Economic & political reform in Africa: Anthropological perspectives by Peter Little.

Author:Uneke, Okori
Position:Book review

Little, Peter D. Economic and Political Reform in Africa: Anthropological Perspectives. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. 240 pages. Paperback, $20.75.

The broad question that Economic and Political Reform in Africa addresses is how pro-market and pro-democracy reforms have impacted local economics and communities. Peter D. Little, an anthropologist and director of the program in Development Studies at Emory University, using grounded empirical work and ethnographic insights, examines the complicated processes of economic and political reforms based on seven case studies in six African countries (The Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the borderlands of Somalia and Kenya). The case studies are intended to show how neoliberal reforms have actually worked in local communities, as well as how those targeted as beneficiaries of foreign aid programs and economic reforms perceive themselves, the programs, and the outcomes. The book comprises seven chapters (with notably catchy titles such as "'We Now Milk Elephants:' The Community Conservation Business in Rural Kenya") and conclusions.

The first case study compares contract farming in non-traditional commodities-fresh fruits and vegetables for export-near Banjul (The Gambia) and Accra (Ghana). In its reform objective, contract farming and non-traditional commodities diversification were presented as solutions for Africa's agrarian deficiencies. However, the author reveals that, rather than empowering smallholder farmers, the programs in Ghana and The Gambia encouraged large-scale production of fresh fruits and vegetables under a small number of export-oriented farms. The latter offloaded produce unfit for export into local markets at low cost, thereby undermining small local producers. Due to World Bank and Ghanaian government support for cooperatives, smallholders in Ghana fared a bit better than those in The Gambia. Other competitors in the fruit and vegetable export business, notably countries with lower transport costs to Europe such as Egypt and Morocco, emerged to take a larger market share.

The second case study in Mozambique examines peri-urban trade in Maputo after the end of a protracted civil war. The study demonstrates how economic reforms in Mozambique reduced public-sector employment, devalued currency, decreased access to land, and increased food costs in Maputo. This dire situation channeled many people into petty trade as a survival mechanism. Using...

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