Commissioning Africa for Globalisation: Blair’s Project for the World’s Poor
NEPAD and Africa’s Leaky Begging Bowl
George B. N. Ayittey
Misrule in Africa: Is NEPAD the Solution?
Democratisation and the Constitutional Imperative
John Mukum Mbaku
Rethinking Pan-Africanism in the Search for Social Progress
Institution-Building and Development in Africa
Africa’s Debt Crisis: Looking Back and Looking Forwards
The HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Southern Africa: Implications for Development
Women and the Politics of AIDS in Africa
Brooke G. Schoepf
The International Dimensions of the Congo Crisis
Talk Left, Walk Right: Rhetoric and Reality in the New South Africa
Communal Violence and the Future of Nigeria
Apartheid’s Lingering Shadow
Revisiting a Wounded Country
Volume 6 ● Number 3–4 ● Summer/Autumn 2004—Africa in Crisis
Commissioning Africa for Globalisation: Blair’s Project for the World’s Poor
Blair is to be congratulated on keeping the international community’s attention focused on the world’s poorest continent. And it will certainly be a challenge for the commission to come up with policy that delivers corrective action to transform the immediate suffering of the poor and ensure the longer-term economic growth that enables Africa even to approach meeting the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.1 Nineteen out of the thirty-five countries in sub-Saharan Africa are well behind the target for lowering mortality rates for children under five, and this includes South Africa, which since 1995 has plummeted almost twenty places on the human development index.
It is unclear just how yet another commission on Africa, or more generally on the persistent and growing inequality between the rich Northern and poorer Southern countries of the world, will advance strategies to ameliorate worsening disparities in income and wealth. This is especially so given the criticism levelled by Blair, his finance minister Gordon Brown, and their New Labour colleagues that Africa should become more integrated in the world economy to take advantage of the presumed benefits of globalisation. Their preoccupation with these “benefits” precludes any awareness that it is precisely the way in which Africa is integrated into the world economy, rather than its absence from or refusal to take part in it, that has contributed to the continent’s predicament. Only when the reality dawns on Blair that the character of capitalism in the twenty-first century is the problem rather than the solution to Africa’s crises will a glimmer of hope emerge as to what a strategy for the continent’s growth and development might look like.
I want to explore why yet another investigation of the continent’s woes will prove irrelevant to the poor in Africa. Given its commitment to globalisation, New Labour would perhaps better spend its time in dusting off the findings of the Brandt Commission (1980) or even the Pearson Commission (1969)—but those earlier Keynesian formulas for saving the poor are also inadequate. Blair has not grasped that the gimmickry of summitry is no substitute for hard analysis of the way in which the wealth of the rich in the North is based on the poverty of those in the South.
The African Crisis
Evidence from numerous sources, including international financial agencies, non-governmental organisations and bilateral donors, confirms the level of human suffering and misery in Africa. Thirty of the United Nations’ “low human development” countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than a quarter of the continent’s poor are undernourished (half exist on less than $1 a day). The number of those in extreme poverty increased from 242 million to more than 300 million in the 1990s. Average income per capita is lower than it was at the end of the 1960s, falling by 2 per cent per annum since 1980, and external debt at around $300 billion is about 12 per cent of all developing country debt. Africa’s debt is also harder to repay, being a much higher proportion of GDP than that of other poor regions; many African countries use more than half of their export revenue just to service the debt.
Moreover, reconstruction in many African countries that have experienced complex political emergencies, war and state collapse has been slow and protracted, not least because Western munitions firms sell small arms to the continent, fuelling conflict. Not all of Africa’s military and humanitarian disasters can be levelled at the doors of the West, however. The Khartoum regime, for example, has been charged with committing genocide in the western Sudanese region of Darfur while trying to extend its legitimacy among Arab militias that have murdered, raped and plundered the local African majority population.
Africa is the poorest part of the world and is getting poorer. The total GDP of all forty-eight countries on the continent comes to little more than the income of Belgium, while the average GDP for sub-Saharan countries (excluding South Africa) is about $2 billion—no more than the output of a town of about sixty thousand people in a rich Northern country.2 Africa’s poverty has created enormous health and social problems. The most significant of these are famine and HIV/AIDS.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 11 per cent of the world’s population but 24 per cent of its undernourished people. As many as forty million Africans in 2003–4 were in need of famine and food relief. Fourteen million of these lived in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and another fifteen million in southern Africa. Food relief has also been necessary in western and central Africa.
