Modernization Stalled: American and Soviet Development Projects in Indonesia and Ghana

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:30 AM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Jenny Leigh Smith, Georgia Institute of Technology
This paper examines the experiences of agricultural experts from the United States and the Soviet Union who were sent abroad to assist in rural development projects in emergent postcolonial nations, notably in Indonesia and Ghana. These scientists, technicians and academics were supposed to help new nations become modern by industrializing agricultural systems. Enthusiasm, expensive machinery and expertise were not enough to ensure the success of these projects. Most of these early development projects are remembered today as complete failures. In this paper I make three related arguments: first that the tropical environments in which postcolonial modernization projects took place were the single largest factor contributing to the failure of these projects. Secondly, local participants had their own agendas when they embraced modernization projects, and these agendas were often at odds with the goals of outside experts, regardless of whether these experts came from the Capitalist or Communist world. Finally, I argue that the machines experts brought with them often had interesting afterlives in the countries to which they were imported. Tractors, threshing machines, milk separators and food extruders all lived on in the Ghanaian and Indonesian countrysides long after American and Soviet projects were abandoned. The persistence of these machines serves as an apt metaphor for the unintended, but not entirely negative consequences early modernization zeal had in the postcolonial countryside.
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