False Comparisons and Why?
By Marjorie Mbilinyi
The Citizen on Sunday 5th August 2012: ‘Kikwete’s pledge on development plans’; opening speech at two day cabinet retreat on the transformation of government service delivery, including experts from Malaysia; “According to the head of state, Malaysia, India and Pakistan were at the same level of economy with Tanzania in the early 1960s but today, they have made great advancement in agriculture, science and technology…he said in 1961, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Tanzania Mainland was at the same level with that of India, Malaysia and Pakistan.”
The speech is repeating a position that has been taken by our economists and policy makers many times, sometimes with reference to other countries such as South Korea or Vietnam. It is based on a false assumption, that the GDP is an adequate measure of development. It completely ignores the entirely different political economy/ies within each of the countries referred to; the high level of development of agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation that had been reached eg by India in 1700s-1800s-1900s long before British colonization – hence the British strategy of destroying Indian textile manufacturing in order to open up the Indian market for textile goods from UK.
True, there was uneven development in each of these countries, including Tanganyika, before colonisation; complex systems of agriculture had emerged in many locations along with basic manufacturing. However, the main commodities that were exported for example in the Indian Ocean Trade Complex were slaves and ivory, and to a lesser extent basic grains to support city states along the coast and on Zanzibar and Pemba.
We need to ask more questions of our GDP proponents.
We need to ask questions. For example, what were the major sources of capital accumulation in each country in 1961? What was the structure and composition of trade: domestic trade and export trade? Specifically in the agriculture sector: What proportion of agriculture relied on ox plough cultivation in each of these four countries, including Tanzania, in 1961? Tractor cultivation? Irrigated agriculture? What kind of class formation had developed over time in agrarian society? The entire nation? What was the structure of employment and livelihoods for women and men in rural and urban areas; and what proportion were [self]employed, waged labour, or working as unpaid family labour in household production? Within the category of waged labour, what proportion were employed on a regular permanent basis? Part-time or temporary? Casual labour? …. By exploring these and other questions it will become rapidly clear that the economies of our countries were not similar at all.
Next, we need to ask what purpose is served by making these false comparisons?