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10-08-2015, 23:30

Reflection

The colonial peoples of Africa and Asia had modest reasons for hope as World War II came to a close. In the Atlantic Charter, issued after their meeting near the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had set forth a joint declaration of their peace aims calling for the self-determination of all peoples and self-government and sovereign rights for all nations that had been deprived of them. Although Churchill later disavowed the assumption that he had meant these conditions to apply to colonial areas, Roosevelt on frequent occasions during the war voiced his own intention to bring about the end of colonial domination throughout the world at the close of the conflict. It took many years to complete the process, but the promise contained in the Atlantic Charter was eventually fulfilled. Although some powers were reluctant to divest themselves of their colonies, World War II had severely undermined the stability of the colonial order, and by the end of the 1940s, most colonies in Asia had received their independence. Africa followed a decade or two later. In a few instances— notably in Algeria, Indonesia, and Vietnam— the transition to independence was a violent one, but for the most part, it was realized by peaceful means. In their own writings, public declarations, and statements, the leaders of these newly liberated countries set forth three broad goals at the outset of independence: to throw off the shackles of Western economic domination and ensure material prosperity for all their citizens, to introduce new political institutions that would enhance the right of self-determination of their peoples, and to develop a sense of nationhood and establish secure territorial boundaries. It was a measure of their own optimism and the intellectual and cultural influence of their colonial protectors that the governments of most of the newly liberated countries opted to follow a capitalist or moderately socialist path toward economic development. Only in a few cases—China, North Korea, and Vietnam were the most notable examples— did revolutionary leaders decide to pursue the Communist model of development. Within a few years of the restoration of independence, reality had set in as most of the new governments in Asia and Africa fell short of their ambitious goals. Virtually all of them remained economically dependent on the advanced industrial nations or the Soviet Union. Several faced severe problems of urban and rural poverty. At the same time, fledgling democratic governments were gradually replaced by military dictatorships or one-party regimes that dismantled representative institutions and oppressed dissident elements and ethnic minorities within their borders. What had happened to tarnish the bright dreams of affluence and political self-determination? During the 1950s and 1960s, one school of thought was dominant among scholars and government officials in the United States. Modernization theory adopted the view that the problems faced by the newly independent countries were a consequence of the difficult transition from a traditional agrarian to a modern industrial society. Modernization theorists were convinced that the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were destined to follow the path of the West toward the creation of modern industrial societies but would need time as well as substantial amounts of economic and technological assistance to complete the journey. In their view, it was the duty of the United States and other advanced capitalist nations to provide such assistance while encouraging the leaders of these states to follow the path already adopted by the West. Some countries going through this difficult period were especially vulnerable to Communist- led insurgent movements. In such cases, it was in the interests of the United States and its allies to intervene, with military power if necessary, to hasten the transition and put the country on the path to self-sustaining growth. Modernization theory soon began to come under attack from a generation of younger scholars, many of whom had reached maturity during the Vietnam War and who had growing doubts about the roots of the problem and the efficacy of the modernization approach. In their view, the responsibility for continued economic underdevelopment in the developing world lay not with the countries themselves but with their continued domination by the former colonial powers. In this view, known as dependency theory, the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were the victims of the international marketplace, which charged high prices for the manufactured goods of the West while paying low prices for the raw material exports of preindustrial countries. Efforts by these countries to build up their own industrial sectors and move into the stage of selfsustaining growth were hampered by foreign control— through European- and American-owned corporations— over many of their resources. To end this “neocolonial” relationship, the dependency theory advocates argued, developing societies should reduce their economic ties with the West and practice a policy of economic self-reliance, thereby taking control of their own destinies. They should also ignore urgings that they adopt the Western model of capitalist democracy, which had little relevance to conditions in their parts of the world. Both of these approaches, of course, were directly linked to the ideological divisions of the Cold War and reflected the political bias of their advocates. Although modernization theorists were certainly correct in pointing out some of the key factors involved in economic development and in suggesting that some traditional attitudes and practices were incompatible with economic change, they were too quick to see the Western model of development as the only relevant one and ignored the fact that traditional customs and practices were not necessarily incompatible with nation building. They also too readily identified economic development in the developing world with the interests of the United States and its allies. By the same token, the advocates of dependency theory alluded correctly to the unfair and often disadvantageous relationship that continued to exist between the former colonies and the industrialized nations of the world and to the impact that this relationship had on the efforts of developing countries to overcome their economic difficulties. But they often rationalized many of the mistakes made by the leaders of developing countries while assigning all of the blame for their plight on the evil and self-serving practices of the industrialized world. At the same time, the recommendation by some dependency theorists of a policy of selfreliance was not only naive but sometimes disastrous, depriving the new nations of badly needed technology and capital resources. In recent years, the differences between these two schools of thought have narrowed somewhat as their advocates have attempted to respond to criticism of the perceived weaknesses in their theories. Although the two approaches still have some