Egypt was an ancient Northeastern African civilization. It was the longest lived civilization of the ancient world. Egypt started as two lands- upper Egypt and lower Egypt. Egypt was in a valley, had no contact with the outside world for a long time, explaining why they could develop at their own pace.
The upper part of Egypt as more endowed, fertile, arable and cultivable. Upper Egypt was more accessible. Upper Egypt was rich in alluvial soil (rich, black top fertile top soil). Lower Egypt however was like a valley. Lower Egypt was arid. Lower Egypt needed irrigation for agriculture to thrive. The whole state had a major challenge which was also a major source of blessing; the River Nile.
The River Nile overflowed its banks every year, flooding Egypt and carrying away their homesteads. The Nile killed the Egyptians, destroyed their farm lands. The Nile ensured they planted all year round. The Nile also made sure they spent a better part of the year rebuilding the ruins from the inundation. For Egypt, necessity was the mother of invention.
A political system refers to the set of formal legal institutions that constitute a “government” or a “state.” More broadly defined, however, the term comprehends actual as well as prescribed forms of political behaviour, not only the legal organization of the state but also the reality of how the state functions. Still more broadly defined, the political system is seen as a set of “processes of interaction” or as a subsystem of the social system interacting with other nonpolitical subsystems, such as the economic system. This points to the importance of informal sociopolitical processes and emphasizes the study of political development. A political system is often saddled with the tasks of self-preservation, supervision and resolution of conflicts, regulation of the economy, protection of political and social rights, provision of goods and services amongst others.
The word ‘Social’ is from the Latin word ‘socii’ which means allies. It connotes a relation to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society institutions. In the view of Karl Max, human beings are intrinsically, necessarily and by definition social beings who, beyond being “gregarious creatures”, cannot survive and meet their needs other than through social co-operation and association.
Economy is from the Greek word ‘oikonomia’, from ‘oikonomos’ which means ‘household manager’, from ‘oikos’ meaning ‘house’ plus ‘nemein’ meaning ‘to manage’. Economy means the management of household or private affairs and especially, expenses. It could also refer to a thrifty and efficient use of material resources; efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resources. Economy on a broader perspective means the structure or conditions of economic life in a country, area, or period.
This is a combined word connoting a relation to, or involving a combination of social and economic factors. Development refers to a change in a situation or; progress. The process of changing and becoming larger, stronger or more impressive, successful or advanced. Socioeconomic development is the process of economic and social transformation that is based on complex cultural and environmental factors and their interaction.
THE LINK BETWEEN A POLITICAL SYSTEM AND SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Politics must be seen as a necessary ingredient of an evolving society. The political system of any country gives an insight into its social and economic structure. As earlier pointed out, the type of political system or order any state would adopt will largely depend on the economic realities prevalent in the state. By economic realities I mean the way wealth is produced and used in the society. Such political system is usually adopted in order to consolidate the existing socioeconomic situation and pave way for development. As was the case in ancient Egypt, the political system was adopted to efficiently maximize the scarce economic resources for the benefit of the whole state.
THE EGYPTIAN EXAMPLE
Egypt flourished for so long because of the type of political system it adopted. Egypt adopted a centralized system because of the need to pull the two parts (upper and lower) together more so since they were interdependent by virtue of the Nile. As time went on, there was a crossing of boundaries between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt; Egypt became an amalgam of different people. The political structure of Egypt was inexorably centralized to bring together the two disparate entities (upper and lower Egypt). In the Egyptian environment, agricultural prosperity could be maximized only by a centralization of political authority, since centralization alone permitted a country-wide efficiency in irrigation.
With the unification of the “Two Lands” around 3,200 BC and the establishment of a capital in Memphis by the legendary, if not mythical, King Menes, the Pharaonic Age began. Power was centralized in the hands of a god-king, and, thus, Egypt became the first organized society.
The period which saw the formation and consolidation of the Pharaonic kingdom was a time of great economic growth. With the emergence of a strong, centralized government under a god-king, the country’s nascent economic and political institutions became subject to royal authority. The aim of the administration was to promote national prosperity by effective control of irrigation and of the entire community. Under the first two dynasties of Pharaohs, the centrally organized irrigation system led to a great increase in the acreage of arable land.
Evidence of economic growth has also been noted in the three high-points of the history of the Pharaonic state- the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, during which the growth depended partly on Egypt’s exploitation of the resources of other countries. But in all these periods the basis of the country’s economic performance was its own agriculture.
The abundance of the Nile and the Egyptians’ careful management of the necessary dikes and irrigation systems guaranteed a flourishing agricultural society. The variety of plants that grew and were cultivated could be used for many purposes including food, clothing and shelter. The mainstay of Egyptian agriculture was cereal cultivation. Wheat and barley were grown under a centrally co-ordinated irrigation system by which the flood water and silt of the annual inundation were controlled and distributed to the farms. Cattle herding and rearing of rearing of donkeys which were the main beasts of burden used for transporting of goods; was also practiced. The river was also a source of fish, and a fishing industry was established earlier on. Mud from the river’s banks was the raw material for a well established pottery industry as well as for the bricks used in construction. Royal control of the country’s agricultural surpluses and manpower made the king practically the sole source of material rewards to his subject.
