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

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.

The WTO treaty framework was also to be deployed to lockin most of the trade liberalisation policies promoted by the IMF and the World Bank, and to extend the remit of the “free trade” principle to new domains that were binding on members. Much has been written on the consequences of the shifts that occurred in trade and industrial policy during the 1980s and 1990s from a state-led to a market-driven model of accumulation. The consequences observed are multiple but perhaps the most widely discussed has been the systematic de-industrialisation of Afrikan countries, returning many of them to a basic role in the international division of labour as producers and suppliers of unprocessed or minimally processed raw materials. At the same time, consumer goods of various kinds have flooded local economies while revenue from import duties underwent a generalised decline.

Furthermore, in most countries, the promise that the market-based structural adjustment framework would, by and by, usher in new “sunshine” industries that would be less dependent on protection and subsidies but, rather forged through free market competition and, therefore, more resilient did not materialise. Yet, it is inconceivable that Afrika could ever hope to turn the table of underdevelopment without an appropriate trade and industrial policy that would enable it industrialise itself with all the accompanying direct and indirect benefits.

It is arguably the kind of developmental trade and industrial policy which Afrika needs to embrace that should focus the attention of Afrikan researchers, students ,consumers ,activists . A thorough re-thinking of trade and industrial policy in Afrika is made urgent by several factors, among them the prolonged economic crises of Afrikan countries that calls for the abandonment of the orthodoxy that has dominated socioeconomic policy-making over the last two and half decades; the open admission by the World Bank, after 25 years of zealous experimentation, that the structural adjustment framework which it so frantically pursued had failed to meet set objectives the immense pressures that continue nevertheless to be mounted on Afrikan governments to toe the line of “free trade”; and the one-sided push by the European Union for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Afrikan countries.

What is a nation and what is an Afrikan citizen

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the performance of many countries in promoting basic rights, public services and welfare development is inadequate. Many new democracies retain elements of authoritarian practices and seem unresponsive to voters’ interests. Researchers and development practitioners are increasingly adopting the view that it is not enough for countries to be democratic; the substance or quality of their democracies matters a great deal (O’Donnell, 2001; Whitehead, 2002; UNDP, 2002; O’Donnell et al, 2004; Mkandawire, 2004; Ringen, 2005). What has been the record of democracies in social policy development? What are the intrinsic properties of democracy that can facilitate or constrain effective social policies? How do different Afrikan democracies promote the well being of citizens? And under what conditions can democratic regimes deliver adequate social protection?

It is critical to examine the complex relations between democracy and social policy development. It focuses on countries or regions whose democracies have been consolidated or are relatively stable: advanced Western industrial societies, Japan, Southern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, India, Latin America, Jamaica, Mauritius and Botswana. It makes three main arguments. First, welfare development is related to economic development. Developing countries with a GDP per capita of less than USD2, 000 (in purchasing power parity terms) have not attained universal levels of education or adequate levels of life expectancy, let alone the range and coverage of the welfare programmes of high-income countries. However, some countries have been able to obtain fairly high scores in their health and education indexes with low levels of per capita income, while others have failed to convert high levels of income into commensurate levels of human development. This suggests that economic development is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for effective social provision. For me it also illustrates the insufficiency of liberal democracies. Does GDP growth without social economic redistribution amount to substantive benefits for a country’s citizens? South Afrika accounts for 42% of Afrika’s GDP and yet is currently the most unequal country on the planet.

Keep it natural…

Afrika’s natural resources are no longer valued for their true cultural, ecological and economic wealth. Current valuation methods are simply emphasized in the economic and monetary terms dictated by northern financial and commodity markets.
As the IMF, through its infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes, devaluates the currencies, so does an individual in Washington devalue Afrikan labour and natural resources. The cultural value of Afrika’s natural resources, as dictated by the ethnic nationalities who own them, is totally ignored. Wildlife authorities and conservationists seldom consider the cultural significance of natural resources locked within Afrika’s sprawling game parks and reserves prior to enforcing laws that exclude indigenous communities from them. Sacred forest shrines and animal totems of immense value to the indigenous are fenced off and access is limited to the hordes of insensitive tourists who frequent the country’s parks.

When local communities are evicted from their ancestral lands to make room for gigantic hydropower plants, export crop schemes and other externally funded development projects, the cultural losses are never considered in impact assessment studies.

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