There are varying perceptions and approaches today on what development as a concept is. In real life situation, development entails an increase in material well-being of a nation.
A nation registering an increase in input of goods and services as measured by Gross National Product (GDP) was previously seen as being on the path of development.
Welfare economists were, however, quick to add that such a country is only experiencing economic growth of the benefits from growth accrued to a few people. From these two perspectives, economic growth, coupled with distribution of benefits, constitute development.
To many politicians and laymen in Africa, construction of roads, airports, railway lines, schools, hospitals, supermarkets, sky rise buildings, etc., equals development. Hence it is common to hear the number of cattle dips, kilometres of roads tarmacked and growth in the number of university students being cited as indications of development delivered by a government to a particular locality at a given period.
To the traditional anthropologist, development is perceived as a transition from the so-called small scale societies with emphasis on particularistic principles, to more complex societies where emphasis is on universalistic principles.
To Marxist sociologists, development is when man stops exploring fellow man in the process of production and distribution of economic gains. Society must overcome discrimination and other socio-economic injustices for it to claim having experienced development.
For the Christian, development is seeking first the kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to Nkrumah, who asserted that seek ye first the economic kingdom. There can be no doubt that the spiritual dimension is an important element in the development process.
So is there a precise definition of development that cuts across the board? From the 1980s to the 1990s, a search for such a definition has been going on. Economic social, cultural, political and environmental variables have been included in the definition of development.
Development is now viewed in terms of increased participation by all in the process of democratic governance as well as production of goods and services. In the wake of multiparty democracy in the Africa region, development is also being gauged against the yardstick of human rights. Freedom of speech, assembly and the press are now concepts closely linked to development.
Definitions aside, development entails structural changes in economic, social, political and cultural aspects of a people. When the whole person is transformed economically, socially, politically and spiritually, integral development is said to have occurred.
* Jan Scholtz, who holds a Diploma in Youth and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), writes in his own capacity.