The continent’s food crisis has many different causes. They include drought, economic marginalisation, and international and local food policy that undermines food producers and their capacity to sustain a livelihood able to withstand periodic shocks from poor weather, armed conflict or national economic mismanagement. Increases in food productivity have failed to keep pace with local demand, and deleterious trade rules have made it impossible to earn significant levels of foreign exchange from the sale of agricultural commodities and other raw materials in order to purchase food on international markets. This suggests a systemic food crisis in Africa.
That crisis was not helped by the US/UK-led war to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Gordon Brown put more than £3 billion aside for that war, while Britain’s annual aid programme to Africa was just £528 million in 2001–2, set to reach £1 billion by 2005–6. The Iraq War undoubtedly deflected attention from the crisis in Africa.
HIV/AIDS is exacerbating the fragility of Africa’s economic and social infrastructure, and is having a profound impact on the continent’s demography and ability to feed itself. Health facilities across Africa are rudimentary as debt repayments have eaten funds for social spending and the purchase of even basic drugs. Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest prevalence of HIV. More than twenty-five million people in Africa have HIV or AIDS, and as many as seventeen million have probably died from the disease in the last ten years. AIDS is reversing gains in life expectancy that rose in Africa from 44 years in the early 1950s to 59 years in the early 1990s. AIDS is now likely to reduce life expectancy to 44 years between 2005 and 2010, and less than half of all Africans alive today are likely to reach the age of 60. This compares with 70 per cent of people alive today in developing countries and 90 per cent in industrialised countries.3
In seven African countries where HIV prevalence is greater than 20 per cent, the average life expectancy of someone born between 1995 and 2000 is 49 years—13 years less than in the absence of AIDS. The situation is worse where, as in the majority of cases, anti-retroviral medication is unavailable or patients are too poor to purchase it. The disease’s impact on adult mortality is greatest on those in their twenties and thirties, the most productive years, thus attacking Africa’s ability to drag itself out of the mire of economic crisis and poverty. It also affects women and girls more than men. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), women in sub-Saharan Africa are 30 per cent more likely to be HIV-positive than men. African women aged 15–24 are on average more than three times more likely to be infected than their male counterparts, and this is often because of male sexual violence.4
The vicious cycle for high-prevalence countries is the link between food shortages, malnutrition and AIDS. In Zimbabwe, for instance, adult HIV prevalence is about 25 per cent, and by 2000 the disease had killed up to 10 per cent of the country’s agricultural workforce. There are direct links between the level of HIV infection and a country’s ability to cope with drought, poor economic conditions or other critical issues affecting food security. AIDS may cluster in households, attacking people of prime working age. Caring for ill breadwinners, who can no longer bring in income to sustain the family, obliges the still able to focus on producing less labour-intensive, non-cash crops. In turn, this reduces a family’s funds for the purchase of food. And the desperate spiral worsens as caring for sick relatives can prevent the fit from carrying out agricultural work or seeking off-farm employment.
In a 2 July 2004 press release, Britain’s Department for International Development trumpeted Blair’s Commission for Africa as an opportunity to “take a fresh look at the challenges Africa faces”. The commission’s job, the department said, is to “set out the facts on Africa” and assess where policy “has worked [and] where it has failed [and] where more could be done”.
There are seventeen commissioners, consisting of politicians, opinion formers and other public figures, the best-known of whom is the Irish musician and humanitarian activist, Bob Geldof. The commission is supported by a secretariat that will collect evidence from a wide range of experts. The intention is that the commission’s findings will help inform the UK agenda for Africa during Britain’s presidencies of the G8 and European Union in 2005. The themes of the final report are likely to cover six principal areas: the economy, human development, peace and security, natural resources, governance, and culture and participation. Three important cross-cutting issues, each to be championed by a commissioner, were also identified: HIV/AIDS, migration, and gender and youth.5
The Commission for Africa is largely Geldof’s brainchild. He urged Blair and Brown to consider the need for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Initially underwhelmed by the idea, Blair eventually warmed to the suggestion that a commission might well focus international attention on the concern he has often voiced that Africa is a “scar on the conscience of the world”.
