Notes on Max Ajl’s: Auto-centered development and indigenous technics: Slaheddine el-Amami and Tunisian delinking[1], by Adel Samara

Development is a very controversial issue in terms of terminology, theorization, agent and practice. Based on this argument, one might recallSocialism in one Country (SIOC) to apply this question or critique on the issue of development or even on cooperation.

The challenge here might be related to one or all issues, i.e. space, size of a country, its’ wealth, theory, or agent of application.

All those points/issues are interconnected and related. While most of the points are relatively similar or available here or there, I like to argue or concentrate on the vitality of two: The writer and the leading agent in practice/application of developmental theory and strategy and the relationship between the writer/theory and the agent/leading social group or apparatus.

It makes difference if the writer is committed to a social organization/party so as to be supported by them to carry the theory in the field, among the masses, on the one hand, and for the continuity of the project, on the other. An isolated writer even if he is inside his own country like Amami in Tunisia i.e. not in Diaspora, i.e. the example of Samir Amin, will lack a social tool. His ideas might find space in academia and stay as a mere text or even burred there.

I have no idea about Tunisian writers in Max’s paper if they belong to a certain party, but it is clear that they had never been adopted by the ruling regime/classes/organization. As for Tunisian regimes before 2011, Bourguiba’s rule was a little bit progressive, but the dictatorship of Bin Ali was worst and totally against development or even economic reform.

It is not an absolute fact that when development is adopted by certain states/regimes, for instance in socialist regime, it will be proper. The case of ex-socialist camp telling that despite the fact that they were even “socialist”, the results were not successful and they finally collapsed.

While there is no logic to ignore or minimize the role of counter-revolution (CR) in an open and continuous war against the socialist block especially CR reliance on both:

  • CR own capacities
  • And the drone wealth from peripheries

But, despite of all obstacles, internal and external, the example of Cuban steadfastness is very important in confirming that development and socialism are possible under the role of the state even in a small and relatively poor state which is nearly in the belly of the beast.

While, state in most socialist regimes failed to be the proper agent for development and socialism, Cuba’s success negates the generalization of my argument that the state is not the proper agent for development or socialism as well.

As for the agent for development, it is logical that if a political party or a regime adopts a strategy of development, its’ chance for success will be better even if the strategy finally collapses. The examples of Russia and China inform us that even after the collapse of the socialist regimes and the capitalization of the social formations in both economies, the two countries are growing albeit with increasing inequality. Moreover, the new capitalist regimes in both countries benefitted from the industrial, scientific achievements of the pre-socialist regimes to build a strong and competitive capitalist economies and for some writers, they became imperialist regimes[2].

Back to Max’ paper on Tunisia, it is right that “implementation of technology is a political choice and ‘technology bears the social “imprint” of its authors’ (Noble 1979, 104)[3]. But this opens the way for the passive alliance between local dependent regime and the direct/indirect colonial power through unequal exchange and relationship. This might support the argument on the side of intermediate technology which was mainly invented by locals who are able to use and repair.

I wonder why Max’s thorough and deep analysis did not deal with the importance of intermediate technology which may be more possible to invent and use in Tunisian agriculture? Is it because the Tunisian writers discussed in his paper did not touch this issue?

Following oil price shocks, regime in Nigerian imported luxury cars and new machines, but when oil prices collapsed the regime was unable to pay for import of spare parts.

Some cases in Palestinian Intifada 1988 were worse where Norwegian NGO donated a Palestinian health NGO very “modern” complicated machine and when one of its’ parts stopped working it became scarp. Here we are talking about the commands of the “author” imposed on the dependent. Technology adoption is a real political choice between to be patriot or treason. Tunisian regime after political independence under Bourguiba impressed by Turkish semi-social modernization, i.e. secularism which was good as a beginning, but failed to benefit from agrarian reform in neighboring Egypt under Nasser. Bourguiba was one of the ardent opponents to Arab nationalism, Uruba, he was part of the political/economic route of Arab dependent regimes which aims to perpetuates its power towards “Developing Unequal Development: between Arab countries” [4].

Akkari’s argument was right that:

“Industrial and capital-intensive agriculture bore the markings of Western-educated technocrats and planners bedazzled by Eurocentric notions of progress and modernity, and haughtily.

