- African Miracle, African Mirage: Transnational Politics and the Paradox of Modernization in Ivory Coast by Abou B. Bamba
The failures of development projects in the 1960s and 1970s have been a staple of economic literature on Africa since the end of colonization. For historians interested in the role of competing transnational networks on Africa as well as intellectual history, ideals and practices of development offer fertile ground for research not bound to simply assessing why projects did not achieve their intended results. Abou Bamba's sharp analysis of how Ivoirian officials and intellectuals engaged with French and US models of economic growth is a significant contribution to the scholarship of development, transnational history, and African politics in the early decades after independence. Ideas regarding development in Côte d'Ivoire also reflected tensions among French officials and intellectuals who feared American influence.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this study is how Bamba extends the intellectual history of development ideals from the post-World War II period until 1945. The French metropolitan government invested heavily in Ivoirian agriculture, in part as a means of assuring the country's dominant politician Félix Houphouët-Boigny of support. One aspect of the French government's new post-1945 commitment to its African colonies came with orstom (Office de la recherche scientifique et technique outre-mer). Far from being apolitical, this organization's members often were committed to maintaining France's influence in Côte d'Ivoire. Historians of French colonial rule in Africa really need to read this book, as prominent orstom social scientists such as Georges Balandier and Gilles Sautter appear in a far more partisan role than is commonly known. Gaullist efforts to retain [End Page 654] Francophone Africa as a pré carré used orstom experts as a source of information and contacts within the Ivoirian government. Houphouët-Boigny committed himself to relying on French expatriate technical specialists after independence in 1960, rather than promoting a rapid transition of Ivoirians to staff agricultural and economic projects.
Though large numbers of French expatriate specialists and considerable French state funding drove economic projects in Côte d'Ivoire, Bamba also shows how US businesses and the State Department competed with French interests. Chapter four is a fascinating discussion of rival French and US ideas regarding the building of the Kossou Dam. The Ivoirian government managed to gain support from the US and France for this project, which was supposedly a crucial part of developing the central part of the country. Foreign and Ivoirian planners paid little attention to the environmental problems this project and others like it brought about for local people. Dams were presented as a means of jumpstarting growth in a marginalized region in need of top-down intervention. US aid programs took the initial lead in advising Ivoirian officials in another dam project in the southwest part of the country, but orstom experts soon also helped to guide this program.
Chapter six is an exemplary case study of how a massive state-run sugar production program fell apart over the 1970s. Government officials with US advisors launched this project in the poor northern savanna region of Côte d'Ivoire just before the global economic crisis brought on by the 1973 oil embargo in 1973. Though European and US banks gave out generous loans to the Ivoirian state, the project turned out to be a huge failure. Workers refused to participate, Western companies developed high fructose corn syrup as a cheap alternative to African sugar, European beet farmers relied on protectionist policies that made Ivoirian sugar exports unprofitable in Europe, and alleged embezzlement and mismanagement of the program all undermined the project.
Bamba also considers Ivoirian and international criticism of the perceived failures of state-sponsored capitalist modernization. Marxists informed by dependency theory critiqued government projects that relied on large numbers of foreign technical staff. Some leftist French expatriates shared the same misgivings as dissident Ivoirian intellectuals. Readers...