Twenty years ago, Geldof convened the Band Aid charity project to assist the victims of famine in Ethiopia. Revisiting the country in 2003, he was struck by how bad people’s lives continue to be. He contextualises Africa’s worsening economic and social conditions in historical terms of the impact of colonialism, misdeeds by African dictators, and the demands of unaccountable international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and regional development banks. In a speech delivered in London in April 2004, Geldof averred that international aid has done little to improve Africa’s lot, criticised Western economic policy, and expressed scepticism about the alleged benefits of globalisation.6
Geldof no doubt will be the conscience of the Commission for Africa, but he will have a tough job fighting the interests that underpin finance capital and globalisation, and his concern that the commission be broad based and representative of a range of different positions seems to have been lost on Blair.
Blair’s commissioners seem to have been chosen mainly for what they can offer from the world of business and finance capital. They include the finance ministers of Canada and South Africa, the governor of the Bank of Botswana, the chairman of FATE, a Nigerian charitable foundation that “promotes entrepreneurship among the youth of Nigeria”, and the group strategy and development director of Aviva PLC, the world’s seventh-largest insurance group and the biggest in the United Kingdom. Also present is Michel Camdessus, now an honorary governor of the Bank of France and President Chirac’s personal representative on Africa. Camdessus is notorious in Africa and elsewhere as the erstwhile head (1987–2000) of the IMF. Under his tutelage, Africa was forced to comply with tough debt rescheduling that drew money away from health and education budgets. He also oversaw the financial crisis in South-East Asia and helped deliver market chaos to the former Soviet Union.
After the commission’s first meeting in May 2004, Blair declared, “We got through the stuff we needed to get through.” But to get a clearer idea as to what that “stuff” was and the sort of recommendations Blair and his new friends will come up with we need to look at his agenda for Britain in the world and the role he thinks globalisation will play in promoting development in the global South.
Geldof’s initiative for a Marshall Plan for Africa fell neatly into Blair’s lap following the British prime minister’s contentious decision to follow the United States into Iraq and his failure to keep on the international agenda a strategy to resolve Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine. The Commission for Africa might be seen as a welcome means for Blair to salvage some of his international reputation and deflect attention from the continuing violence and disruption in Iraq.
Globalisation as Panacea
Blair likes the world stage, thinking it is where he performs well. He shares Margaret Thatcher’s belief that Britain can and should punch above its weight in international affairs. Underpinning Blair’s conviction politics and inflated view of Britain’s role in the world is faith that globalisation can “work for the poor”. Indeed, this latter phrase was part of the title of a UK government White Paper7 and helps explain why Blair’s Commission for Africa is full of business people rather than advocacy groups and activists with knowledge of the damage inflicted by Africa’s position in the capitalist world economy. Blair seems deaf to the urge expressed by Nelson Mandela that globalisation has to be understood as involving not simply economic liberalisation, but also ideas about international equality and solidarity. It is a major error of analysis for Blair and New Labour repeatedly to chant the mantra that globalisation is the only game in town, and that “partnerships” with Africa are the way forward for the world’s poorest continent.
The mistake here is to imagine that Africa’s problem is marginalisation from the world economy. Africa may be characterised as being on the periphery of global economic activity but the problem is not that the continent is insufficiently integrated with globalisation, it is that it has been integrated in a particular way that has left underdeveloped its resources of people and raw materials. That underdevelopment has been the outcome of Africa’s historical struggles with the way in which the world economy has been created. It has also been shaped by the particular histories of African social formations in their interaction with the world economy and in the construction of local economies.
In the current phase of capitalist development, which might be called “globalisation” (although this is an unsatisfactory term for many reasons), the poverty of most Africans has mounted immeasurably and especially since the mid-1970s. Herein lies a major problem for Blair’s commissioners, and it is also a problem exemplified by international agency reports on poverty and inequality. This is the failure to promote policies that favour the wellbeing of the rural and urban poor, rather than the interests of Western and sometimes local African capital.
At best, this failure is one of confusion; at worst, however, it is one of deceit. For what the international community standardly offers Africa are policies to ameliorate temporarily the poverty of the most poor, the familiar sticking-plasters of humanitarian relief and so on—and perhaps these do need to be supported. But the real strategies to develop the continent, to remove the obstacles to trade and to the expansion of Africa’s powers and skills, expertise and knowledge, wellbeing and economic growth, are policies that will attack the profits of Western interests, corporations and individuals that benefit from African misery.
