help sustainable development

Russell Grinker grinker at
Thu Jun 8 14:22:50 MDT 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Maureen Silos <mjsilos at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 4:41 PM
Subject: help sustainable development

>Dear list members,
>Can anyone suggest a couple of good books/articles that make a critical
>analysis of the concept of sustainable development?

Here's something I dug up.  It may be useful.


Sustainable Development.

Q1 What is the content of sustainable development?

The introduction of regulating mechanisms upon capitalism designed to
counter assumed future environmental and social damage caused by the
unfettered reproduction of capital. Originally the obsessions of
green, leftwing and feminist movements that arose out of their
disillusionment with the market, these have entered mainstream
bourgeois ideology. Although not presented as anti-growth, the effect
of these regulations is a 'slow down' outlook.

Q2 What is specific about the African model of sustainable

Because of its unique relationship with the West, Africa
offers the greatest scope for the implementation of these ideas. There
are also reasons why these ideas are more readily embraced by African
intellectuals: all development thinking in Africa today is predicated
upon the perception of African failure; development in Africa appears
'unsustainable' where rural economies have collapsed and urbanisation
means a rapid expansion of urban squalor; where the living standards
of the elite contrast starkly with those of the masses and there is no
evident 'trickle-down' effect; where expanded cash crop exports
coexist with diminished food production etc, etc.

Within the context of the moral rehabilitation of imperialism,
'sustainable' policies like the new 'basic needs' and 'poverty'
reduction programmes pushed by the West have the potential to turn
what are in fact damning manifestations of the West's domination of
Africa into lofty moral causes for the West and 'New African' elites
to pursue. The British Department for International Development has
attacked the Kenyan government for having one of the most skewed
income distributions in the South. The Kenyan government has been
presented with a higher case/lower case option. The higher case
involves accepting all British recommendations for directing Kenya's
efforts toward 'halving the number of people living in extreme poverty
by 2015', including extra funding for basic education by ending
subsidies to university students. The lower case is a dramatic cut in
aid and debt 'forgiveness' should the government choose not to comply.
It also includes the threat that civil society will be further
empowered through aid projects that will make people more aware of
their basic human rights - i.e. greater use of Western NGOs to
mobilise political opposition and undermine state authority.

Within African societies, this has had the effect of depoliticising
development questions and turning them into moral and technical ones.
For example, Tanzania's debt crisis has forced it to introduce school
fees. Instead of the issue of school fees becoming a focus for
political opposition to debt repayments, non-payment of school fees
has become a means by which local government bodies strengthen their
authority through punishing irresponsible parents. Development issues
become technical when presented as 'what do you do in a village that
is 70 miles from the nearest source of electricity?' The answer is
develop alternatives which are sustainable and appropriate e.g.
pedal-powered electricity. The answer seems never to be making linkage
with the national electricity grid a political demand and campaign
issue, which gives the lie to the 'grass-roots' southern ngo.

The net effect of structural adjustment and sustainable development
programmes is that African societies are being reconciled to their
present living standards, and austerity has become an organising moral
principle. Ambitious development projects are more likely to be
rejected as unsustainable. It is not development but poverty that is
being made sustainable.

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