What Is Development? A succinct guide for developing countries

By Tochukwu Akunyili

One might define development as the achievement of a reasonable standard of living by the members of a society. The other might define development as the provision of the basic necessities of life by the government of a state to the citizens of that state. But the cynic might well define development as what the public policies and governance efforts of a lot of African and Asian countries have attempted to achieve with minimal success since the past sixty years.

Whilst definitions may defer, it is nonetheless the case that most human beings provided with the sufficient knowledge and experiences will know and understand development when they encounter it. Here, I attempt over the top of my head to articulate the characters of a developed society and therefore what all developing countries must strive towards:

1) Democratization and Evolution of an Endemic Form of Good Governance: democracy, since developed by the ancient Greeks is hailed as the best form of governance because it satisfies the innate long-abiding long-cherished desire of each human being to be free and to determine his or her own future. Much as this desire to determine our futures and be the lords and ladies of our lives is not yet achieved in today’s (also western-style) democracies at the ideal level of direct citizen participation in state legislation and governance, developing countries must still strive towards democratization. In this effort at democratization, the peoples of the developing nations must endeavour to evolve a system that is endemic to them. In this evolution of an endemic system, they must refrain from an unscrutinised adoption of the characteristic features of the western (which these days are usually the US American- , the British- or the French-) style democracies. This is not only because such and unchecked adoption is likely to fail but because it has been failing since the curtain dropped on colonialism. Since historical evidence has shown that the adoption of the British, French or US American systems of democratic governance was for these countries the exemplar analogy of forcing the square peg in the round hole, the system of democratic governance that will succeed in these countries must therefore answer to the particular needs of the peoples of these developing countries. This system of democratic governance must be cognizant of the dynamics of life, history and culture in these societies; must bring out the best in their local systems and must be able to cohere and possibly merge with these local systems of democratic good governance.

2) Provision of an improved quality of life: this is perhaps the first goal of all (developing?) societies for even developed and autocratic societies must have the goal of improving the quality of life of their citizens.  The articulation of what the improved life consists in has been attempted by scholars from times past with varying degrees of success. With varying degrees of success because it is often the case that sometimes governments, international organizations, NGOs and academics try to limit the components of human life to a number or an indicator, say the national Average Life Expectancy or the GDP per capita. Such attempts, at best simplistic, to capture what makes the quality of human life improved or not fail because the components of human lives are multiple and qualitatively distinct such that to avail the Aristotelian fully functioning human life, states must be cognizant of the multiplicity and distinctness of human needs and endeavour to provide these. The highly lauded Human Development Report (HDR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is a classic, and so far, perhaps, the most successful attempt at capturing the various indicators of development in and components of the fully functioning human life in an index. A scanning through pages of the 2014 HDR of the UNDP offers an idea of the several components of human life.

3) Establishment of a Welfare State Structure: any developing society must lay the foundations through which it will provide its citizens with social support. This is particularly true and cogent in African states where globalization, rapid unplanned urbanization, reduction in total fertility rate (TFR) and industrialization are changing the traditional character of statehood and society. The more proactive that developing countries are at meeting the challenges posed by these changes the more easily they can avoid a social policy lacuna that will be very detrimental to their countries in the coming decades.

4) Heightened proactivity with social protection issues: Point #3 above speaks of a plan that will take no less than 5 years but possibly a 10 year period or more of committed efforts to achieve. In the meantime, developing countries must use social protection to impact on citizens’ lives, creating programs that have a short gestation period. Some of these issues of social protection have high coverage in the radar of NGOs, civil society organizations and UN agencies like UNICEF (see for instance UNICEF Nigeria’s efforts at grassroots sensitization), UNDP, IOM, ILO, FAO amongst others. Some of the social policy issues developing countries need focus on include:

  • Education: One cannot belabour the need for an educated citizenry. The only commentary I must add here is that high school and tertiary education curriculums must emphasize both theory and practice. Technical education must be encouraged and education must be re-geared towards empowering people not just with theoretical knowledge but with skills and knowhow that will make them independent.
  • Girl Child: in development circles, it is an acknowledged truth that the multiplicity effect of achieved by the education of the girl child is great and often larger than that achieved by the education of the boy child. The reasoning goes thus that to achieve more with less development plans should focus on areas with more multiplicity effects. This multiplicity effect achieved by empowering the girl child is called the girl effect. The #girleffect is the idea that a girl appropriately raised and educated breaks a cycle of poverty, ill health, spread of diseases like HIV among others.
  • Water and Sanitation: correlate directly to having a healthy living and staying disease free. It is imperative on developing nations to provide these not only to ensure a healthy citizenry but also to free up the time and energies of women and girls who usually have the task of travelling miles on foot to provide water for domestic use.
  • Power and Energy: developing countries must avail citizens of affordable sources of energy. In doing this, governments must think of ways through which they will reach the millions who are at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • Food Security: ensuring food security is a duty that is mandatory for developing countries. Faced with a lack of resources, they must still find innovative ways of providing food security through public private sector collaborations, liaison with international donor agencies and advanced in food and agricultural engineering to ensure a provision of the basic daily requirements to their peoples.
  • Fully Employment Economies: each developing country must have a realizable plan for keeping its economy at full employment after a certain number of years. In the meantime, they must generate Labour Offices (the German Agentur für Arbeit could serve as a model) that will be charged with unemployment relations.
  • Regionalization: developing countries must also strive for economic and social regionalization, by so doing, they will achieve at some point not just a social and economic integration but also the quasi-cultural integration much needed for the realization of the social and economic integration. This is one of the reasons why the efforts towards creating a unified economic and monetary union in the ECOWAS sub-region is welcome idea – provided the necessary conditions are satisfied and necessary checks and balances put in place.
  • Transportation: having a good network of roads and rail lines is necessary not just for the movement of goods and peoples but also for the processes of industrialization and regionalization that developing countries must strive towards. Such network of roads and rails must link neighbouring countries and economies and must be expediently constructed to satisfy the already existing trade routes between these countries. The development of rail lines in a country like Nigeria where they are largely non-existent will help keep pressure off the roads since cargo is best transported by rail and since a train carries hundreds of people more than a car or bus ever can. This will enable roads last longer and reduce the spate of accidents one witnesses daily on the highways.
  • Female Empowerment: development does not just mean economic or social development, development also incorporates human development. For this reason, as developing countries strive for social and economic development, they must also strive to improve their human capital. The emancipation of women through education, avoidance of early, forced and coerced marriages, provision of access to justice and provision of inheritance rights must be pursued also at full throttle.

5) Accountability: developing countries must build into their development agenda institutional safeguards that ensure accountability. The citizens of these countries must of their own accord put the flashlights on their public servants. The aim is to make public office so translucent that there is no hidden aspiration lurking behind the mind of the public office aspirant other than service to his/her people. Institutions of public accountability, like civil and customary courts, must be provided and made efficient, just and effective.

These ladies and gentlemen are ideas off the top of my head on what developing countries need for further better and a more integrated- and result-oriented development.

Your ideas and comments are welcome.

Author Biography

Tochukwu Akunyili is a graduate student of public policy at the University of Erfurt Germany. He is interested in management and development consulting, international development, climate issues and global affairs.

You can find him on his blog & Twitter

*This article was originally published on his website Tochukwu Akunyili . You can read it here.

*Cover image ‘Construction ground‘ byArttu Manninen

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