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Rethinking Nyerere: How Harris-Todaro model falsifies `Education for Self Reliance`

26th January 2013
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Mwalimu Nyerere

Recent reflections by President Jakaya Kikwete when announcing results of the national census conducted in third quarter of last year had plenty of reminders of Mwalimu Nyerere's fears in writing his seminal essay, Education for Self Reliance early in 1967. The president was vividly disappointed with the current size of the population, in like manner as Mwalimu was abysmally worried by rising number of ex-school youths, at that time even those finishing Standard VII (just when the old Standard VIII was being phased out, with plenty of consequences for education quality subsequently) were looking for jobs. Mwalimu came up with Education for Self Reliance as a philosophy to redirect attention of youth as to using education.

What united Mwalimu with JK in his recent reflections is that their respective positions start from rising numbers of youths seeking for jobs, with Mwalimu being essentially a problem of school leavers seeking white collar jobs which he felt the national economy could not possibly deliver, at least not to expectations. In the case of JK it is more or less the same thing but writ large, that large population numbers put pressure on national resources, which is chiefly a matter of feeding the population but also job opportunities. The difference is that the problem for policy makers is no longer ex-Standard VIII finishers but graduate unemployment.
 
While in the case of rising demand for white collar jobs Mwalimu sought a genuine solution in changing attitudes of those going through primary and middle school (at that time), to direct their imagination to village life, no such solutions can even be imagined with regard to rising population. At most this sadness on the part of the president would ignite heightened activities of all sorts of birth control leaflets and vending antiquated medicine for women to stop pregnancies, touching off all sorts of harmful effects including incurable cancers and other tissue breakdowns. Ordinarily it is pro-choice (abortion, contraceptive) propaganda which gets plenty of airtime and space in newspapers, the 'mefaits,' drawbacks, are silently skipped.
 
The problem is how far we are with Mwalimu's 1967 worries and the solution he brought up, and examining the 45 year record since then, how far the worries raised by President Kikwete in much the same vein are founded, and what practical needs or methods exist to resolve the problem, if it can be verified to exist. For one thing, there isn't much difference between worrying about school leavers and prospects for employment, and worrying about population levels, food security and social services. The two can be called 'birds of a feather,' and hence they have the same logic (of a section of the population whose hopes are diminishing, vs population as a whole, whose hopes may according to JK diminish if care is not taken), which also means that what we know of ESR since 1967 applies to population at present.
 
The picture the two Heads of State bring up, the 45 or 46 year lag notwithstanding, is of impeding disaster owing to unfulfilled expectations, whose logic (that is, as a real situation of population tendencies like finishing school or rates of childbirth) courts disaster. In what manner are the reflections of 1967 still valid at present, and if perhaps the issue has changed form (from ex-Middle School leavers to graduate unemployment), is it more reasonably stated at present (as a presumed time bomb as we have been hearing from various 'stakeholders') than it was presented in 1967, or is it a case of changing 'apartheid' into 'separate development'?  There is plenty of reason to feel or believe that the latter is the case, that JK is no more right as to the danger of current population trends than Mwalimu was on education in 1967.
 
One available economic model that helps to clarify the issue is the Harris-Todaro model which came up in 1970, just as the thinking of Mwalimu was percolating among his most vocal 'stakeholders,' the post-Vatican II educational thinking in the Catholic Church, emphasizing on social equity. ESR was more or less universally accepted among this group, especially on account of the feeling that it sought to impart 'socialist education,' and not quite the 'self-reliance,' learning to farm in a scientific way, keep account books, etc. It is what is now being imparted all over the place as self-employment skills that Mwalimu sought in 1967. not ideological attitudes as such, for instance the whole problem of classes in education or society.
 
The Harris Todaro model was put up by two economists, John Harris and Michael Todaro in 1970  to explain a very practical problem patterned on Mwalimu's 1967 worries. It sought to demonstrate that youths who shift to urban areas despite the reigning unemployment (depending on the country) were still acting rationally, as they have information on how to fit in. Expanded, the model sorts out many things!
 
First, the model helps to grasp why Dar es Salaam has not genuinely suffered from calamitous population explosion since it was given city status in 1961, with what was then given as a population of 127,000 people. A proto-JK economist could by and large have suggested that given the country's 'declining' resources, as well as poor job outlets and inability to extend requisite social services, the city population could scarcely be conceived as rising above 150,000 in the next ten years. Still, 40 years later that population is close to 4million (but some pundits were placing the population level at 5m way back in 2002, unsupported by most authorities that are available online, but still a far cry from 1961 wisdom, or ESR projections, in 1967.
 
