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
Talk Left, Walk Right: Rhetoric and Reality in the New South Africa
On 30 August 2002, Johannesburg saw a twenty-thousand-strong march from impoverished Alexandra township to the Sandton Convention Centre, venue for the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The march was explicitly against both NEPAD and the WSSD.
Indeed, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and other cities, post-apartheid South Africa is being criticised by activists from the black townships, union halls, environmental forums, women’s groups, health advocacy networks, progressive churches and other democratic organisations, backed also by progressive NGOs and intellectuals. What are they saying, about their local situation, about President Thabo Mbeki’s continental project, and about what Mbeki has termed “global apartheid”? The existence of a left critique on the scale demonstrated at the WSSD is important, and helps explain the following ideological contradiction: the tendency of NEPAD’s Pretoria authors and promoters to “talk left” but “walk right”, while at the same time conservative forces shower both NEPAD and Mbeki’s domestic economic management with praise.
Concerns expressed in protests by South Africa’s new social movements—anti-privatisation activists, the Jubilee anti-debt crusade, rural landless people, apartheid-victims’ groups, youth/students, and many other disaffected poor and working-class people—are a function partly of the way neo-liberalism has been applied locally, and partly of the impression activists have of Mbeki’s agenda: namely, that he is using NEPAD to promote the Washington Consensus philosophy across Africa and indeed across the Third World through other multilateral opportunities. Hence, I begin with South Africa’s socio-economic and political dynamics, before considering NEPAD’s origins and allies, as well as Mbeki’s broader global reform strategy, and the principles and strategies adopted by the left critics.
South Africa under the ANC
The results of South Africa’s April 2004 general elections were not surprising. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) won roughly 70 per cent of the vote, as anticipated, and Mbeki’s brilliant machiavellian divide-and-conquer of the white-dominated opposition parties reduced their combined vote, with Tony Leon’s Democratic Alliance taking 13 per cent. The old apartheid governing elite, in the renamed “New” National Party, won more than 20 per cent of the vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, and 7 per cent in 1999, but were at just 2 per cent in 2004, before folding themselves entirely into the ANC four months later. The Afrikaner bitter-ender Freedom Front had 1 per cent. At close to 5 per cent, half its 1994 share, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party collapsed and lost control of the KwaZulu-Natal province. A few parties whose critique of ANC rule was mainly from the left also fared badly; they lacked credibility for various reasons, access to the media to make their case, and hence any reasonable hope of gaining even a cumulative 10 per cent of the vote.
Progressive forces which did not run candidates for election also experienced the effects of the ANC juggernaut. The Landless People’s Movement, for example, called for a vote boycott and saw the arrest of more than fifty of its members in the ghetto of Thembelihle, near Soweto, on election day (two suffered torture).
Judging by this sort of repressive—indeed, paranoid—security and by the falling living standards experienced by the majority of black South Africans since 1994, Pretoria should be subject to the kinds of insurgent protests witnessed recently in Bolivia and Argentina. To rebut their leftist critics, ANC leaders took to doctoring simple statistics during the campaign. Some illustrations demonstrate why the government can make inspiring claims of delivery, but retain market-oriented policies. It is no secret that Mbeki’s homegrown structural adjustment policy, co-authored by the World Bank in 1996, codified the pro-corporate economic philosophy inherited from apartheid. The result was the doubling of the formal unemployment rate from 16 per cent in 1994 to 32 per cent in 2002. When one considers in addition those millions of people who have given up any hope of finding a job, the rate rises to 43 per cent. Both the public and private sectors have shed more than 10 per cent of formal-sector jobs since liberation in 1994.
Yet, as the election neared, ANC politicians like Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin began insisting that two million new jobs had been created since 1994. His source was an official Labour Force Survey that defines “employment” as including “beg[ging] money or food in public” and “catch[ing] any fish, prawns, shells, wild animals or other food for sale or family food”. Asked about this definition, the main trade union official Zwelinzima Vavi said simply, “It is absurd to record such labour as jobs.”1
In addition, ANC election propaganda bragged of having created “a level of macroeconomic stability not seen in the country for 40 years”.2 In reality, there were three currency crashes over a period of a few weeks in February–March 1996, June–July 1998 and December 2001, ranging from 30 per cent to 50 per cent each, as the rand fell to R13.8 to the US dollar. Each crash led to massive interest rate increases which sapped growth and rewarded speculators. These moments of macroeconomic instability were as dramatic as any in the previous two centuries, including the September 1985 financial panic that split big business from the apartheid regime and paved the way for ANC rule.