The failure of imagination by Blair and Brown, shared by the international financial institutions, is the persistent use of neo-classical economic frameworks to justify the status quo, and then making a huge leap of faith to argue that the economic system that has overseen and generated global inequality can serve to reduce it. I have noted elsewhere that in the case of north Africa and the Middle East there is a proliferation of data on poverty and income distribution, but it is almost entirely driven by or conceptualised from within a neo-classical framework.8
Even where it seems the conservatism of that economic framework is dissipated, as in the perspectives on poverty that talk about “human development” (UNDP), a “rights-based approach” (UNICEF), the “livelihoods approach” (Britain’s Department for International Development), “social exclusion” (the European Union and the International Labour Organisation), and “human security” (the United Nations proper), there is an overwhelming framing of this language within the binary oppositions of the “global” and the “local”, together with an assumption that the liberalisation of markets will benefit the poor. It is asserted that the “exclusion” of the poor needs to be reduced. But in making this point the crucial issue of how poverty is created and reproduced is lost. There is a failure to understand that poverty does not emerge because of exclusion or marginalisation but because of poor people’s differential incorporation into economic and political processes.9 Significant alterations to that differential incorporation will attack the interests of those economic and social groups that today dominate the financial centres of power.
What Africa Needs
It is not too difficult to envisage the policies necessary to redress Africa’s many different crises. Not least would be non-reciprocal tariff reductions, rather than the currently popular “economic partnership agreements”, or free-trade areas, that the European Union uses to extract the benefits of liberalisation from Africa. Non-reciprocal tariff reductions would help African producers reclaim the full rewards of what have often been extraordinary improvements in continental productivity. Sustained and much-improved prices for raw materials would also dramatically enhance Africa’s chances of achieving the necessary 7–10 per cent annual growth levels to get close to the millennium targets. Cheap and accessible pharmaceuticals to help HIV/AIDS sufferers would free labour power for development and reduce the burden the sick impose on the dwindling numbers of the healthy.
The list of policy reforms might continue with the end of EU agricultural subsidies: as Geldof has reminded us, it is scandalous that while half of Africans subsist on 65 pence per day the European Union pays each cow $2.50 in subsidy daily. Yet while there might well be rhetoric about implementing such policies, each attacks the interests of capital. The likelihood, therefore, is that although contemporary capitalism has achieved the highest levels of productivity in history and offers the opportunity to provide health and wellbeing for all the people in Africa, the worsening levels of inequality between the North and South in general and between the North and Africa in particular will continue.
A change in policy that genuinely bolsters opportunity for Africa’s poor is, in the words of Colin Leys,
no attraction for those who currently own Africa’s debt, buy Africa’s exports or arrange official capital assistance flows. Such ideas could come to seem rational only in a world that was in the process of rejecting the currently predominant ideology of the market. While this world must surely come, it is not yet in place, and meantime the African tragedy will unfold.10
We might add to Leys’s analysis that Blair would need to do something very special indeed if he were to persuade the G8 and European Union in 2005 to pursue policies that would undermine the efficacy of their national economies.
The “tragedy” that Leys refers to in Africa is all the more obscene in that the amounts of money necessary to redress the continent’s crises of debt, health, education, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality are tiny. The World Development Movement, for instance, has estimated that a commitment by Blair to cancelling Britain’s share of the remaining poor-country multilateral debt owed to the World Bank and IMF would cost the UK taxpayer only £1.3 billion. But such cancellations, despite the perception of a change in thinking at the World Bank and within the G8 because of the introduction of the widely hailed Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (highly conditional cancellation of some of the debt of the world’s poorest countries), are a long way off. Debt cancellation requires an opening up of the international financial institutions to far greater public scrutiny—to the openness and transparency that is demanded of African countries.
It would require, too, an end to the attitude expressed by Michel Camdessus when he was at the IMF that debt cancellation would be an act of moral turpitude: it would be morally wrong to reward what the international financial institutions see as the causes of debt in Africa, namely, economic inefficiency and corruption. It is not difficult to understand the resistance of the international financial institutions towards changing their Africa policy after more than thirty years of failure in their role in punishing (imposing fiscal neo-liberal discipline) a continent they feel able to subjugate, irrespective of the human suffering their measures continue to generate.