methodological and ideological differences, there is a growing consensus that there are different roads to development and that the international marketplace can have both beneficial and harmful effects. At the same time, a new school of development theory, known as the world systems approach, has attempted to place recent developments within the broad context of world history. According to world systems theory, during the era of capitalism, the “core” countries of the industrializing West created a strong economic relationship with “peripheral” areas in the Third World to exploit their markets and sources of raw materials. That system is now beginning to develop serious internal contradictions and may be in the process of transformation, an issue that we will discuss in Chapter 16. A second area of concern for the leaders of African and Asian countries after World War II was to create a new political culture responsive to the needs of their citizens. For the most part, they accepted the concept of democracy as the defining theme of that culture. Within a decade, however, democratic systems throughout the developing world were replaced by military dictatorships or one-party governments that redefined the concept of democracy to fit their own preferences. Some Western observers criticized the new leaders for their autocratic tendencies, and others attempted to explain the phenomenon by pointing out that after traditional forms of authority were replaced, it would take time to lay the basis for pluralistic political systems. In the interim, a strong government party under the leadership of a single charismatic individual could mobilize the population to seek common goals. Whatever the case, it was clear that many had underestimated the difficulties in building democratic political institutions in developing societies. The problem of establishing a common national identity was in some ways the most daunting of all the challenges facing the new nations of Asia and Africa. Many of these new states were a composite of a wide variety of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups that found it difficult to agree on common symbols of nationalism. Problems of establishing an official language and delineating territorial boundaries left over from the colonial era created difficulties in many countries. In some cases, these problems were exacerbated by political and economic changes. The introduction of the concept of democracy sharpened the desire of individual groups to have a separate identity within a larger nation, and economic development often favored some at the expense of others. The introduction of Western ideas and customs has also had a destabilizing effect in many areas. Often such ideas are welcomed by some groups and resisted by others. Where Western influence has the effect of undermining traditional customs and religious beliefs—as, for example, in the Middle East—it provokes violent hostility and sparks tension and even conflict within individual societies. To some, Western customs and values represent the wave of the future and are welcomed as a sign of progress. To others, they are destructive of indigenous traditions and a barrier to the growth of a genuine national identity based on history and culture. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the political and economic difficulties experienced by many developing nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America led to chronic instability in a number of countries and transformed the developing world into a major theater of Cold War confrontation. During the 1980s, however, a number of new factors entered the equation and shifted the focus away from ideological competition. China’s shift to a more accommodating policy toward the West removed fears of more wars of national liberation supported by Beijing. At the same time, the Communist victory in Vietnam led not to falling dominoes throughout Southeast Asia but to bitter conflict between erstwhile Communist allies, Vietnam and China, and Vietnam and Cambodia. It was clear that national interests and historical rivalries took precedence over ideological agreement. In the meantime, the growing success of the Little Tigers and the poor economic performance of socialist regimes led a number of developing countries to adopt a free market approach to economic development. As we have seen, some countries benefited from indigenous cultural and historical factors and others from a high level of foreign aid and investment. But the role of government leadership in hindering or promoting economic growth should not be ignored. The situation in China is an obvious case in point. While policies adopted in the early 1950s may have been beneficial in rectifying economic inequities and focusing attention on infrastructure development, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had disastrous economic effects. Since the late 1970s, China has realized massive progress with a combination of centralized party leadership and economic policies emphasizing innovation and the interplay of free market forces. By some measures, China today has the third largest economy in the world. Similarly, there have been tantalizing signs in recent years of a revival of interest in the democratic model in various parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The best examples have been the free elections in South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines, but similar developments have taken place in a number of African countries. Nevertheless, it is clear that in many areas, democratic institutions are quite fragile, and experiments in democratic pluralism have failed in a number of places. The recent financial crisis in Asia has placed great pressure on the tenuous stability of existing political systems and, as in the case of Indonesia, on the precarious unity of the state. Many political leaders in Asia and Africa are convinced that such democratic practices as free elections and freedom of the press can be destabilizing and destructive of other national objectives. Many still do not believe that democracy and economic development go hand in hand. Future trends in the region, then, remain obscure as the impact of global interconnectedness provokes widespread resistance. Under the surface, however, the influence of the West continues unabated as changing economic circumstances have led to more secular attitudes, a decline in traditional hierarchical relationships, and a more open attitude toward sexual practices. In part, this change has been a consequence of the influence of Western music, movies, and television. But it is also a product of the growth of an affluent middle class in many societies of Asia and Africa. This middle class is often strongly influenced by Western ways, and its sons and daughters ape the behavior, dress, and lifestyles of their counterparts in Europe and North America. When Reebok sneakers are worn and coveted in Lagos and Nairobi, Bombay and Islamabad, Beijing and Hanoi, it is clear that the impact of modern Western civilization has been universalized.

 

 

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