African rural labour and the World Bank: and alternative perspective

In the context of economic and technological change in the late twentieth century, the World Bank's World Development Report 1995 combines the themes of labour and the global market, celebrating the triumph of the market in efficient labour allocation worldwide. The World Bank's emphasis on boosting Africa's agricultural export capacity ignores the prevailing hostile conditions which African products encounter on the world market, and the current tendency towards agricultural labour displacement. `Labour flight', particularly of youth, signals African farmers' own disenchantment with farming under present liberalised market conditions. The narrowness of the World Bank's policy vision for Africa avoids the social and political implications of rural labour displacement as well as the need for human-capital investment in rural areas. This article argues that the alternative to human-capital investment now may be war and expensive disaster relief for decades to come.