What is evident in the growth of the country's population and job opportunities is more a story of adaptation than of gradual crisis as 'naysayers' or pessimists have been trying to assert since independence. At the same time it is also evident that the gradual rise of population generally and of educated youths in particular does not become a crisis on the basis purely of time and space (numbers of jobs, living quarters available, as well as food, medical care, etc) for the simple reason that a bigger population creates its own market, which in turn enables people to set up new enterprises, where they employ and pay people. These people in turn can now buy what they hitherto lacked, and this expands the market for goods and services.
 
The question that comes up is whether this adaptation logic has a limit, and at a certain point a 'Malthusian reality' comes up, where there is a profound dislocation of ability to feed, clothe people or put them to jobs. And if that might be the case, how far we are on that road. That question is a bit easier to sort out since there are many countries of vastly smaller size with large populations, and not just among the more developed states for example Japan. When one cites such examples the pundits and 'population stakeholders' are likely to snort at the matter, as Japan is seen as having vastly more resources to take care of its population than Tanzania.
 
Yet the issue really is not whether there are 'absolute population levels' that could in a way unmake the balances existing for instance in food security (the main worry that JK may have had in mind, apart from school places, hospital beds and finally graduate employment). The proper question in a Harris-Todaro context is whether at some point this adaptive mechanism that has done quite well since the moment people (government officials, US population agencies with their abortion or contraceptive pills at the ready) started raising 'profound worries' on population  levels, etc. There is no study, or economic experience, that says adaptation stops.
 
Instead, the proper adaptive mechanism at an economic level eventually turns the problem of population on its head, from too many babies to too few, which is now ailing most OECD countries, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds and to an extent, even religious affiliations or denomination. What is universally noticed, more or less, is that when women become employed in a generalized manner the rate of childbirth climbs down steeply, and thus fully industrialised countries with close to full employment have too few babies. Culture also has to do with it, in the sense especially of religious values, and for some reason it is the Far East whose culture is less accommodating of childbirth with women employment, than Europe.
 
Thus the more practical question that JK could have posed, where he initially so to speak, steeped in a Harris-Todaro context which is brought out by European and Far Eastern population tendencies, would be when Tanzania will start experiencing a decline in population. The limitation to population growth decrease at present isn't poverty per se but communal ownership of land and its final control by state authorities, which places a severe limit on purchase of land to develop it, save by expanding urban areas, with plots merged with individualized urban ownership. In villages all land transfer is problematic, and its inability to fetch credit in banks means that land isn't a dynamic factor of growth, keeping women mostly at home.
 
Kenya has for instance a rather more developed land ownership mode, and in large measure South Africa, but that touches only portions of land, while most rural land remains communally owned but with more elevated ability co 'stomach' transfer of title to non-locals. It is a source of discord in polls as non-locals start having preponderant or swing influence in this or that locality, for instance Kikuyus in the Rift Valley zone. When these impediments are removed, and land is easily sold to anyone (in Kenya or in Tanzania), or what is really the same thing, a proper East African Common Market context, investments will rise, employ women, cut births,
 
That is why JK's proto-Nyerere reflections on population repeat the same errors of Mwalimu on education and the so-called 'time bomb' of job expectations, as this fear ignores the market mechanism of adaptation and use of skills at each level. At the same time there is a specific contradiction about JK's reflections in the sense that he isn't a reformist in his economic outlook, has made no case for accepting the East African Common Market. He however was intent on 'fast tracking' East African Federation in 2007 (a misnomer, as EA Federation is about a generalised common market, and the president has built no case for it, this he was disavowed).
 
The president regularly warns local people not to sell land to investors, and meanwhile Premier Mizengo Pinda champions Kilimo Kwanza, whose 'pearl' in the strategy is welcoming agribusiness especially in biofuels, which is equally a misnomer.  But more importantly as to his latest reflections, if indeed there is a problem of a rising population, the solution is not US destructive and cancer causing contraceptive pills and ballooning young women's deaths due to abortions but open market economy. 
 
When most land has been bought by local and foreign investors and agriculture is modernised while handicraft takes that place of hand hoe as the main occupation, as many more goods will be needed, population trends will start coming down. The Harris-Todaro model works on the basis of a proper market economy, while Malthusian sentiments and US abortionists constantly seek to 'plan' the population, and they harvest only death; only industrial growth and universalisation of women employment radically influences population growth.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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