Dismissive of peasant technics, which they rejected as ‘traditional’ millstone s weighing down the march to progress” (Akkari 1993)[5].

But, here again the role of the regime is vital as long as it accepts falling into bearing the markings of those technocrats or control them or substitutes them on the one hand, and it supports the argument for intermediate technology which is locally produced possibly applied.  

Capital does not determine development, the issue is what form of policy behind investment and capital management. When Tunisia fell into hunger in 1980s, it was only the poor Syria which donated wheat to them. Based on oil shocks 1973 Saudi Arabia invest in planting wheat and spending higher costs and finally we never heard about that “poor” wheat. From neighboring cooperation point view, Saudi Arabia must invest in Sudan agriculture for the benefit of both, but later the Saudi regime supports South Sudan separation and now it is spending on war against Yemen and paying for Sudan mercenaries to fight on behalf of them.  

In his critique of state’s role Max’s emphasizes:

“Furthermore, the state’s rejection was almost inevitable. Amami’s revolutionary-democratic technics needed a revolutionary democratic social agent to implement them, since they sought to redistribute power to peasants and away from planners, and to use limited state resources to support smallholder farming, not large farms or export-oriented irrigated sectors”. 

Here the nature of the social/political developmental agent is decisive and that is why even the limited implementation of revolutionary ideas never works, as Le Goulven confirms:

“To the extent the state adopted indigenous waterworks in the Merguellil River’s upper catchment in the 1990s; it implemented them only in bastardized forms, on its own terms, shorn of

Their popular content, and ‘people were not consulted during their construction’ (Le Goulven et al. 2009, 166)[6].

Max’s point is that: “The resolution turned on social power, the social agent helming development, and development as class struggle.” is correct, and even in such cases it is a class aggression. In fact, in most of Arab countries, the policies of ruling classes/regimes are continuous civil war. This is applicable on the case of Tunisia until today, i.e. after the so-called revolution as long as the current regime continue its’ adoption of the IMF and World Bank prescriptions. That is why social unrest is increasing there. 

The case of Tanzania case of top-down route for development is another proof that state is not the proper agent for development despite of the unique case of Cuba.

“Tanzania’s Ujamaa experiment in top-down rural resettlement – often a watchword in the peril s of top-down state social-rural engineering – sidestepped this fact, despite Nyerere’s ‘radical nationalism’ and ‘personal integrity’(Shivji 2008, 21).[7]

While Tanzania has been influenced by China’s ruralization it might be compared to Cuba better than be compared to the large China, i.e. both Tanzania and Cuba are small countries, but Cuba’s regime was socialist, i.e. not only nationalist. I might adventure to say that Cuba’s policy was Top-down, but more democratic and more socialist.

While state in USSR and China was ruling but not owning, both achieved development because they were conduct a development project. The cases of most Arab regimes were against development, and as I noted above they were dependent on the one hand and developing unequal development on the other.

Max’s briefing summary of Amami and his collaborators in the following paragraph is correct.

“This essay has emphasized Amami’s project’s national-popular nature. It has shown such a project rested on devolving power and management to Tunisia’s small peasantry. This essay has further argued such radical programs emphasized enhancing and taking as departure points already-existing knowledge’s in considering how to set into motion an indigenous agricultural revolution. Finally, it has sought to situate Amami’s and his collaborators’ thought within that intellectual and political context. It has also analyzed how these Tunisian agronomists and development experts focused on building up and recovering Existing agricultural technologies”. 

But, the gap is too large between devolving power and management to Tunisia’s small peasantry, and the Palestinian Intifada where the peasants took the initiative in the form of Development by Popular Protection (DBPP) despite of the fact that PLO wasn’t for that form of development due to its’ policy of orienting people’s revolt for political goal, i.e. independent state, which never took place.

It is PLO’s policy; beside the Zionist Ashkenazi regime (ZAR) suppression are the reasons behind the termination of the development and cultural aspects of Intifada.

