#47: What is development?

Our 47th prompt comes from Anna Metcalfe. She asks:

What, in your opinion, are the most helpful ways to understand the word ‘development’?



Great question. Especially for me as a Kenyan, where development is thought of as infrastructure – roads, railways, buildings, factories, ports and cities. But is this really development?

According to the Society for International Development (SID) “development is a process that creates growth, progress, positive change or the addition of physical, economic, environmental, social and demographic components.  The purpose of development is a rise in the level and quality of life of the population, and the creation or expansion of local regional income and employment opportunities, without damaging the resources of the environment.”

I like that they mention the quality of life of the population as the end goal of development, because that is what development means to me. An increase in the quality of life of the population, because otherwise, we are just building monuments to capitalism, which is what most states are doing, and are happy to continue doing. And how may we measure the quality of life? It is the wellbeing of the people that live in our societies. Their health. Their comfort. Their happiness.

Are they healthy? Are they well educated? Do they have a means to generate income? Are they able to cater to their needs? Fend for themselves and their loved ones? Are they free? Are they able to exercise their rights? Does the state enable them to fulfill their potential? Are they surrounded by a healthy environment? Do they live their lives free from discrimination? If the answer is yes, that is development. After all, what is the purpose of buildings, roads, railways, cities and so on if they don’t help us live our best lives?

My school of thought when it comes to development is “Development as Freedom” by Amartya Sen. According to Sen, the expansion of freedom is both the principal means and primary end of development. It involves the removal of unfreedoms that deny people their agency – that leave them with limited choices and opportunities. It emphasizes the correlation between economic and political freedoms, which is so important especially in countries like Kenya where people think that political freedoms such as freedom of expression and movement can be foregone so long as we achieve “development.” Political and economic freedoms are not enemies, but friends. They reinforce each other.

A happy, healthy, educated population with agency and opportunities is what we should aim for.


This post is part of a daily writing experiment that I’m running for a year. I’d love it if you took part! ?

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