Thus, in July 2004, even the Economist Corporate Network conceded that the rand had recovered its strength to above R6.00 to the US dollar because
portfolio managers are putting their money into countries with high returns, and S[outh] A[frica] was among the highest. Portfolio investments accounted for a massive 24% of SA’s gross domestic product, and 65% of the rand’s trading took place offshore.3
At that point, according to the Economist, South Africa’s ranking among all twenty-five emerging markets told the secret of “stability”: South Africa “leads” in currency strength, 1/25, and lowest inflation, 3/25. Yet it lags in GDP growth, 25/25; foreign exchange reserves, 25/25; industrial production, 21/25; and current account, 20/25. As financial consultant Michael Power summarised South Africa’s position, “our real interest rates, cost of capital and unemployment is among the highest; our foreign direct investment inflow is among the lowest.”4
It is here that the core concession made by the ANC during the early 1990s transition deal is apparent, accommodating the desire of white businesses to escape the economic stagnation and declining profits born of a classical organic capitalist crisis, in the context of a sanctions‑induced laager, and amplified by the 1970s–1980s rise of black militancy in workplaces and communities. The deal represented simply this: black nationalists got the state, while white people and corporations could remove the bulk of their capital from the country and yet remain domiciled in South Africa with, thanks to economic liberalisation, even more privileges. Trade, credit, cultural and sports sanctions ended; exchange controls were mainly lifted; luxury imports flooded in; taxes were cut dramatically; and during the late 1990s white people’s incomes rose by 15 per cent and the corporate pre-tax profit share soared back to the 1960s levels associated with apartheid’s heyday.
Poverty and Authoritarianism
Hence inequality spiralled during ANC rule, as even state statistics show. Black South Africans suffered an income crash of 19 per cent from 1995 to 2000, with every indication of further degeneration in subsequent years. The ANC rebuttal is that when state spending is accounted for, the divergence is reversed. Yet notwithstanding deeper poverty, the state raised water and electricity prices, to the point that by 2002 they consumed 30 per cent of the income of households earning less than $70 per month. An estimated ten million people had their water cut off, according to two national government surveys, and ten million were also victims of electricity disconnections, a shocking record in view of the ANC’s 2000 local government election promises of “free basic services” covering water and sanitation, electricity and other municipal functions.
Defenders of the elite transition deal may claim that leftward pressure on the ANC emanates from the South African Constitution’s celebrated socio-economic rights clauses. But the 1996 Constitution appears a bit tattered, partly because the judges are too frightened to take a stand against the state’s neo-liberal policies, and partly because of an incident on 21 March 2004, Human Rights Day (anniversary of the infamous 1960 Sharpeville Massacre). Just before the opening of the Constitutional Court’s beautiful new building in central Johannesburg at the site of the old Fort Prison where Nelson Mandela had been incarcerated, community activists in the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) called a march to protest against the installation of pre-paid water meters in Soweto by the French company Suez, which is running the city’s outsourced water company. City officials banned the peaceful protest on absurd grounds (traffic disturbances—on a Sunday). The police arrested fifty-two activists and bystanders, some simply because they were wearing red shirts, and blocked travel of APF buses into Johannesburg. Neither the judges nor Mbeki—who attended the opening ceremony—uttered a word in the protesters’ defence, so even civil and political rights now appear merely contingent.
That incident aside, the country’s highest court has heard three major cases on socio-economic rights: one led to the death of a man denied kidney dialysis treatment because the judges deemed it too expensive; the next helped the Treatment Action Campaign acquire AIDS medicines for pregnant women because the judges agreed the state, in failing to supply this need itself, was needlessly killing tens of thousands of infants each year; and another allegedly enforced the right to emergency municipal services. But in this last instance, checking back on the successful plaintiff, Irene Grootboom, in her Cape Town ghetto, the South African Sunday Times found her community as destitute in March 2004 as in September 2000, when her case was heard.5
To be sure, the status of women like Grootboom has seen some improvement since the arrival of democracy, especially in reproductive rights, albeit with extremely uneven access. But contemporary South Africa retains apartheid’s patriarchal modes of surplus extraction, thanks both to residual sexual discrimination (women’s pay relative to men’s shrank from 78 per cent to 66 per cent during the late 1990s) and the rural–urban migrant labour system, which is still subsidised by women stuck in the former “Bantustan” homelands. Structured super-exploitation of women is accompanied by an apparent increase in domestic violence associated with rising male unemployment. In widely condemned remarks at an electoral rally on 22 March 2004, just after Human Rights Day, Mbeki said that if ever his sister was to arrive home and tell him she was in love with African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe, he would have to beat her. A spokesperson said the president was only joking.
