“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.

Engendering Afrikan development and nationhood requires close attention not only to the analytical tools of the researcher and policy makers but also to a gendered critique of development that questions the very foundations on which the Afrikan developmental process rests The neoliberal agenda intended to strip most citizens of their humanity by reducing us to numb workers, consumers and voters with little qualitative engagement with State processes and form. This is more acute for women whose citizenship is fraught with plethora of complex social, political, cultural, physical, emotional, professional, and religious filters or constraints. In sum, what is called for today is a complete paradigm shift, for which imaginative and courageous thought, intent and action are necessary.

By engaging in anticolonial struggles, we introduced gender into Afrikan politics, though largely through forms sanctioned by men, and often our entry was through the patronage of men. Afrikan women have fought patriarchy and male privilege for centuries. By involving ourselves in the anticolonial resistance, we crossed over the very boundaries which had constructed politics as a male preserve. Our presence in these movements, our rejection of women’s traditional status, was met with resentment and resistance. But Afrikan politics is bound to change as we recognize that women are a political force and we are needed to change the course of this continent.
We have a troubled relationship with Nationalism, in the sense that often, it is our loyalty to the men who inherited the state at independence (brothers, husbands, uncles, friends) that determines our first reaction when a critical issue arises-rather than a critical feminist perspective.

Women’s participation in the armed resistance became a critical part of the construction of new identities and relationships with the state and civil society, but some of these new relationships are problematical. We need to interrogate the identities we are inheriting and/or constructing: are they productive? are they good and strong? are they rooted in healthy traditions or in very masculinist, androcentric traditions? [Patricia Mcfadden]

Redefining and reconstructing

It is thus imperative to reconstruct the prevailing profit mongering discourse and move it to a developmental one based on self-determined choices, on the premise of the South at the centre of decision making, of advancement of social and economic justice for the women and men who have been ‘othered ‘

This affords the opportunity to define and redefine citizenship beyond being used as vote fodder, beyond being forced to define citizenship based on marital status, the pure luck of knowing people who may place us on a greater social vantage point or the extraordinary will and tenacity required to move from survivalist to aspirational and even actualised and truly fulfilled lives. The backdrop of globalisation renders our citizenship particularly fragile and tenuous swept along by the free, market agenda and its attending fundamentalism. Against the backdrop of the already problematic relationship with the State which has all but vacated its role as initiator of policy and implementer of citizenship through housing, education, health care, access to livelihood, we see that the world according to globalisation has no good intentions for the vast majority of us.

The times we live in are not only strange but also hazardous. The war of globalisation, the dispossession of women, the genocide upon cultures, civilisations have located us refugees of the modern ‘state’, held ransom by the global project. In this context what indeed are the value of human rights in the midst of so many human wrongs?

Since this agenda has still failed in its purpose of making the marginalised, the economically vulnerable of the South “vanish”, it attempts a false fraternity. This bogus brotherhood where corporate masters export obsolete, dirty or dangerous drugs, technologies, medicines, food stuffs, dubious development consultants and Aid agencies from the North to the South. There are more of us than the self exalted, self appointed, self adoring few who apportion we the majority our share of the sun, our acre of land, our standard of living. We cannot allow this to be our truth.

In response to this assault our language must become precise and succinct. Global apartheid seems to define more clearly and more acutely the rancid and rapacious agenda we are all held ransom to in some form.

Global apartheid, stated briefly, is an international system of minority rule whose attributes include: differential access to basic human rights; wealth and power structured by race and place; structural racism embedded in global economic processes, political institutions and cultural assumptions; and the international practice of double standards that assume inferior rights to be appropriate for certain “others,” defined by location, origin, race or gender.

Global apartheid thus defined, is more than a metaphor. The concept captures fundamental characteristics of the current world order missed by such labels as “neoliberalism,” “globalization” or even “corporate globalization.” Most important, it clearly defines what is fundamentally unacceptable about the current system, strips it of the aura of inevitability and puts global justice and substantive democracy on the agenda as the requirements for its transformation. It proves that the construct and its results are not unassailable.

“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…” [Amilcar Cabral]

Delivered by Liepollo L. Pheko at the 2nd Mayihlome Annual Lecture held at the Central University of Technology, Welkom Campus, on the 30th October 2010

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