Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Howard Stein, "Africa and the making of adjustment," Bretton Woods Project, September 29, 2008.

  Africa has played the central role in the making of structural adjustment and structural adjustment has been central to the making of Africa, with terrible consequences.

Since 1980, the most ubiquitous and consequential set of policies affecting developing countries including those in Africa has been a series of economic reforms sponsored by the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral and bilateral donors. From its inception, these policy measures or structural adjustment packages, sometimes referred to as neoliberalism, assumed that growth and development would arise from the stabilisation, liberalisation and privatisation of economies.

At the centre of the origins and evolution of adjustment have been developments in Africa. The continent is a Petri dish for the international aid community. New aid modalities based on largely erroneous theoretical assumptions have been introduced with little regard to the consequences to local populations. In particular, pressures from social and economic crises in Africa were salient in the original formulation of adjustment.

The failures of adjustment in the 1980s in Africa were critical to the introduction of new forms of conditionality that could be used to explain the "exceptionalism" of the continent without challenging the basic premises of adjustment. The inability to raise the standard of living for most Africans led to the "rediscovery' of poverty reduction by the World Bank.

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