Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

Moments of Doubt

December 12, 2023
Letter #29

I have my own moments of doubt. Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right thing? Am I in the right place? I have always believed that my mission is to fight poverty. But at times it looks so presumptuous when I put it that way. It’s like something (the devil) taunting me and asking who are you to think you can fight poverty? Remember this- poverty has been our permanent condition for many years. I have argued that the common thread behind oppressive systems is greed. The converse of that situation is that the common thread of the oppressed's existence is poverty. My doubt is in the tools that we use to fight poverty. To others maybe we should share the little we have- give what we have to others. That may work- but is there enough to go around.

My approach has been to seek to reform the system or systems that cause poverty. And this is where the doubt sets in. How long will it take? Does the strengthening of democracy reduce poverty. How so- when it all looks like just a system of grabbing or maintaining power. Increasingly, undemocratic systems seem better at creating prosperity. Is democracy really the path? The data, especially from Africa, is really challenging. What is the best agency of ensuring inclusive growth- is it the state or the market? Some of us in the left have always believed in state led development and others have coined the term ‘Developmental State’. However, the elites running our governments have not done so well. They have plundered public resources. On the other hand, the decades of implementing ‘Washington Consensus’ like prescriptions has not served the pro-market argument very well especially for us here in Africa. The implementation of economic reforms has deepened rather than lessen the crisis of development.

So, what shall we do? I don’t know my child. But we can’t give up hope. We have to fight for justice, inclusive development, and prosperity for all. I will expend all my energy in this battle. I have recently returned to the idea of hybrids. It’s not an either or. We need the market but also, we need some level of state involvement in the economy. There is no silver bullet. Democracy also needs tampering with. Stable democracies have some back up symbolic balancing structure. In the UK it’s the monarchy and in the US it’s in the electoral college (although it has already been tampered with). 

Maybe we have just gone too far with importing ideas from elsewhere. Is there an African version of inclusive economic development or democracy. Should be that our starting point. We have pursued a citizen centred utopia around questions of development and democracy. Again, I have some doubts.

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