Planners Guide to Africa- Gaile Interview

Planners Guide to Africa- Gaile Interview

Date: Sat, 4 Sep 93 10:04:07 -0700 Subject: gaile_gary.africa_dec91


keywords: Africa, development, World Bank, environment, rural planning, politics, aid, famine

The following is an interview with Professor Gary Gaile of the University of Colorado at Boulder on December 9, 1991. The interview was conducted by Erica Buchholz and Jennette McDonald, undergraduate students at CU. The interview was performed as part of an honors course entitled Economics for a Sustainable Future.


GARY GAILE is a geography professor at the University of Colorado. He received his PhD in Geography from UCLA in 1976. For his dissertation he went to Africa on a Fullbright Foundation fellowship. He was in Africa in 1974-5 and has returned many times with other organizations, including Harvard University. He is now a well know rural based planner and has worked in many countries of Africa. Professor Gaile's publications on Africa include an article written but not yet published on his latest work entitled "Market-Based Regional Development Planning". He has also written an article entitled "Choosing Locations For Small Town Development To Enable Market And Employment Expansion: The Case Of Kenya", describing the specifics of Kenya's Rural Trade and Production Center Program (RTPC).


Q: Could you explain the periphery argument contained in your papers?

A: Typically for where the planning has gone on, regardless of what system you are in, urban areas have benefitted and the surrounding areas have paid for it. So whether it's Russia, if you look at how Russia built up its industrial sector or the US or whatever. Typically there's been an urban bias in national planning and development projects. And that's been going on for quite some time. In fact, I think some of the projects that I'm working on are probably one of the first attempts to really reverse that. I tend to call it rural based urban planning--the whole rational behind it is to benefit the rural areas to improve the linkages and there's two arguments that you can make. If you improve the linkages between the rural and urban areas, it will allow urban areas to exploit the rural areas. But, on a smaller scale I think rural areas need centers for a whole variety of goods and services. If the centers are designed to provide those services, that benefits the rural areas.

Q: Do you think that Africa has a true market system?

A: In many places there has been a true market system for a long time. They've had periodic markets-- which are these markets that meet every four or five days usually and that's been in place for a long time. The only technicality is that they haven't generally produced a surplus to allow permanent markets to establish themselves and they haven't provided the public goods that are needed to let those markets establish themselves. That's changing.

Q: Efficient market economies of scale are a prerequisite for countries who are beneficiaries of your development plans. How do you define efficient market economies of scale for these areas?

A: Let's get it away from pure economics, and just talk in realistic terms. You just need a certain amount of stuff to make it worthwhile for the people to go there. If you don't have enough different activities, the average person won't walk seven miles to do just one thing. And, generally there has to be a range of goods and services available and there has to be some predictability that those goods and services will be available. When I'm talking about market economies of scale in terms of an actual market, that's what I'm referring to. You just need enough going on and once you get to a certain level, it becomes a permanent market and people will go there---but other than that it's either a periodic market or the market doesn't need as much. It's just one of those things that you have to go see it. I can show you lots of places that don't work and I can show you lots of places that do. And, after a while you get the sense that these other places just aren't quite big enough; therefore, no one really uses them. There comes some kind of threshold where the place has a life of its own.

Q: Do you follow the belief that there is a large inequality in the trade of third world countries on the international market?

A: Sure, there always has been.

Q: Do you think the First World countries would like to keep it that way for their own benefit?

A: Yes, it gives us cheaper raw materials. There are some possibilities.... OPEC showed the way to Third World countries that if what you are exporting is something like coffee or tin, or something that only a few countries actually produce, it is possible to set up some kind of cartel to raise prices. I think Third World countries realize that they haven't done much. Although I would expect to see in another couple of decades that they will be more organized. To realize that they can get better prices and they don't always have to take pittance. If you look at all the data show that prices of manufactured goods from First World countries have increased at a much greater percentage than prices for raw materials have. The Third World is always getting the raw end of the deal.

Q: Do you think that a lot of the development programs we sponsor are biased towards us reaping the profits?

A: Well, that opens up the broader topic of why do we engage in foreign aid, and there's several possible answers. One is pure altruism, that we're only trying to do good. If you really look at what we do and how we do it it's pretty difficult to defend pure altruism. Rarely in food aid that happens---but other than that, most aid is tied to political and economic agenda. The political and economic agenda are pretty transparent, we can figure out what they are. Our allies get aid. It's going to be a little more difficult now that we don't have a major enemy any more. That used to be easy, whoever we're allied against didn't get aid. Now, its changed in the last ten years to a situation where they have to be an economic ally. What they mean by that is that is that you have to follow not only capitalist kind of models, but specific capitalist models of the world. The way most of the aid is going these days isn't to specific projects that will help the US ,but more to the economy that is open and will allow US penetration more broadly . So, that getting rid of their tariffs is also a way that it will be easier for us to export our goods to them. Aid projects are now targeted at economies as a whole to make them part of our market and that's why we do it.

Q: Have the African governments helped in planning the aid programs or has it been done by mostly foreign groups?