The AIDS Crisis
Women are also the main caregivers in the home, and bear the highest burden associated with degraded health. Public-sector services continue declining because of underfunding and competition from private providers. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, malaria and AIDS are rife, all far more prevalent than during apartheid, and a decade of life expectancy has disappeared. Most South Africans with HIV still have little prospect of receiving anti-retroviral drugs to extend their lives. Only barely in time for the election did the medicines finally begin to make their way to hospitals and a few clinics, but haltingly and subject to repeated reversals.
During his five years as president, Mbeki has taken various obstinate stands against the poor and the sick. Still, it is unfair to attribute the massive, unnecessary loss of life associated with refusing five million HIV-positive South Africans access to AIDS medicines solely to his notorious “denialist” posture. Early death for millions of South Africans must also be blamed upon structural forces, including pressure on Pretoria by transnational pharmaceutical corporations still adamant about the sanctity of their patents, and by financiers who insist on Pretoria maintaining a budget deficit/GDP ratio of below 3 per cent.
Another adverse factor is employer reaction to the AIDS epidemic, with cost–benefit analyses demonstrating that keeping most of the country’s five million HIV-positive people alive through patented medicines would cost more than the people are “worth”. In October 2001, Anglo American Corporation, the vast Johannesburg/London mining conglomerate, announced that it would provide anti-retroviral drugs to its 14,000 senior staff as part of their medical insurance, but not to the lowest-paid 88 per cent of its 160,000 workers. Brian Brink, Anglo’s senior vice-president for medical operations, said the provision of drug treatment for lower-income employees was too expensive—“the cost will be greater than the saving”.6 In an 11 October 2001 press release, South Africa’s National Union of Mine Workers called the policy “inherently racist and discriminatory, with beneficiaries of the scheme being, in the main, white workers and the black elite. The foot soldiers who generate wealth in the bowels of the earth are excluded”.
Thankfully, however, merciless tendencies associated with the dynamics of global capitalism can sometimes be reversed, as South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign and international allies Act Up, Médecins sans Frontières and even Oxfam showed by forcing countries to reject monopoly patents for multinational pharmaceutical companies on life-giving anti-retroviral drugs, and by driving the price down to affordable levels through generic medicines.
Mbeki has also stood down human rights activists and arms-control groups opposed to his $6 billion purchase of sophisticated weaponry from European corporations. The widespread influence-peddling scandals associated with the arms deal threatened Deputy President Jacob Zuma last year after he allegedly solicited a bribe in a manner the justice minister deemed “prima facie corruption”. They also forced the resignation of several leading ANC politicians and officials.
On the environmental front, the country’s ecosystem is today in worse condition in many crucial respects—e.g., water and soil resources, global warming, fisheries, industrial toxins, genetically modified crops—than during apartheid. For example, in spite of water scarcity, major dam projects are generating destructive environmental consequences downriver, and the extremely high costs of water transfer deter consumption by poor people. The location of natural surface and groundwater remains skewed towards white farmers owing to land dispossession under apartheid. Because a World Bank–authored, neo-liberal land reform policy was adopted just after 1994, less than 3 per cent of arable land was redistributed, as against a 1994–9 ANC government target of 30 per cent.
The systematically repressive side of Mbeki’s regime was unveiled to the world during the August 2002 protests against the WSSD. There was an attempt to ban the Alexandra–Sandton mass march, and police used stun-grenades to disrupt an earlier candle-lit march near the University of Witwatersrand. Leading anti-privatisation activists in the black townships of Johannesburg and Cape Town are repeatedly harassed and detained by police for resisting evictions and utility disconnections. The mainly illegal detentions often result in high-profile acquittals. Treatment Action Campaign members were savagely beaten in early 2003 during a non-violent civil disobedience campaign to acquire medicines.
This is a tough education, but one that African progressives have learned at great cost during the post-independence period, as Frantz Fanon perhaps most eloquently demonstrated in the chapter “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” of his book The Wretched of the Earth. South Africa’s critical social movements, which think globally and act locally and continentally, are increasingly aware of the problems associated with Pretoria’s “talk left, walk right”. A phrase derogatory of ANC culture even emerged from within the SA Communist Party: “Zanufication”, an allusion to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union. After uttering it in an obscure interview published on the Internet, the SACP’s deputy leader Jeremy Cronin was forced to recant under high-profile pressure from the ruling party reminiscent of Soviet-style show trials—which thus proved his point.