Covering Old Ground?
It is unlikely that the Commission for Africa will discover anything that the Brandt Report failed to reveal in 1980 about global inequality. As Larry Elliot of the Guardian noted, “Revisiting Brandt is well worth the effort.” Downing Street officials could do some useful plagiarism (similar to that which went into the infamous dossier making Blair’s case for war on Iraq), cutting and pasting from the “development wisdom of 25 years ago”.11 Geldof has noted how the United States spends three times as much per annum on pet food as it does on treating HIV/AIDS. Brandt had drawn the parallel of one tank representing the cost of one thousand classrooms for thirty thousand children. Geldof has suggested that the difference between Brandt’s commission and Blair’s is that the former was made up of ex-politicians, without power, whereas the latter is composed of in-office technocrats. But it will be a challenge for Blair’s team to come up with revelations that will be either different from Brandt’s or able to influence the imagination and action of politicians in the industrial North in a way that helps the poor in Africa and promotes sustainable economic growth on the continent.
Brandt had tried to take further the proposals of Nobel Peace laureate, Sir Lester Pearson. Blair, much like Robert McNamara at the World Bank in the 1970s,12 implies that a brilliant new idea will emerge from another commission of enquiry into poverty and will solve stubborn economic and social problems. The parallels between McNamara and Blair are strong. Like McNamara, Blair is short on detail and long on the need for broad understandings of the size of the problem. Again like McNamara, Blair has plenty of moral outrage and is confident that the global economy can resolve inequalities between North and South, that such a resolution would benefit the former as well as the latter, and that the establishment of a high-level commission is the way to generate the policies that will create a more just and equitable world.
A continuous development thread that pre-dates Brandt is the need for the industrialised countries to commit 0.7 per cent of their GDP to “official development assistance” (ODA). The UN General Assembly called for this in 1970 and most international donors, except the United States, have agreed to try and achieve it. Yet thirty-four years after the General Assembly’s appeal, only Denmark (0.96 per cent), Norway (0.89 per cent), Sweden (0.83 per cent), the Netherlands (0.81 per cent), and Luxembourg (0.77 per cent) have reached this level of ODA. (Finland donated 0.76 per cent of GDP in 1991 but by 2003 its contribution had declined to 0.35 per cent.) The UK Labour Party reiterated its commitment to the 0.7 per cent target in its 2001 manifesto but the Blair government remains far from meeting this pledge. We have to go back to the Callaghan government of 1979 to see the peak of British assistance, 0.51 per cent of GDP. This dipped to 0.24 per cent in 1999—two years after Tony Blair’s landslide victory of 1997.
Overseas assistance has clearly not been high on Blair’s agenda, although the 2004 government spending review made much of the promised improvement of ODA to almost £6.5 billion by 2007–8. This is a real-terms increase of 140 per cent over the 1997 level. UK treasury officials have indicated that with this level of increase Britain would reach the ODA target of 0.7 per cent by 2013—just two years ahead of the timetable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. International Development Minister Hilary Benn suggests that British ODA to Africa will be £1.25 billion per annum by 2008, and that £1.5 billion will be spent on tackling HIV/AIDS over the three years 2004–7 (though this is for the entire developing world, not just Africa). Yet there seems little to celebrate when Blair’s attempt to remove “the scar from the world’s conscience” by improving ODA has not yet reached the levels of the Labour government of twenty-five years ago, and when the struggle to reach £2 billion in ODA to Africa is set alongside Gordon Brown’s swift access to an initial £3 billion to wage war in Iraq. (Of course, UK funding for the invasion and occupation of Iraq pales to insignificance beside the $126 billion-plus spent for the same purposes by the United States—a sum that would easily feed and provide basic healthcare, clean water and primary education for all the world’s children.)
The new euphoria over the Blair government’s 2004 promise of increased ODA needs to be seen in the context of the loss for the global South of repeated UK shortfalls regarding the target of 0.7 per cent of GDP. The leading aid agency World Vision says Britain’s “miserable” failure to meet promises on international aid has cost the world’s poorest nations £9.5 billion in just three years13—and this at a time when Gordon Brown is urging the international community to boost ODA from its current $50 billion to $100 billion. Although Africa’s development problems are not solely due to cash deprivations, it is obvious that increases in ODA are necessary to redress recent lost development decades.
