WWII made this more important as the debate on the role of the state has continued in earnest (Chang, 2003). Neoclassical economists contend vehemently that the state's role should be limited to nothing but a 'facilitator' or 'custodian' (Evans, 1995; Lin & Chang, 2009). Heterodox development economists argue strongly that the role of the state in development goes beyond the scope defined by neoclassical economists. They have challenged the literature on comparative advantage by drawing on the empirical evidence particularly from East Asia (Wade, 1990; Amsden, 1989, 2001; Evans, 1995; Fine, 2006; Chang, 2003; Lin & Chang, 2009; van Donge et al., 2012).

As the discord continues, some scholars have attempted to trace the history of development thought as well as the practice of development to help broaden our understanding of the interaction of the state in the business of development. These scholars have sought to not only provide a historically grounded account of development but also an alternative way of theorizing and understanding the process of development. In their work, they have shown that earlier scholars and practitioners of development (such as Rosenstein-Rodan & Hirschmann) focused on ways through which government-engineered growth could be achieved given the superiority of Keynesian economics (Note 1). The declining importance of Keynesianism and the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s shifted the focus of scholarly and practical work in development towards market (in the neoclassical sense) inspired growth (Chang, 2003; Toye, 2003; Jomo & Reinert, 2005; Fine, 2006). Heterodox scholars have shown how the neoliberal agenda manifested in programs such as structural adjustment have failed to provide sustained economic growth and development. Further, they have documented how such programs have had deleterious effects for several nations in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) (SAPRIN, 2004).

This paper is rooted in the heterodox tradition and aims to add the ongoing discussion on the role of the state in development particularly within the context of SSA. The paper will use a historical-comparative methodology to discuss the development experiences of now developed countries in Europe and East Asia. The goal of this method is to highlight important characteristics of the state-development relationship from a historical perspective and identify their implication for countries in SSA. The analysis in this paper not only adds to continuing discussions but will provide a historical grounding for scholars and policymakers interested in the topic of the role of the state in the development of SSA. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.