NEPAD and Neo-liberalism
South African critics of Mbeki are joined by African intellectuals who demand better from their leaders as well, including those who understand Pretoria’s continental ambitions. To illustrate, at a joint conference in April 2002 in Accra, Ghana, the Council for Development and Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and Third World Network Africa identified the “most fundamental flaws of NEPAD” as follows:
(a) the neo-liberal economic policy framework at the heart of the plan … which repeats the structural adjustment policy packages of the preceding two decades and overlooks the disastrous effects of those policies;
(b) the fact that in spite of its proclaimed recognition of the central role of the African people to the plan, the African people have not played any part in the conception, design and formulation of the NEPAD;
(c) notwithstanding its stated concerns for social and gender equity, it adopts the social and economic measures that have contributed to the marginalisation of women;
(d) that in spite of claims of African origins, its main targets are foreign donors, particularly in the G8;
(e) its vision of democracy is defined by the needs of creating a functional market.7
In sum, the imposition of NEPAD’s neo-liberal logic has already amplified uneven development in Africa, including South Africa. In macroeconomic terms, the “Washington Consensus” entails trade and financial liberalisation, currency devaluation, lower corporate taxation, export-oriented industrial policy, austere fiscal policy aimed especially at cutting social spending, and monetarism in central banking (with high real interest rates).
In microdevelopmental terms, neo-liberalism implies not only three standard microeconomic strategies—deregulation of business, flexibilised labour markets, and privatisation (or corporatisation and commercialisation) of state-owned enterprises—but also various mandates specifically for social sectors: the elimination of subsidies, promotion of cost-recovery and user fees, disconnection of basic state services from those who do not pay, means-testing for social programmes, and reliance upon market signals as the basis for local development strategies. As Stephen Gill has shown, enforcement is crucial, through both a “disciplinary neo-liberalism” entailing constant surveillance, and a “new constitutionalism” that locks these policies in over time.8
There is convincing documentation that the tearing of safety nets by structural adjustment worsens the vulnerability of women, children, the elderly and disabled people. They are expected to survive with less social subsidy and greater strain on the fabric of the family during economic crisis—factors making women more vulnerable to sexual pressures and, therefore, HIV/AIDS.
With the bottom-up problem of durable patriarchy and the top-down resurgence of US petro-militarism (from the oil-filled Gulf of Guinea in the west to the Horn of Africa in the east), Africa’s majority is being squeezed to death. Patents, marketing restrictions and inadequate state-financed research make life-saving medicines unreasonably scarce. Genetically modified food threatens peasant farming. The “Singapore issues” advanced by the G8 countries (investment, competition, trade facilitation, government procurement), together with the grievances of developing nations over the G8’s vast agricultural subsidies, unfair industrial tariffs, incessant services privatisation and intellectual property monopolies, prompted African–Caribbean–Pacific withdrawal from the ministerial summit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Cancun in September 2003, leading to its collapse.
In mitigation, the Bush administration’s new Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) for aid to developing countries is delinked from (declining) USAID budgets, and is scheduled to reach $5 billion in 2006. But by May 2004 only sixteen out of seventy-four potential recipients had passed the “governance” and “economic freedom” tests for MCA aid, of which eight were African (Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal).
The role of the United States in Africa—prior to, during and after the Cold War—is invariably tied to corporate extraction of resources and backed by military might. Washington’s attempt to disguise and legitimise this through aid that carries “good governance” and “social investment” conditionalities dates to the Clinton era, but under Bush’s MCA involves more sophisticated disciplinary neo-liberal surveillance, especially in combination with the World Bank. (The latter’s “Country Policy and Institutional Assessment” gives the following African countries “A” ratings in their quintile measures of relative performance: Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. The number of failing “F” ratings in Africa is twice as large, and contains the most populous and petroleum-rich countries: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Guinea Bisau, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sudan, Togo, and Zimbabwe.)
With so few African states receiving MCA funding, and with so much more at stake than can be handled by the US military expansion into Africa, it is vital for Washington to identify reliable allies in the continent to legitimise and foster both imperialist geopolitics and neo-liberal economics. In July 2004, the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Strategic and International Studies publicly launched a US policy blueprint for Africa requested by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Congress. That document, Rising US Stakes in Africa, recommends seven measures to strengthen US policy in the continent: political stabilisation of Sudan (whose oil is craved by Washington); support for Africa’s decrepit capital markets, which could allegedly “jump start” the MCA; more attention to energy, especially the “massive future earnings by Nigeria and Angola, among other key West African oil producers”; promotion of wildlife conservation; increased “counter-terrorism” efforts, which include “a Muslim outreach initiative”; expanded peace operations, which can be transferred to tens of thousands of African troops thanks to new G8 funding; and more attention to AIDS (whose treatment is feared by pharmaceutical corporations because it will require generic drugs). On all but Sudan, South African co-operation will be crucial for the new US imperial agenda, even if the deputy-sheriff aspect is not mentioned explicitly.