A: It's a trade off, the Africans themselves have decision ability and, yet, the donors have the money. It's just a question of having a meeting of the minds. Donors occasionally propose projects that the African's don't want and veto them. And, conversely, the Africans ask for money that they don't get because it's not of interest to the donors. I've been involved in quite a bit of that. It's usually an interesting process to watch the two sides get together and talk about what their priorities are. You just match priorities where you can.

Q: Once you set up a program how involved are the Africans in implementing it?

A: It's and interesting phenomena because what happens generally is that most of the decision makers are western educated and, therefore, have a certain respect for western skills and technique. Many of their staff are not as educated as they would like them to be. There are a structural problems in most African governments. That is that it doesn't pay to work in those governments. Either you're and altruist, which means you're doing it because you love your country or you're incompetent and can't get a job outside the government. Or, you're corrupt and making money from being in the government. And, I guess there is a fourth category-- Some people actually have to work for the government to repay an education. The bottom line is that most of the people working in the government aren't very competent and that's why they seek outside assistance-- to bolster this. There's still decision makers . For example in the projects that I've been working on, both the minister of finance and the permanent administer of planning were Harvard PhDs, and we were on a Harvard project. They literally called in their old professors because they liked the way Harvard did things. And the way it works is the white people write the plans and they read them and sign them; its never known that foreign expatriate technical assistance people are doing this work. It's never known to anyone except people on the inside. Kenya has been independent since 1963 and there hasn't been one plan written by a Kenyan yet. We go in and write them every five years or so.

Q: So you write them and sort of ...

A: Well, we write them and we meet - Well, let's say the expatriate technical community has the primary responsibility. The government officials, etc. read these things and approve them, obviously ,but the ideas and the content are put in there by hired help.

Q: And then they are administered by African governments?

A: Well no, it's an interesting phenomena to see. We go in there and tutor people saying, this is what you ought to do. And, if they agree to Coit, which they often do, that's what they do. We literally tell them, this is what you should do, and this is why and they learn that. They convey it in their speech making and public posture. One of them has to go out and tell the country, look this is what we are going to do and they do. And it's a interesting to sit behind someone and pass them little notes and tell them this is how it works. And if they are stuck on something tell them hey, this is why we're doing it. So, that's how it works. I had a great counterpart that worked with me. I would do the stuff and she would say it publicly. She had a masters in planning from MIT...a very bright woman. She wanted to go back to school and get a PhD but before that happened she left her job in the government that was paying her five thousand dollars a year, and went to work in Geneva where she got paid 60 thousand a year. Nobody said to her, well why are you leaving? It was obvious.

Q: Do you think she would have made a large amount of change if she had stayed?

A: Oh yeah, but the rationale is it's a difficult place to work because it's a government, and it's a bureaucracy. It's a bureaucracy and it's difficult to get things done. I'm amazed we got some of the things done that we got done. That's a whole other story on how to wrestle with bureaucracies.

Q: Can you comment on it a little?

A: Oh yeah. There were a few corrupt people. And the real question was how to design what's not stated anywhere in writing. For example how you deal with stuff like corruption. A lot of the design is how to get around corruption. There was actually one altruistic guy we were working with who was a good guy and a bad guy in a way. The bad part was that he was actually a lay priest in the Catholic church. The reason that was bad was that Kenya has a big problem with population control and he wouldn't allow any talk of population control. So that was unfortunate ,because I felt that that was important. However, conversely ,he was not corrupt and he was doing this for the good of the country. There was a corrupt guy that things had to go through. Between he(The priest) and I we found a way to get around him. Literally, he(priest) would send this guy out of town when he had to get things done. It became a clever little dance to try and avoid some of the bureaucracy.

Q: It seems that your program is one of the first to actually look at all of the variables and be accepted by the people...

A: Were basically just providing public goods and services and the only thing that's different about our project is that we're prioritizing who gets those goods and services in a way that will make the economy work better. But when you really get down to the bottom line, what your doing here, is just building roads, putting in electricity, putting drainage systems things like that the government should do anyhow. It's just a question of how they are prioritized and linking that prioritization to making the economy grow. It's nothing that unusual that we are doing. It's just how we go about doing it.

Q: How do you feel that your program is different from other ones in the past?

A: It's how the priority is done, and the priority is done to meet unmet agricultural potential. You really look at what drives formulas that allow the decisions to be made-- it's this notion that there's unmet agricultural potential out there and that the rural people aren't being served. Most recently, we had to go out and try to prove some of these things ,and we found that the people in the best agricultural lands don't have access to markets. What were doing is just providing them with access to markets. We think the logic of it works, but the fact that this is urban planning in a way that the whole thing that drives it is the market area of the town itself. And it's designed to increase agricultural productivity by providing better rural-urban linkages ,and the locational decisions are basically made on the agricultural attributes of the area. And that's different.

Q: What kind of attributes?

