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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

Enclavity and Constrained Labour Absortive Capacity in Southern African Economies (Draft)

The fact that the majority of the African labour force continues to be either openly unemployed or under-employed continues when many other developing countries that were similarly placed about three decades ago have made the crucial turn toward more inclusive growth and development continues to be one of the most vexing issues in economic policy analysis. This problem has continued to fester under all kinds of policy regimes thereby belying the usual optimistic assumptions by economists about the long run. Indeed the persistence of this problem remains the Achilles heel of current economic reforms, which appear to have been uncritically embraced as the panacea.

The problem of unemployment and under-employment that afflicts many of the countries in Africa is in this paper being referred to as the problem of the low labour absorptive capacity of African economies with special reference, to Southern African countries. While there may be sufficient consensus regarding the efficacy of certain packages of measures such as stabilisation and structural adjustment programmes in promoting growth, there is still much debate, if not scepticism about the ability of any measures or policies attempted so far, to resolve the perennial problem that afflicts the majority of the labour force in Africa.

The problem of the low labour absorptive capacity of African economies strikes at the heart of the growth and development problematique and should not be dismissed lightly by appealing to the long run impact of trickle down effects or the possibility of people lifting themselves up by their boot-straps as a result of the efficacy of market mechanisms. It is necessary that the debate about the paradigms informing various policy stances be opened anew.

This paper resorts to an earlier paradigm initially mooted by Arthur Lewis [Gersowitz, 1983] in a number of his writings within the context of neo-classical analysis but also propagated in various forms by Marxist inspired political analysts of under-development. More recently, the Structuralism school has continued this line of argument but often at the margin of the policy debates. This paradigm is one that looks at African economies as being afflicted by a legacy of enclave growth and development which is partly a legacy of the manner in which capitalism penetrated these countries as late comers on the global development scene; and partly as a consequence of the failure of various policy regimes of both the socialist and market oriented types to address the structural roots of the problem through policies of omission and commission. The paradigm of enclavity would link the problem of the low labour absorptive capacity of African economies to the a structural legacy of economic dualism that is in part self perpetuating, even within a market context that is ideal in terms of current structural adjustment programmes, and in part policy induced, even if inadvertently. The implications of this is that proactive polices are needed in addition to the usual market friendly measures to undo the vicious circle of perpetual under-employment that afflicts the majority of the labour force.

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