Winning the West’s Approval
Hence we must pose the question forthrightly: does NEPAD qualify as sub-imperialist? The answer is not entirely obvious, in view of South Africa’s hot rhetorical traditions. Just prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Nelson Mandela declared that Bush, “who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust. If there is a country which has committed unspeakable atrocities, it is the United States of America”.9 But within weeks, three Iraq-bound US warships docked and refuelled in Durban, and South Africa’s state-owned weapons manufacturer, Denel, sold $160 million worth of artillery propellants and 326 handheld laser range-finders to the British army, and 125 laser-guidance sights to the US Marines.
George W. Bush visited the South African capital Pretoria in July 2003, and left the impression, according to Johannesburg’s Business Day newspaper, “of a growing, if not intimate trust between himself and Mbeki. The amount of public touching, hugging and backpatting they went through was well beyond the call of even friendly diplomatic duty”.10
By May 2004, Mandela had withdrawn his criticism: “The United States is the most powerful state in the world and it is not good to remain in tension with the most powerful state.”11 A month later, Mbeki joined the G8 summit at Sea Island in the United States, along with Africa’s other main pro-Western rulers: Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, John Kufuor of Ghana, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Treated only to a lunch meeting with G8 leaders which began late and ended early, the Africans promised to help unblock the multilateral trade logjam that emerged the previous September at Cancun.
In spite of the confusing signals from South Africa’s leaders—talking left while walking right—there can be no doubt that from the late 1990s international political power centres have shown increasing trust in Mandela, Mbeki, Trade Minister Alec Erwin, and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, giving them insider access to many elite forums. As global-establishment institutions came under attack and attempted to reinvent themselves with a dose of New South African legitimacy, Pretoria’s lead politicians were allowed to preside over the UN Security Council, the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Commonwealth, the World Commission on Dams, and many other important international and continental bodies. Simultaneously assuming Third World leadership, Pretoria also headed the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity, and the Southern African Development Community.
Then, during a frenetic two-year period beginning in September 2001, Mbeki and his colleagues hosted, led, or played instrumental roles at the following dozen major international conferences or events: the World Conference against Racism (Durban, September 2001); the launch of NEPAD (Abuja, Nigeria, October 2001); the WTO ministerial summit in Doha, Qatar (November 2001); the UN Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico (March 2002); the G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada (June 2002); the launch of the African Union (Durban, July 2002); the WSSD (Johannesburg, August–September 2002); the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (January 2003); the G8 summit in Evian, France (June 2003); George W. Bush’s first trip to Africa (July 2003); the WTO ministerial summit in Cancun, Mexico (September 2003); and the IMF/World Bank annual meeting (Dubai, September 2003).
However, Mbeki’s administration failed to capitalise on these opportunities, achieving virtually nothing for Africa:
● At the UN racism conference, Mbeki colluded with the European Union to reject the demand of NGOs and African leaders for slavery/colonialism/apartheid reparations.
● NEPAD provided merely a homegrown version of the Washington Consensus.
● At Doha, Trade Minister Alec Erwin split the African delegation so as to prevent a repeat of the denial of consensus that had foiled the Seattle summit in December 1999.
● Manuel was summit co-leader in Monterrey, where he legitimised ongoing IMF/World Bank strategies, including lack of progress on debt.
● From Kananaskis, Mbeki departed with only an additional $1 billion commitment for Africa (aside from funds already pledged at Monterrey).
● The African Union supported both NEPAD and the Zimbabwean regime of President Robert Mugabe.
● At the Johannesburg WSSD, Mbeki undermined UN democratic procedure, facilitated the privatisation of nature, and did nothing to address the plight of the world’s poor majority.
● In Davos, global elites ignored Africa.
● From Evian, Mbeki returned with nothing.
● For hosting a leg of Bush’s Africa trip, Mbeki merely became the US “point man” on Zimbabwe, and he avoided any argument over Iraq’s recolonisation.
● In Cancun, the collapse of trade negotiations—again catalysed by an African walkout—left Erwin “disappointed”.
● At Dubai, with Manuel leading the IMF/World Bank Development Committee, there was no Bretton Woods democratisation, new debt relief or post–Washington Consensus policy reform.