“During the Zineddine Ben Ali dictatorship, during which both inventive political activity and freewheeling intellectual exploration were equally unviable – Amami’s tragically early death could not have helped – such technics with their democratic tendencies remained largely unknown and unmentioned (Kerrou 2017).[8]

The policy of suppressing ideas so they will not be available to the people, calls us to ask weather is it possible on the one hand and is it less than treason on the other?

While after Bin Ali’s dictatorship, it must or might became possible for interested people to know, adopt and develop developmental theories, the practical popular step to free Jamna was a class struggle in the time of “revolution”[9]. The lesson here is that the bourgeoisie never lifted its’ hands off popular classes without struggle i.e. without DBPP.

[1] To cite this article: Max Ajl (2018): Auto-centered development and indigenous technics:

Slaheddine el-Amami and Tunisian delinking, The Journal of Peasant Studies, DOI:


To link to this article:

The following is a list of Amami’s works which Max uses:

El-Amami, S. 1975. “L’Utilisation de l’eau en Tunisie.” Bulletin d’Information de l’INRAT 1 (1): 3–7.

El-Amami, S. 1976. “Projets de Coopération Régionale en Matière de Recherche Scientifique et

Technologiques.” In Les Cahiers du CRGR, No. 7, August.

El-Amami, S. 1977. L’utilisation des eaux de ruissellement pour l’agriculture dans les zones arides tunisiennes.

Etude du cas d’aménagement hydraulique des ‘Meskat’du Sahel de Sousse. CRGR.

El-Amami, S. 1979. Rapport de Mission: Colloque sur les Techniques d’Utilisation Economique de l’eau

d’irrigation, Centre Arabe d’Etudes des Zones Arides (ACSAD). MoA: CRGR.

22 M. AJL

El-Amami, S. 1982. “Pour une Recherche Agronomique au Service d’une Technologie Nationale

Intégrée.” In Tunisie: Quelles Technologies ? Quelle Développement? GREDET, 15–20.

El-Amami, S. 1983. “Changing Concepts of Water Management in Tunisia.” Impact of Science on

Society 1: 57–64.

El-Amami, S. 1984. Al-ray bāltanqīţ ‘nd Ibn el-ʻAwwām [The Drip Irrigation of Ibn el-ʻAwwām].

Presented at the Third International Symposium on the History of Science in the Arab Region.


El-Amami, S. 1985. L’Agronomie, les structures agraires et le défi alimentaire en Tunisie. Voies et Moyens

de Développement de l’Agriculture, Association des Anciens Elevés de l’INAT, Tunis, Avril 1985.


El-Amami, S., and A. Bahri. 1980. Essai d’Estimation de la Consommation Energétique de l’Agriculture

Tunisienne. MoA, Box 80/152.


[2]  See, China: Two Telling Trends 

New data from the OECD verifies once again the imperialist character of China’s economy 

By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 28 April 2019,

[3]  Noble, D. 1979. Social Choice in Machine Design: The Case of Automatically Controlled Machine Tools.

Produire plus de grain et de lait en Afrique du Nord. 1985. Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques de


[4]  See Adel Samara: An Essay on Developing of Uneven Development in Arab Homeland (Arabic), in Al-Mustakbal Al Arabi, no: 197, July 1995, p.p. 16-27. Adel Samara, Amin Bets on the State for Development Great Goal but Blunt Tool, in

[5] Akkari, A. 1993. La modernisation des petits paysans : une mission impossible? Tunis: Ed. Education &


[6] Le Goulven, P., C. Leduc, M. S. Bachta, and J.-C. Poussin. 2009. “Sharing Scarce Resources in a

Mediterranean River Basin: Wadi Merguellil in Central Tunisia.” In River Basin Trajectories:

Societies, Environments and Development, 147–170. Wallingford: CABI

[7] Shivji, I. G. 2008. “Revisiting the Debate on National Autonomous Development.” In The African Union

and new Strategies for Development in Africa, edited by S. Adejumobi, and A. Olukoshi, 177–206.

  [8] Kerrou, M., ed. 2017. Abdelkader Zghal, L’homme des questions. Tunis: Cérès éd.

[9]On Jamna Oasis, see  Adel Samara, Cooperatives, Popular Protection: Reform or Termination of Capitalism. 2018, Published in the Occupied Palestine, .p. 108-111

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