Sovereignty at the service of peoples

Book Review

Samir Amin – Perspectives for Africa’s independent development

rt. The development economist Samir Amin, who died in August 2018, makes a plea for the “national sovereignty” aiming for efficiency and shareholder values. On the basis of a Marxist orientation, but still open to other approaches, Samir looks for alternatives for a marginalised “Third World” from a global perspective and drawing from a broad historical knowledge. The idea for a German translation of three essays by Amins in “Souveränität im Dienst der Völker. Plädoyer für eine antikapitalistische nationale Entwicklung” (Sovereignty in the Service of Peoples. A plea for an anti-capitalist national development)1 from French was born in October 2017 in a workshop in Vienna.

Samir Amin – a leading development theorist

Andrea Komlosy writes in her introduction about the personality of Samir Amin: “Amin was 85 years old when he wrote these texts. He can look back on an extraordinary life span, allowing him to experience colonialism, decolonisation, a spirit of optimism in post-colonial states and socialist experiments as well as a series of setbacks” (p. 8). Amin is regarded as one of the leading development theorists for the Third World. He was head of several internationally renowned institutes in Africa dealing with the development of the continent in an international context, including the Institut Africain de Dévelopement Économique et de Planification (IDEP) in Dakar.

Demand for national sovereignty

In the three essays in “Sovereignty in the Service of Peoples” Amin analyses the global political and economic situation from a viewpoint of African states and develops perspectives for the people in African countries. A central demand in those analyses is national sovereignty, linked to the food sovereignty of these states. Food sovereignty would enable them to become independent, but also to build up an independent economy and get their population into work and bread. He ties food sovereignty to the equal right to cultivable land and thus to far-reaching rights of self-determination for the population, a thought  that clearly sets him apart from many Marxist theorists.

Africa – a slum planet

His analysis of the situation in Africa is shocking, yet cannot be dismissed, even if the successes of the UN Millennium Goals give us a different impression: Our current global economic system leads to the rapid impoverishment of billions (!) of people in the South who still live in a self-sustaining subsistence economy – just because they have been and will be expelled from their land. Amin incorporates global developments in agribusiness as well as land grabbing and the cultivation of “bio” fuels into his analyses. “The only perspective it [capitalism, note rt] offers is that of a slum planet with billions of ‘supernumerary’ people” (p. 76).

Families as basis for food sovereignty

In order to stop the threatening development and to comply with the goal of self-determination of the peoples, he demands national sovereignty on the basis of a secure food situation for the entire population. For this purpose, he designs various development models and repeatedly falls back on historical or current developments. In his unbiased view, he sees farming families as a meaningful basis for an agriculture making food sovereignty possible. Within the framework of his Marxist way of thinking, he explores various possibilities. The fact that he judges the example of China very mildly does not diminish his courageous analyses, as Andrea Komlosy points out.

Alternative to Western fatalism

The reading has a liberating effect. Amin goes beyond the leaden thinking of Western economism limited to profit maximisation and “development cooperation” and so far offers no convincing alternatives for a third of humanity. If, when reading the report, one draws connections to the approaches of the UN World Agricultural Report of 2008, which was wrongly pushed out of the discussion, one can discover sensible common factors.
The publication of this translation by Promedia-Verlag Vienna can only be welcomed. The reader is glad about the helpful introduction by Andrea Komlosy. An in-depth discussion of global developments will thus receive new impulses in German-speaking countries.    •

1    Amin, Samir. Souveränität im Dienst der Völker. Plädoyer für eine antikapitalistische nationale Entwicklung. Promedia Verlag 2018. 978-3-85371-453-9. Original: La souveraineté au service des peuples, l’agriculture paysanne, la voie de l’avenir! Editions du CETIM. Geneva 2017