Who’s to Blame?
Crucial to any findings and policy recommendations the Commission for Africa might make will be the characterisation it offers of the continent’s crisis. I have contended that this characterisation is likely to be one steeped in the neo-liberal bias of the age that glorifies opportunities for international capital, and particularly finance capital. It is an age that declares the importance of increased participation in global economic activity, but it is precisely Africa’s participation in such activity that has shaped the continent’s decline. The prospect, then, is not that the African tragedy will be transformed, but that the continent will continue its slide towards “capitalism-produced barbarism”.14
The tragedy is the worse because of elite African capitulation to the global neo-liberal agenda. There has always been resistance to Western characterisations of Africa’s development failures. This continues with worker and civil society and other popular organised and informal opposition to economic adjustment, corrupt political rule and external prescriptions for rehabilitation. And until the new millennium, African leaders had repeatedly criticised neo-liberal views that invariably blamed Africans themselves for their problems.
It is true that Africans have endured corrupt authoritarian bureaucrats, poorly conceived development projects, and many other indigenous failures. But the constant reiteration that neo-liberal market policies will ipso facto deliver growth and equity, development and inclusion, poverty reduction and much else besides is folly. It is not that markets are good or bad, it is that, as Giovanni Arrighi argues, “some countries or regions have the power to make the world market work to their advantage, while others do not, and have to bear the costs.” This power may be seen to lie in good or bad luck that has “deep roots in a particular historical heritage that positions a country or a region favourably or unfavourably in relation to structural and conjunctural processes within the world system”. Africa’s tragedy can broadly speaking be linked to a “pre-colonial and colonial heritage which has gravely handicapped the region in the intensely competitive global environment engendered by the US response to the crisis of the 1970s”.15
NEPAD: Embracing Neo-Liberalism
Placing Africa’s crisis in the context of the global economic crisis does not absolve African elites of past mistakes, but it does help explain how and why some of those mistakes have arisen and what role the global hierarchy of states plays in keeping Africa in a subordinate position. African leaders have moved gradually over the last thirty-five years towards accepting the neo-liberal agenda that has been set for them by the international financial institutions and major bilateral donors. That embrace of the neo-liberal agenda was recently cemented by the presidential triumvirate of Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. Asked by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to explore how Africa could escape its debt burden, these three leaders promoted NEPAD—the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Adopted by the OAU and its successor, the African Union, in 2001, NEPAD promotes the idea of “enhanced partnerships” between donors and African states, with the latter determining the important development projects, and the former pooling funds to ensure liquidity, and policing governance and the management of projects. NEPAD is the culmination of a period of movement by African leaders to agree with the characterisation by the international financial institutions of the continent’s economic crisis. NEPAD has been greeted enthusiastically by Western leaders, who for some years have stressed the importance of African ownership of economic reform, not least so that African leaders can take the blame for failing to meet growth and development targets, thereby making it easier for donors to identify residual state intervention as the continuing cause of the continent’s problems.
Africa’s economic crisis did not emerge until the mid-1970s, although its origins lay in post-colonial settlements that rooted the new economies in old trading and commodity dependence benefiting Europe and industrialised countries. The crisis of the mid-1970s arose after good periods of economic growth and improvements in productivity. It culminated in a fourfold increase in the price of petroleum, a dramatic decline in the price of raw materials, increases in the cost of imported manufactures, and tariffs on Africa’s exports levied by industrialised countries to defend inefficient European and US agricultural interests. These externally driven causes were exacerbated as Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and Ronald Reagan came to power in the 1980s and drove up the cost of borrowing at a time of liquidity crisis in Africa: the debt trap, so to speak, was complete. The response of African leaders was the OAU’s Lagos Plan of Action in 1980, which emphasised external causes of the crisis without entirely exonerating Africans. The response of the international financial institutions to the Lagos Plan, however, was very much to stress internal African inefficiencies rather than external market conditions. This reaction found classic expression in an influential World Bank document of 1981 that became known as the Berg Report.16 It blamed African leaders for the continent’s plight and the policy failure to get the prices right: the African state was too big, too inefficient and corrupt.
