The Silent Revolution in Africa: Debt, Development and Democracy. By Fantu Cheru. London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1989. 189 p. ISBN 0–862–32890–X; ISBN 0–862–32891–8, Paper. Price not given.
The thesis of the Silent Revolution is that the economic policies and institutions of the Western World, particularly of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have been largely responsible for Africa’s economic ills. The author views the IMF and the World Bank as agents of Africa’s former colonial masters. These institutions have insured that Africa has continued to maintain its colonial role as a supplier of cheap raw materials for the industrial West and as an importer of Western manufactured goods. Even some of the West’s economic reform programmes, such as the much publicized Structural Adjustment Loans, are — Cheru believes — aimed at making African states permanent beggars of the West. Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia are cited as examples of African nations that have suffered as a result of the World Bank’s dictatorial policies. Harsh IMF and World Bank policies such as the devaluation of national currency, elimination of subsidies on food staples, and the sale or transfer of state corporations are considered by some African governments as deliberate attempts to topple their regimes through mass unrest.
The author criticizes the African states for giving in too easily to the West. He considers Africa’s food problems to be the result of African governments’ adoption of plantation, export-oriented agriculture aimed at meeting Western needs. The practice has pushed subsistence agriculture to marginal lands which are unable to meet the continent’s growing population. The result has been shortage of food crops in the presence of a steady supply of cash crops for export. Peasant farmers are now slowly moving toward subsistence farming, but as long as Africa continues to dance to the Western tune, African economic ills will not end.
One of the book’s weaknesses is the author’s lack of objectivity. For instance, he has not stated why African governments have failed to successfully manage their economies, the majority of which were sound at the time of independence. The author also appears not to realize that both IMF and the World Bank, like other financial institutions, must set out conditions to insure that the money they lend will be paid back. To qualify for loans, African governments must accept these conditions. The author fails to recognize that African governments have been largely responsible for their own debt problems. He fails to note that such factors as frequent government upheavals, unwise investments, and rising military expenditures have created the continent’s debt problems.
Despite its author’s one–sided approach, Silent Revolution is a book not to be missed. It offers a great deal of information in addition to its interpretations. Libraries in both the Third and the developed world should insure that a copy will be found on their shelves.
About the Author
Japhet Otike is Lecturer in the Faculty of Information Science at Moi University, Kenya.
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