State control of the economy thus imposed limitations on consumption during “boom” years and made provision for supplementing shortfalls in lean years resulting from inadequate or extraordinarily high and destructive Nile inundations by stockpiling the maximum possible amount of the surplus produce. From the royal warehouses supplies were withdrawn as wages for numerous government officials and workers (whether in royal craft establishments such as shipyards, weapon factories, clothe-factories, potteries and workshop producing luxury goods, or in agriculture) and also to alleviate the distress of the hungry poor in times of food shortages.
Trade was state controlled. Although private exchanges took place between individuals, the system kept out private traders, middlemen and entrepreneurs, and kept commerce in the hands of the Pharaoh as the business of the state. When foreign produce or materials were needed, royal expeditions were organized and sent abroad to obtain them in barter for some of the Egyptian products stockpiled in the royal warehouses.
Payments for all goods were made in kind. Money played no part in the Pharaonic economy. The individual bartered his personal surpluses in exchange for someone else’s in order to satisfy his needs. Values were expressed in terms of established weight-units. But wealth was thought of primarily in terms of agricultural produce, herds and personal effects.
With few exceptions, the individual, in order to provide himself with the necessaries of life had to work either as an official of some sort in the royal service, or as an artisan attached to a royal or a temple workshop, or as an agricultural labourer, or in the Pharaoh’s professional army. Before the institution of the professional army, all able bodied men were liable to conscription in the militias or compulsory labour system of collective work on state projects such as clearing of irrigation canals, building of dams and embankments, quarrying of stone blocks, or hauling of stone from the quarries. In practice, the nobility was exempted from the compulsory labour and in the New Kingdom; well-to-do members of the junior official class could escape such service by sending hired substitute or slaves to take their places. The tenant furnished his own domestic utensils (as distinct from agricultural tools), and the few small landowners and independent artisans that existed bartered their products or supplemented their income-in-kind by hiring out their skills or their labour to the wealthy to whose luxury and comfort they catered.
MINING AND INDUSTRY
The deserts to the East and West of the Nile contained a fairly wide-range of mineral resources, and from Predynastic times Egyptian miners and quarries had begun to exploit these resources. First, fine hard varieties of stone for use by builders and sculptors. Second, several types of stone, semi-precious stones; gems, salts, and metals such as gold, copper, and-to a much lesser extent- silver. The Egyptians quarried, mined and processed these resources. Trade with other countries provided products not found in Egypt.
The Egyptians developed the art of ‘faience’, a craft of manufacturing glazes which was well established in Egyptian workshops. Faience had to do with the production of glazed quartz which looked as if they were made from the more precious lapis lazuli or turquoise. This was the beginning of Egyptian glass-making craftsmanship- an industry deriving its raw materials from mining. The manufacture of textiles and the processing of papyrus were two industries in which Egypt led the world. Fine Egyptian linen and paper were items of Pharaoh’s export. Other products were cloth, sails, rope and footwear all made from the papyrus plant.
The Nile was Egypt’s only highway but some form of transport was also done on land. Though the scientific principle of the wheel was known in Egypt as early as the Old Kingdom, its economic potential was not exploited until the introduction of the horse and spoke-wheeled transport by the Hyksos. The use of horses however remained practically limited to warfare. Donkeys were made use of for carrying loads on their backs individually or in teams. However from the Predynastic period onwards, the Egyptians learned to build all sorts of boats to navigate the Nile.
The social structure was pyramid shaped, and at the top of the social pyramid stood the Pharaoh and his family. Then came the cadre of high officials who held posts like that of the Vizier (prime minister) or whose offices were located in the royal residence. Then the aristocracy of the nomes, who could at times nurse the ambition of becoming petty kings or even Pharaohs. Outside this group, social status depended upon the individual’s occupation, which in turn depended on his education and skills. That determined whether he worked as a royal official or as a craftsman, peasant, agricultural tenant, or herdsman. Occupation rather than birth in principle determined a man’s status and advancement depended on individual skills and energy and the favour of the Pharaoh: possessors of the sophisticated skills of scribes, priests, managers and accountants thus held very good prospects of obtaining the highest positions.
There was a noticeable gap between the official class and the poor masses in Egypt. Imperial wealth led to an unprecedentedly high standard of luxury living among the upper classes, as a new international sophistication gained ground and with it, an increase in the incidence of intermarriage with non-Egyptians, even among the royal family. The ruling class was fundamentally defined by literacy.
From the foregoing, it can be deduced that the central administration Egypt adopted went a long way to consolidate its economic progress and social development. The merger of the upper and lower Egypt into one political entity encouraged Egypt’s socioeconomic prosperity. There was an interaction of different people, an efficient maximization of their common resource and the surmounting of their common challenges. The central administration of the Pharaoh harnessed the human and material resources for common good. What if world economies take a cue from this ancient civilization?