Policy Choices in African Structural Adjustment : An Exploration of Sectoral Continuity

Abstract: Between 1980 and 2000, a number of Sub-Saharan African countries entered into conditional structural adjustment lending arrangements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in response to economic crisis and decline. Despite the fact that the crises had been due in part to long-term overdependence on primary sector activities, such as cash crop agriculture and natural resource extraction, many countries allegedly continued to prioritize these activities during structural adjustment. This approach of continued primary sector-oriented development despite the risks associated with such policies presents a puzzle, raising the question of whether and why borrowing African countries pursued similar sectoral policies in the structural adjustment period as they had during previous periods of development. This dissertation investigates the above puzzle of sectoral continuity by describing and explaining cases of continuity in the agricultural, extractive, and industrial sectors in ten Sub-Saharan African countries between the colonial period and the structural adjustment period. Using novel data, the dissertation descriptively demonstrates that there was significant continuity over time in terms of which sectors were prioritized (i.e., sectoral level continuity) and the policy approaches used to structure economic activity within those sectors (i.e., within-sector continuity), finding strong evidence of agricultural sector continuity and isolated cases of extractive and industrial sector continuity in the ten countries.I argue that these cases of sectoral continuity can be explained primarily by domestic interests in borrowing countries. I show that borrowing governments exercised significant influence over sectoral policy-making during structural adjustment, and that they utilized that influence to pursue continuity in existing productive sector activities in the context of domestic political systems characterized by widespread state use of productive sector resources as a means of maintaining political power and support. I also argue, however, that borrowing states did not always exercise influence over sectoral policy choices and that, in some cases, IMF staff exercised dominant control over sectoral policy. In these cases, IMF staff used their influence to pursue policies of sector-level continuity and within-sector discontinuity based on prevailing economic ideas. With the above findings, the dissertation makes a theoretical contribution in the form of a multi-level framework of international policy-making that takes into account (1) which actors dominated structural adjustment policy-making processes and (2) how those actors’ preferences impacted the degree to which sectoral policy choices were geared toward continuity or change.