A: Well, we're specifically looking at what they are currently doing and we've had some agricultural economic geographers out there,Germans, doing these potential studies. There's a lot of people who are still growing just subsistence plots and we realize that while that's reasonable, they could be growing a surplus and selling it in the market. The reason they're not growing more food is because there's no place to sell it. They aren't going to walk 25 kilometers with fertilizer on their backs. So, they need somewhere to get seed and hoes and things like that to expand their crop production, but without a market nearby they won't do it. The fact that this unmet potential is something the government wants to test is what drives what we do. We are not picking that place so much by its attributes, although some of those come into consideration. We are mostly looking at the country side around that area and whether that country side could produce more.

Q: What factors affect planning, such as economic theory...

A: Yeah, these days it's almost all run by economic theorists. I'd say 80 or 90 percent of the planners are economists who follow a specific economic model. Whatever you are doing better be consistent with that model. That can be a problem. As a planner myself, I wouldn't be able to work in a system I didn't agree with. I'm basically a liberal. Most of the people I was working with are essentially conservative but you find out you can still do that. In the project I'm working on we are maximizing the economic potential-- conservatives love that. That's exactly what a Bush administrator wants to do---increase entrepreneurship, small businesses, economic potential, whatever . As a good liberal, I'm more interested in basic needs. If you went to the government and said," let's increase basic needs," they'd say no. The fact that it correlates with more conservative goals makes it very easy. And one of the reasons we were successful was because we were able to talk the language of the World Bank and AID.

Q: In your plan for development you state the goal that you would like to build 200 towns by the year 2,000. Have you been criticized by environmentalists,because this type of development does lead to degradation?

A: No, for two reasons. This is the Third World, and the Third World doesn't give a damn about environmental issues. The government has no interest in doing that kind of stuff, they're interested in making money. Secondly ,we were dealing with such small scale, small town stuff where you're not going to see a problem.

Q: What do you think are the worst environmental problems that Africa has?

A: Most of their environmental problems are completely entrenched in what they do. They have deforestation--not because they are cutting down trees for the hell of it. They need wood for fuel. I see the people as more victims of the environment than degraders of the environment.

Q: Could you tell us your ideas for population control?

A: You have to understand there are two sides of the issue. One is making things available, and that's somewhat problematic. But the larger issue is changing people's attitudes. And, the reality there is that peoples preferences are that they want a lot of children. It's a much more difficult thing, put in a variety of societal guarantees, to change their preference. Children are social security. They are valued there more than they are here. You have to think about why the average person wants eight children. You have to change the social system whereby old people are guaranteed things by the government and old people don't have to rely on children.

Q: Do you think the IMF and the World Bank favor certain political systems?

A: I hope the IMF and the World Bank hopefully will get taken to court some day. They are force feeding the policies down the Third World. They treat every country the same. It doesn't matter if you are Brazil, Africa or China, there are certain things you have to do to qualify for a World Bank loan, and if you want foreign aid you have to do these things. I don't necessarily disagree with World Bank reforms in terms of long run policy. In many of these countries it's just not good timing and yet the World Bank insists on it. I think it's very heavy handed and unfair. The problem is the World Bank is convinced it's right. They're real believers.

Q: The new head of the World Bank has made promises to customize some of their programs and policies more to the characteristics of Africa.? Do you think this is possible?

A: No, I work with the Bank all the time and it might as well be a fraternity. It's a club and they all believe in it. They say all kinds of things about the environment and poverty , then you look at where the money goes. It's a growth machine.

Q: We would like to know a little bit about your knowledge and view of the natural resource base in Africa. We know water is one area where they are strapped. Have certain approaches to water resources, such as hydroelectric power, been successful?

A: In the past,the rivers have been left alone because of disease and crocodiles and stuff. Now they are getting more control of them and using them for irrigation and hydroelectric power. The few places they have put hydroelectric in you can honestly argue the environment has improved in a whole lot of ways. For example, when we were working in Zimbabwe, there was a large human made lake and wildlife population has increased markedly and the grass that grows on the shoreline is better feed for them.

Q: Have water systems like irrigation helped to alleviate famine in Africa?

A: Most of the famine is not just drought related, it's systematic. In countries that aren't in conflict, the problem's essentially solved. We know what to do to prevent famine. If you have a war going on and a famine going on, no one has come up with a clever solution about how to deal with that. I'm more optimistic about nonconflict based famines. I've been working on food security and famine early warning systems that have been effective. The good news is that you don't get in the news when no one dies,and that's fine.

Q: What early detection procedures do you have for famine?

A: Well, they got away from the really high tech stuff which really doesn't work too well, but we have market people who wander in the markets and look and what's being sold. You can literally tell by how much crops are being sold and the level of prices whether the local folk are having problems. If we see people selling there home goods we realize they are down to the bottom of the grain bin. Those are warnings.

Q: Well, since time is running out, do you think you could sort of wrap things up by telling us where you thing Africa is headed,in terms of development, in the future?

A: I see most of the real problem as political and once they get a half way decent political system in many of these countries and corruption minimized, the economic system can become better off. Many of these places have made a lot of progress. The whole continent has gone through a decline in the last decades. But its also been a couple decades of dealing with other countries and learning how to do things and making big mistakes. I guess I'm a perennial optimist. Slowly but surely things are getting better. I think we need a little more political stability in there, and a little more aid wouldn't hurt.

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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