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Africa has had more than its share of catastrophes. While the causes of its contemporary dilemmas are debated at many fora, its people continue to suffer at an ever-accelerating rate. To make matters worse, the dismal decline in so many aspects of African life over the past decade has led to numbness and cynicism within and without the continent, causing people to lump separable problems and their solutions into the all-embracing notion of ‘disaster’.
By now the origins of the debt crisis—too much borrowing by Third World countries and too much lending by banks and industrialized nations—are reasonably well understood. What has only just begun is a flood of scholarly articles and muckraking journalism about the collusion between various parties pursuing narrow profits rather than the wider public interest.
It is perhaps both natural and understandable that most of these analyses and commentaries are focusing on the complexity of the problem and offering complicated cures. After all, the number and variety of countries in debt is large and growing. Similarly, the number of public, private, bilateral, and multilateral institutions involved in the crisis constitutes a mind-boggling alphabet soup. The jargon too is forbidding. There is financing and refinancing, scheduling and rescheduling, Special Drawing Rights and Structural Adjustment, to mention only what every newspaper reader has to struggle through. And there is the umbrella term conditionality, which, of course, is difficult to understand in the intricate detail of its application, implementation, and implication.
It is generally advisable to get a reasonably firm grasp of the past and present before attempting to achieve an approximate ‘fix’ on the future. Prognostications about the furture are always risky and especially so in reasonably unpredictable fields like science and technology, which can be demonstrated to have been congenitally immune to accurate predictions throughout history. Scientific and technological break-throughs have often, in the past, produced unanticipated changes, and they have frequently led to the solution of heretofore unresolvable problems. History gives us instances of communities which have taken advantage remarkably quickly of advances in science and technology, but it also shows us instances of societies which for one reason or another failed to adapt. And one might add that while some scientific and technological innovations take on global relevance, others have remained specific and have been circumscribed by time and place.
The painful realization that much is not right with Tanzania is the cause of growing despair both inside and outside that East African country. Tanzania has been the favorite of Social Democrats, Marxists, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, Scandinavian governments, and of a host of Africa observers.
Other African states, classified along with Tanzania in the so-called Fourth World of the poorest of the poor countries, have not rated the attention lavished on Tanzania. Indeed, who but the specialist knows the precise geographic location, economic and political orientation of, for examples, Upper Volta, Niger, or Chad? Who can name the leaders of these deprived lands? And who, even within the United Nations or bilateral-aid agencies, feels special affinity with their problems?
Tanzania, on the other hand, has captured the energies, optimism, and increasing anxiety of observers around the world.
The European Common Market and forty odd African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (ACP) signed a trade and aid Convention in February 1975. The negotiations leading to the Lome Convention and the provisions of the Lomé Convention constitute an instructive vehicle for an examination of North-South bargaining. The organization, tenacity, and skill of the ACP states, as well as some re-thinking regarding their own situation on the part of European states produced some innovative and groundbreaking moves toward more equitable trade and aid relations. But even the most innovative components of the Lome Convention, STAB EX, sugar indexing and focus on industrial development, are perhaps less significant for their short-term economic effects than they are for a general understanding regarding the structure of North-South relations.
General Smuts was one of the first to draw attention to the diverse and often conflicting principles applied to Africa by the various European colonial powers. In his Rhodes Memorial Lecture delivered at Oxford in 1929, Smuts made a plea for a survey of the whole situation to find a way to exchange information about Africa. This proposal developed into Lord Hailey's African Survey, published in 1936. After World War II, European governments began to think seriously of co-ordinating their efforts in Africa. In 1945 the French and the British engaged in mutual discussions and were joined two years later by the Belgians, the Portuguese, the South Africans, and the Rhodesians. Scientists working in Africa expressed the need for a framework for co-operation at the Royal Society's Empire Scientific Conference held in London in 1946. This led to the convening of the African Regional Scientific Conference in 1949, where scientists working in nearly every country in Africa south of the Sahara met to review the role, problems, and possibilities of co-operation.2