Space available does not permit a recounting of these consistent defeats for African interests. In sum, however, Pretoria’s failures left South Africa slotted into place as a sub-imperial partner of Washington and the European Union. Although such a relationship dates back to the apartheid era, the ongoing conquest of Africa—in political, military and ideological terms—and the reproduction of neo-liberalism together require a strategy along the lines of NEPAD.
The origins of the plan are revealing. Mbeki had embarked upon a late 1990s “African Renaissance” branding exercise, which he endowed with poignant poetics but not much else. The lack of content was somewhat remedied during 2000 in a powerpoint skeleton unveiled in Mbeki’s meetings with Clinton in May, at the Okinawa G8 meeting in July, at the UN Millennium Summit in September, and at a subsequent EU gathering in Portugal. The skeleton was fleshed out in November 2000 with the assistance of several economists and was immediately ratified during a special South African visit by World Bank president James Wolfensohn. By this stage, Mbeki had managed to sign on as partners two additional rulers from the crucial north and west of the continent: Bouteflika and Obasanjo, both leaders of countries that suffered frequent mass protests and various civil, military, religious and ethnic disturbances.
Addressing an international gathering in Davos, January 2001, Mbeki made clear whose interests NEPAD would serve: “It is significant that in a sense the first formal briefing on the progress in developing this programme is taking place at the World Economic Forum meeting. The success of its implementation would require the buy in from members of this exciting and vibrant forum!”12 International capital would benefit from large infrastructure construction opportunities, privatised state services, ongoing structural adjustment (which lowers the social wage and workers’ real wages), intensified rule of international property law, and various of NEPAD’s sectoral plans, all co-ordinated from a South African office at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, a World Bank–style institution staffed with neo-liberals and open to economic and geopolitical gatekeeping. Once Mbeki’s plan was merged with an infrastructure-project initiative offered by Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, it won endorsement at the last meeting of the Organisation of African Unity, in June 2001. (In 2002, the OAU became the African Union, and NEPAD serves as its official development plan.)
The actual NEPAD document was publicly launched in Abuja, Nigeria, by African heads of state on 23 October 2001. In February 2002, global elites celebrated NEPAD at venues ranging from the World Economic Forum meeting in New York to the summit of self-described “progressive” national leaders (but including Britain’s Tony Blair) who gathered in Stockholm to forge a global “Third Way”. Elite eyes were turning to the “scar on the world’s conscience” (as Blair described Africa), hoping NEPAD would serve as a large enough bandaid, for G8 leaders at their June 2002 summit in Canada had rejected Mbeki’s plea for an annual $64 billion in new aid, loans and investments for Africa. So on the one hand, within weeks, NEPAD was endorsed by the inaugural African Union summit of July 2002, by the WSSD as its chapter on Africa, and by the UN heads of state summit in New York. Yet on the other hand, pro-NEPAD lip service could not substitute for the “new constitutionalism” (to borrow Stephen Gill’s phrase) that would translate into long-term, non-retractable leverage over the continent.
The main reason for doubt about Mbeki’s commitment to disciplinary neo-liberalism and the rule of law was his repeated defence of the continent’s main violator of liberal norms, Robert Mugabe, notwithstanding promises such as: “With the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Africa undertakes to respect the global standards of democracy, the core components of which include political pluralism, allowing for … fair, open and democratic elections periodically organised to enable people to choose their leaders freely.”13 Mbeki termed Zimbabwe’s demonstrably unfree and unfair March 2002 presidential election “legitimate”, and repeatedly opposed punishment of the Mugabe regime by the Commonwealth and the UN Human Rights Commission. In February 2003, South African foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stated, “We will never criticise Zimbabwe.” The NEPAD secretariat’s Dave Malcomson, responsible for international liaison and co-ordination, then admitted to a reporter, “Wherever we go, Zimbabwe is thrown at us as the reason why NEPAD’s a joke.”14 Zimbabwean democratic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai denounced a February 2003 gambit to readmit Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth as
the disreputable end game of a long-term Obasanjo–Mbeki strategy designed to infiltrate and subvert not only the Commonwealth effort but, indeed, all other international efforts intended to rein in Mugabe’s violent and illegitimate regime. Through this diabolical act of fellowship and solidarity with a murderous dictatorship, General Obasanjo and Mr Mbeki have now openly joined Mugabe as he continues to wage a relentless war against the people of Zimbabwe. They are now self-confessed fellow travellers on a road littered with violence, destruction and death.15
At the June 2003 G8 meeting in Evian, France, world elites were well aware of NEPAD’s lack of street credibility. Paltry concessions were provided to Mbeki on the UN Global Fund as regards health-spending, as well as on what the Financial Times termed “year-old pledges to provide an extra $6 billion a year in aid to Africa”, a fraction of the amount spent on the Iraq War just weeks earlier.16 More than one hundred thousand activists protested in the Swiss cities of Geneva and Lausanne against the G8. In this context of delegitimised elite politics, NEPAD still had potential in the view of the West.
