Past, present and future perspectives

The narratives

The major strategies through which the Great Transitions scenario will evolve are not difficult to imagine. Achebe and others (1990) have argued that these are new sets of strategies, which differ from current approaches to thinking about development at conceptual, methodological, institutional, operational and financial levels. For example, while this African Renaissance vision of development is conceptually dialectic and beyond crisis, it is unlike conventional wisdom regarding development, which is unilinear and crisis-oriented. Furthermore, the African Renaissance vision is methodologically 'surprise-rich, inductive and retroductive', as against conventional wisdom, which is 'surprise-free, deductive and predictive'. Operationally, the strategy: is locally owned and initiated; is supportive, nurturing and people-intensive; has views which depart from the donor-fed and controlled, directive and preemptive; and has capital-intensive visions of conventional wisdom. The institutional set-up was state-centred, concentrated and monopolistic while, in the African Renaissance vision, it is 'grassroots oriented, multiple, dispersed and pluralizing' (Achebe and others, 1990).

The attributes of an African Renaissance are based on visions of a desirable and environmentally sustainable future. These, indeed, are similar to the attributes of the Great Transitions scenario. The beauty of a Great Transitions scenario for Africa is that there are already bodies of ideas among great thinkers in the region, as well as within government circles, regarding the processes that lead to the so-called Big Lift scenario (see below). Current moves by the leaders of African countries to create the Africa Union to replace the OAU, and in the development of the 2001 Omega Plan for Africa and the 2001 Millennium Africa Recover Plan (MAP) (see Chapter 1), are steps in the right direction. So, too, is the evolution of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 5). These ideas will continue to crystallize, and will become major issues, as other regions of the world begin to see the wisdom of the Great Transitions scenario.

In the monumental work produced by Achebe and others in 1990, attempts were made to compare the current situation with the expectations of the African Renaissance vision. The scenario described as the Big Lift produced comforting levels of development. For instance, where current projections could put the population of Africa at some 2 200 million in 2057, with growth rates as high as 2.5 per cent per year, the Big Lift scenario would put it at 2 500 million, but with only a 1.5 per cent per year growth rate. In the Big Lift scenario, the literacy level would have risen to 95 per cent. More important, however, is that life expectancy would have increased to 80 years, while GDP per capita would have risen to US$7 800. Food production and capital goods production would have risen considerably, and the environment would have started to recover. Forest areas would have reverted to sizes that were in existence in 1957. Arable land would have increased four times over what it was in 1957, while electricity use would have multiplied by a factor of more than 200 (see Table 4.2).

Table 4.2 The African Renaissance and the Big Lift scenario


Actual Actual Projection Big Lift
Demography 1957 1987 2057 2057
Total population (million) 277 599 2,200 2,500
Population growth rate (per cent/year) 2.3 3.1 2.5 1.5
Infant mortality (per 1000 births) 182 181 10 8
Life expectancy at birth (years) 40 53 77 80
Economy and agriculture        
GDP per capita (1980 US$) 450 815 3,800 7,600
Capital goods production (million 1975 US$) 127 1,273 75,800 115,000
Agricultural production (FAO in-dex) 63 115 1,000 2,000
Food supply per capita (calories) 2,060 2,094 3,200 6,000
Human resources        
Literacy rate (per cent) 16 53 80 95
Scientists and technologists        
(per million inhabitants) 15 103 270 1,000
Natural resources and environment        
Arable land (million ha) 177 221 365 500
Energy consumption per capita (kg coal equivalent) 180 451 2,000 3,600
Forested areas (million ha) 1,580 1,315 920 1,500
Source: Achebe and others, 1990

(The arguments of the Big Lift scenario, which are similar to those of the Great Transitions scenario, are that we need new paradigms to deal with development and with the creation of a sustainable environment. We have hitherto used 'the evolutionary paradigm, the gradual incremental unfolding of the world system in a manner that can be described by surprise-free models with parameters derived from a combination of timeseries and cross-sectional analyses of the existing system' (Achebe and others, 1990).

Of course, the Great Transitions scenario is expected to usher in better educational facilities, greater empowerment of all people, and especially women, and absolute reductions in poverty levels, through enlightened policy reforms. It is also expected to engender greater political consciousness and commitments at local, national, regional and international levels, through visionary leadership, the eradication of corruption and improved economic performance.

The Great Transitions scenario can, therefore, be seen as involving situations where a new emphasis would be placed on issues including: the content and structure of education and training; culture; governance; and the creation of effective organs and institutions, working in harmony to create the desired future. The Great Transitions scenario also involves increased regional cooperation on environmental issues, such as water and food availability, mineral resources exploitation, and wildlife management. The goals of a desired and sustainable future require much more imagination than is available in the Policy Reform scenario but, as in this scenario, 'backcasting' is a major tool of analysis.