“Redefining Afrika’s Political Identity in the Era of Globalisation”- 2nd Mayihlome Annual Lecture

Liepollo L. Pheko at the 2nd Mayihlome Annual Lecture

“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children”. .[Amilcar Cabral]


Trade is not new. Struggle is not new. Both are as old as human endeavor and for as long as the two have been at odds , there have been fierce battles fought . Whether it was called imperialism, colonialism, global oppression, apartheid the struggle by the many against the economic tyranny of the few remains one of the longest in human history. International trade too has an ancient history. The context for Afrika includes a conflation between colonial interests ,political subjugation and economic control. The story of Afrika after the invaders is essentially a story of the West’s insatiable appetite for raw materials, cheap labour and beautiful minerals ,wildlife and fauna all of which Afrika “Free trade” is not a new experiment either it has been tried before. Prior to the advent of colonialism, the region used to dominate international trade. Colonialism distorted the terms of trade and Third World countries were transformed from being exporters of manufactured commodities to being suppliers of raw materials and a market for British manufactures. What has changed are the uncomfortable, unfavorable and often immoral terms of engagement between the global South and the North.

The prevailing trade paradigm presupposes the existence of equal power relations equal gender relations, equal race relations, equal access to resources and equal voice in economic agenda setting. This is an absolute lie. Some are clearly more equal than others and their voices more audible than others. The ascendance of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 as the overarching body has given rise to continued discussions detailing the historical and structural inequities that prevail unfettered in the current global trading system. It is in fact the institutionalisation of every lie about the supposedly equal nature of power relations between the global communities.

What is the link between the economy and colonialism

Afrika’s unfavorable trade terms for alone give rise to disquiet and these are compounded by the preponderance that the multi lateral trade regime places on economic activity at the expense of poverty eradication and socio development advancement. This new trade regime is the natural successor to the struggles against the transatlantic trade, against colonialism and against global capitalism. All of these are part of the rapacious project of global capitalism. Colonialism was an economic venture. Apartheid was also an economic and was largely brought to an end because it was no longer economically viable. For all who marched, wore t-shirts and boycotted South Afrikan products I applaud your efforts but must state that they were only part of why Apartheid fell.

Afrika has been engaged in economic global activity since the slave trade exacerbated by the scramble for Afrika in the 19th century. The ongoing trade relations are part of an ongoing campaign of the North to retain access to and power over Afrika’s vast resources and autonomy thus it remains critical to locate these issues within a geo-political framework. The free trade agreements, which are globally uniting the intent to allow unfettered access to resources of the South, are the most recent nexus of the geo political struggles for economic self-determination.

The global project of colonisation in all its forms including globalisation, has created the new ‘other’, that prescribes some as less or as least thus giving permission to the few to determine the lives of the majority. Globalisation has legitimised a standard of life determined by an exclusive minority, self-appointed and self exalted. The vast majority of the world, primarily we in the South who are not white or male must pay a tax to subsidise the over consumption and self-interest of the same self acclaimed few. These few define for us what living standards are the best for us and arbitrarily set $1.00 a day as our share. We say NO. We must all eat and we must all be full in our stomach.

One of the challenges of addressing poverty is a fundamental one of definition. A groundswell states that true development lies beyond growth and efficiency. They go on to state that it is in fact a function of enabling dignified lives. However there remains a measure of reluctance to concede that the prevailing trade regimes need to be radically reconfigured from using market criteria and their social impact indicators to examining social relations such as gender and race, which inform the context of policymaking.

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