South African Imperialism?
What of the sub-imperial part of the equation? The most important new factor is the exploitative regional role of Johannesburg business, especially in banking, breweries, construction, mining, services and tourism. If large Johannesburg corporations have benefited from NEPAD’s lubrication of capital flows out of African countries, these flows then mainly proceeded to London, where the Anglo American Corporation, DeBeers, Old Mutual insurance, South African Breweries, Liberty Life insurance and other huge South African firms relisted their financial headquarters during the late 1990s.
In any event, the quite substantial regional acquisitions by South African corporations have mainly been takeovers, not greenfield projects. Thus, on the one hand, in spite of a high-profile mid-2002 endorsement of NEPAD by 187 individuals and firms, led by Anglo American, BHP Billiton and the Absa banking group, there were no investments made in twenty key infrastructure projects two years later, only vocal corporate complaints that NEPAD’s emerging peer-review system had insufficient teeth to discipline errant politicians. According to the chief reporter of (pro-NEPAD) Business Day in mid-2004, “The private sector’s reluctance to get involved threatens to derail NEPAD’s ambitions.”17
On the other hand, the prospect that Johannesburg-based corporations would be “new imperialists” was of “great concern”, according to Pretoria’s then public enterprises minister, Jeff Radebe, in early 2004: “There are strong perceptions that many South African companies working elsewhere in Africa come across as arrogant, disrespectful, aloof and careless in their attitude towards local business communities, work-seekers and even governments.”18 But Radebe could also have been describing his Cabinet colleague Thabo Mbeki. The Sunday Times reported from the July 2003 African Union meeting in Maputo that Mbeki was viewed by other African leaders as
too powerful, and they privately accuse him of wanting to impose his will on others. In the corridors they call him the George Bush of Africa, leading the most powerful nation in the neighbourhood and using his financial and military muscle to further his own agenda.19
The antidote to sub-imperialism by South Africa may well be the recent rise of social-movement protest at home and across the continent against repression and neo-liberalism. Not only do the left forces nearly uniformly oppose NEPAD, they also openly call for their trade ministers to repeat the Seattle and Cancun rejections of the WTO, and for their finance ministers to default on the illegitimate foreign debt and demand reparations for slavery, colonialism and apartheid. They advocate not only kicking the World Bank and IMF out of their countries, but also international strategies for defunding and abolishing the Bretton Woods institutions. South Africa’s Jubilee movement was a catalyst of the “World Bank Bonds Boycott”, asking of its Northern allies: Is it ethical for socially conscious people to invest in the bank by buying its bonds (responsible for 80 per cent of the institution’s resources) and to receive dividends which represent the fruits of enormous suffering?
Other examples of what is being termed “deglobalisation” include successful efforts to deny the status of trade-related intellectual property rights to AIDS medicines, to keep genetically modified organisms out of several Southern African agricultural markets, and to resist French and British water privatisers and other promoters of the General Agreement on Trade in Services. To these ends, the African Trade Network and the Gender and Trade Network in Africa put intense pressure on the continent’s delegates to reject the WTO’s Cancun proposals.
On a more local level, there are inspiring examples of what might be termed “decommodification”, especially in South Africa. There, independent left movements have struggled to turn basic needs into human rights, winning important partial victories: the provision of health services, including free anti-retroviral medicines to fight AIDS; free water (fifty litres per person per day); free electricity (1 kilowatt-hour per person per day); thoroughgoing land reform; a prohibition on evictions and the disconnection of services; free education; and even a “basic income grant”, as advocated by churches and trade unions. The idea is that such services should be provided to all as a human right by a genuinely democratic state, and to the degree that it is feasible, financed through cross-subsidisation by imposition of much higher prices for luxury consumption.
