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Behind the rather inane-sounding title lies an in-depth and complex investigation of the effects of Mozambique’s heavily aid-supported economic trajectory. Indeed, the image of bicycles and their presence in the country is used as a running theme throughout the book to illustrate the innate problems with the methods currently used to measure economic development and poverty alleviation, and to question their effectiveness. In the authors’ well-researched assessment, it is high time for a new approach.

The authors are acerbic in their analysis of the Bretton Woods institutions’ (BWI) treatment of Mozambique, asserting that the African country is a victim of rabid and dogmatically applied neoliberal ideology. It is a powerful strike for the left-leaning developmental economists’ camp, but might have been far too radical for others to contemplate were it not for the fact that we are currently contending with the effects of the most pronounced market failure since the Great Depression. Furthermore, the countries that look most likely to weather the storm and pull the rest from the morass, such as China, are those that have not relegated their governmental apparatus to being a ‘night watchman’ state. International financial institutions have long been overdue a re-evaluation, and the authors use a case study of one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries (despite being a ‘donor darling’) to bolster this argument.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is the integrated approach it takes in assessing Mozambique’s current situation. It draws in and explores the country’s political, war-ravaged history, the legacy of Frelimo rule, and Mozambique’s current geo-political context. Quantitative economic analysis is triangulated by several measures and interrogated thoroughly, while the argument is supported by several case studies on the constraints on economic development, ranging from provincial (Nampula and Manica) to national sector level (the now infamous collapse of the Mozambican cashew-nut industry). Thus is the scene set in order to underline the primary purpose of the book: to advocate a complete overhaul of the way in which development is conceived and the way in which it is treated by the donor community.

Particularly relevant in this context is the way the authors unpack the power relations that implicitly shape the concept of development’s meaning They, pointing to the fact that donors and Mozambique’s government, despite being melded together through budget-support mechanisms, do not necessarily see eye to eye on this issue.

The authors use the striking metaphor of the ‘cargo cult’, something which emerged in Melanesia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to illustrate the BWIs’ irrational ‘if you build it they will come’ approach to attracting foreign capital to Mozambique. Indeed, they question not just the success of this attitude but the very desirability of making foreign investors the driving force of economic development. It has become apparent that when these players do come they do not bring with them ‘pro-poor’ economic growth, to use the donor term. Fundamentally, on various levels, this emphasises the misguided nature of a supply-driven rather than a demand-driven approach to stimulating economic growth in the context of a country such as Mozambique.

The book comes at an auspicious time. It is not alone in pointing fingers at the attitude and methods of foreign aid and its agents. Yet until recently the impact of academic investigation into holding the aid agencies and international financial institutions to account – not just in terms of the outcomes of their programmes, but the very assumptions and the quality of the research on which their policies are premised – has had only a limited effect.

Significantly, while much of the blame for Mozambique’s underdevelopment is left at donors’ doors, the country’s political elite are not portrayed as being blameless. They have indeed profited and continue to do so. What is emphasised however is the donors’ complicity in creating and maintaining such structural inequalities so long as they serve theirs and these elites’ respective agendas.

The authors thus call for a radical overhaul of the current approach to development and provide the beginnings of possible alternative methodologies. It is difficult however to attempt such a paradigmatic shift in the donor framework approach within a single volume. This is illustrated by the fact that World Bank and IMF research and reports are referred to continually despite the suspicious light in which they have been cast by the authors themselves. Furthermore, while the book poses a set of very good questions, the answers that are offered do not seem equally robust, being vulnerable as they are to the same structural issues such as corruption, donor agenda-setting and in-fighting that have been identified in previous attempted solutions. Nevertheless, both authors have extensive experience of Mozambique, and a self-conscious effort is made to underline the complexities of the country’s current context. Indeed, their emphasis is more on changes in approach than on quick fixes. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

* Lucy Corkin is with the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
* Do Bicycles Equal Development in Mozambique? is published by James Currey.
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