By the mid-1980s, Africa’s elites had partially capitulated to the issue of market reform. A new OAU-authored document in 1985 was clearer on the mix of internal and external factors.17 It won UN support for the need for the West to reduce protectionism and the debt burden, and to raise the prices paid for Africa’s raw materials, including agricultural produce. However, the persistence of debt, and the dominance of structural adjustment, caused the 1980s to be seen not only in Africa but elsewhere in the global South as the lost development decade. While it was relatively easy to destroy state capacity, slash public spending, and humble worker and peasant opposition to the policy of the international financial institutions, it proved much more difficult to generate economic growth. More than thirty countries in Africa embraced structural adjustment. As a result, average incomes fell by 20 per cent in the 1980s and open unemployment quadrupled to one hundred million jobless. Investment fell to levels lower than in 1970, and the region’s share of world markets fell by half to 2 per cent.
The African elite’s response to economic adjustment in the 1980s was to offer an “Alternative Framework” for reform.18 The international financial institutions ridiculed this alternative, tried to block media attention during its launch in 1989, and failed to understand it as a document that genuinely sought to grasp the reality of the excesses of some African political leaders while also arguing for a reappraisal of Africa’s position in the world economy. Although the World Bank answered Africa’s Alternative Framework and wider criticism of structural adjustment by saying there was a shared responsibility for the continent’s decline, structural adjustment programmes persisted and African leaders were completely subordinated to the international financial institutions by debt, poverty and the recurrence of famine. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, African leaders have evinced a gradual and persistent shift towards the neo-liberal formula for African development.
NEPAD is the culmination of the move by African leaders to embrace neo-liberal orthodoxy. And it meets many of the issues raised in the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework of 1999. This stressed the importance of partnerships between donors and states, and urged that poverty reduction strategy papers, drafted by governments that want new assistance from donors and international financial institutions, should form part of all development agendas. International financial institutions are also to supervise governance reform in Africa. There is now an awesome similarity between the institutions’ and NEPAD’s prescriptions for Africa’s development. While optimists talk about an “African Renaissance” and “new partnerships” to celebrate at last a real chance for Africa’s economic development, this prospect is nowhere evident from the ruins of economic collapse overseen by neo-liberal policy. It will be incumbent on Blair’s commissioners to reflect with honesty what Africa’s experience has been. Anything short of a rejection of Africa’s continued subjugation to the neo-liberal agenda will be a waste of African lives, and of UK taxpayers’ money.
2. World Bank, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? (Washington, D.C., 2000), p. 7.
3. See Nana Poku, “Poverty, Debt and Africa’s HIV/AIDS Crisis”, International Affairs 78, no. 3 (2002), p. 532.
4. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2004 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic (Geneva, 2004).
5. For background on the Commission for Africa, including its objectives and members, see the commission’s website: [http://18.104.22.168/english.htm].
6. Bob Geldof, “Why Africa?” (Speech delivered at the Bar Human Rights Commission bi-annual lecture at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, 20 April 2004. See first article in this issue of Global Dialogue.)
7. Department for International Development, Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor (London: HMSO, 2000).
8. Ray Bush, “Poverty and Neo-Liberal Bias in the Middle East and North Africa”, Development and Change 35, no. 4 (2004).
9. See Sarah Bracking, “The Political Economy of Chronic Poverty”, working paper, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, February 2003.
10. Colin Leys, “Confronting the African Tragedy”, New Left Review I, no. 204 (March–April 1994), p. 46.
11. Larry Elliott, “How Blair Could Go One Better than Brandt”, Guardian (London), 1 March 2004.
12. See Robert S. McNamara, One Hundred Countries, Two Billion People: The Dimensions of Development (New York: Praeger, 1973).
13. See Nigel Morris, “Britain’s ‘Broken Pledges on Aid Costs Poorest Nations £9.5bn’ ”, Independent (London), 28 July 2004.
14. Leys, “Confronting the African Tragedy”, p. 36.
15. Giovanni Arrighi, “The African Crisis”, New Left Review, no. 15 (May–June 2002), p. 34.
16. World Bank, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action (Washington, D.C., 1981).
17. Organisation of African Unity, African Priority Programme for Economic Recovery 1986–1990 (Addis Ababa, 1985).
18. Economic Commission for Africa, African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (Addis Ababa, 1989).