Because the commodification of everything is still under way across Africa, decommodification could form the basis of a unifying agenda for a broad social reform movement, if linked to the demand to “rescale” many political–economic responsibilities that are now handled by embryonic world-state institutions (including even UN agencies, presently under the influence of neo-liberal US and EU administrations). The decommodification principle is already an enormous threat to imperial interests, as in, for example, the denial of private corporate monopolies based on “intellectual property”; resistance to biopiracy and the exclusion of genetically modified seeds from African agricultural systems (as agreed to by far-sighted state officials in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola, notwithstanding the droughts of the early years of this century); the renationalisation of industries and utilities (particularly when privatisation strategies systematically fail, as is happening across Africa); the recapture of indigenous people’s land (as is becoming necessary against Shell in Nigeria’s Delta region, and against the World Bank in Botswana); and the empowerment of African labour forces against multinational and local corporate exploitation.
To make any progress, delinking from the most destructive circuits of global capital will also be necessary, combining local decommodification strategies with the call to close the World Bank, IMF and WTO, and with rejection of the United Nations’ neo-liberal functions and lubrication of US imperialism. Beyond that, the challenge for Africa’s progressive forces, as ever, is to establish the difference between “reformist reforms” and reforms that advance a “non-reformist” agenda. The latter attempts to win gains that do not strengthen the internal logic of the system, but that instead empower the system’s opponents. Hence, unlike reformist reforms, non-reformist reforms do not have a co-optive character. Neither do they lessen the momentum of reformers (as do many successful reformist reforms). Rather, they increase it by opening up new terrains of struggle. The non-reformist reform strategy would include generous social policies stressing decommodification, exchange controls, and more inward-oriented industrial strategies allowing democratic control of finance and ultimately of production itself. These sorts of reforms would strengthen democratic movements, directly empower producers (especially women) and, over time, open the door to the contestation of capitalism itself.
However, not only does imperialism stand in the way of such change, so do Pretoria’s various sub-imperial barriers and Mbeki’s destructive policies at home. Notwithstanding their occasionally leftist rhetoric, Mbeki and his colleagues are situating their country as the continent’s leading bourgeois-aspirant state, i.e., as the modern international equivalent of an old-fashioned South African Bantustan, where the co-opted elite prosper under conditions of global apartheid and untenable local class apartheid. But like racial apartheid, South Africa’s role of assisting imperialism and neo-liberalism in Africa will also pass—largely because of progressive resistance, but also because the elite strategy is demonstrably unsustainable.
1. Terry Bell, “How ‘Non Jobs’ Come to the Aid of Government Election Propaganda”, Sunday Independent (Johannesburg), 15 February 2004.
2. South African Presidency, Towards a Ten Year Review (Pretoria: South African Government Communication and Information Service, 2003), p. 101.
3. Lesley Stones, “Volatile Rand, AIDS Deter Foreign Investors”, Business Day (Johannesburg), 19 July 2004.
4. Michael Power, “Strong Rand Is Stairway to Ruin”, Business Day (Johannesburg), 16 July 2004.
5. Bonny Schoonakker, “Treated with Contempt”, Sunday Times (Johannesburg), 21 March 2004.
6. James Lamont, “Anglo Baulks at HIV Drug Costs in S. Africa”, Financial Times (London), 9 October 2001.
7. Cited in Patrick Bond, ed., Fanon’s Warning: A Civil Society Reader on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2002), pp. 32–3.
8. Stephen Gill, Power and Resistance in the New World Order (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
9. Tom Fenton, “Mandela Slams Bush on Iraq”, CBSNews.com, 30 January 2003 [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/30/iraq/main538607.shtml].
10. “Mbeki’s Gift” (editorial), Business Day (Johannesburg), 11 July 2003.
11. Associated Press, “Mandela Extends Conciliatory Hand to United States”, 24 May 2004.
12. Thabo Mbeki, “Briefing: President Thabo Mbeki at the World Economic Forum”, Review of African Political Economy 28, no. 87 (March 2001), p. 108.
13. NEPAD framework document, Abuja, Nigeria, October 2001 [http://www.nepad.org/documents/nepad_english_version.pdf], paragraph 79.
14. Aubrey Nevin, “Zimbabwe Hampers NEPAD’s Efforts”, Business Day (Johannesburg), 28 March 2003.
15. Cited in Masimba Manyanya, ed., NEPAD’s Zimbabwe Test: Why the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Is Already Failing (Harare: Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, 2003), foreword.
16. “G8 Vows to ‘Fully Commit’ to Developing African Nations”, Financial Times (London), 2 June 2003.
17. Rob Rose, “Companies ‘Shirking’ Their NEPAD Obligations”, Business Day (Johannesburg), 24 May 2004.
18. South African Press Association, “SA’s ‘Imperialist’ Image in Africa”, 30 March 2004.
19. Ranjeni Munusamy, “The George Dubya of Africa”, Sunday Times (Johannesburg), 13 July 2003.