- African Miracle, African Mirage: Transnational politics and the paradox of modernization in Ivory Coast by Abou B. Bamba
African Miracle, African Mirage by Abou B. Bamba asks why the postcolonial boom years of the mid-century Ivorian "miracle" never quite became self-sustaining. Instead, the economic boom culminated in what the author labels a "mirage" propped up by "growth without development." The author offers several interconnected explanations that emphasize two different kinds of transnationalisms: transnationalism from "above"—or transatlantic (Franco-American) and tripartite (Franco-American-Ivoirian) relations and economic diplomacy—and transnationalism from "below," through the actions of Western-educated development scholars, among others, who were helping to frame the epistemology, discourse and, ultimately, practice of a modernist development model on the ground in Ivory Coast.
Bamba also explores how existing theories of postcolonial economic (under)development do not sufficiently explain the waning of Ivory Coast's so-called "Thirty Glorious Years." The author responds to previous scholars such as dependency theorists, world systems theorists and Marxists, who tended to underemphasize the agency of those on the ground. In so doing, Bamba also problematizes assumptions about the importance of French neocolonialism. Bamba's book argues that the conventional wisdom overstates France's role as the (only) key player in economic diplomacy, development policy and geopolitics in Francophone Africa. What is obscured is the importance of Cold War geopolitics and tripartite relations that cross the Atlantic. Indeed, by focusing more specifically on the "dubbing" and diffusion of "American-inflected" regional development policy and practice by French scholars, policymakers and development experts (by way of the Tennessee Valley Authority), the author paints a vivid and well-documented picture of the Ivorian quest for modernist development outcomes against the backdrop of French-American tensions—a "hot peace" in the midst of the Cold War. These tensions were exacerbated by postcolonial concern over a number of factors: the increasing American political and economic interest in the region, Félix Houphouët-Boigny's positioning of Ivory Coast as a reliable capitalist ally of the US and worthwhile recipient of its foreign aid and investments, and the resulting potential for the weakening of French regional hegemony.
These transnational political dynamics are examined through detailed case studies using largely archival data of three regional development initiatives in Ivory Coast: the building of the Kossou Dam on the Bandama River in Central Ivory Coast; the multifaceted development project in the southwest (the "San Pedro project"); and the attempted diversification of agriculture in the northern savannah provinces. Amid the triangular waltz of French, Ivorian and American development experts and policymakers surrounding these projects, Bamba makes one of the book's most compelling arguments concerning the "geopolitics of postcolonial expertise." This fascinating concept concerns the sociology of knowledge creation and dissemination and the resulting "technopolitics" among the three parties. The author highlights the privileged positioning of French research institutes, ethnographers, economists, soil scientists and the like—in particular, the "Orstomians" hailing from the Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer (ORSTOM). Bamba also reveals the sometimes-successful, sometimes-hampered efforts of US development industry consultants to supplant French knowledge accrued through their longstanding practices of research in Ivory Coast and uncontested access to its "colonial library."
Ultimately, "Euro-American modernity" was both method and motive. And, as a consequence, this becomes a story about overextension and the "temerity" of the Ivorian state in its quest for that particular brand of development. A series of questionable choices and structural factors are exposed: for example, overleveraging via international capital markets; overzealous pursuit of import-substitution in the agricultural sector; the ballooning of parastatal organizations intended as a safety valve for increasing calls for Africanization of the civil service among the growing cohorts of young, college-educated Ivorians; the worldwide energy crises and resulting drop in demands of the 1970s; and the vagaries of global markets for agricultural commodities.
Yet, Ivorians themselves are not denied agency in this tale. On the contrary, the westward outreach of "Le Vieux...