Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Blueprint Polishes the Chains of Global Apartheid

Lucy Harraway

JOHANNESBURG, May 29 2003 (IPS) - With this year’s Group of Eight (G-8) summit starting in Evian, France, this weekend, civil society critics are united on the belief that while the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has good intentions, it will not break the chains of global capital.

This was the general consensus at a conference hosted by the National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI) last weekend. The conference brought together civil society and trade union movements from across the continent to formulate a collective assessment on NEPAD about “what would constitute an acceptable development path for Africa,” said Ravi Naidoo, director of NALEDI.

Critics say the partnership is yet another exclusionary attempt by African leaders to cut a deal with the G-8 countries on the basis that, “we will do what you want us to do, in exchange for you giving us more money,” says Jimi Adesina, professor of Sociology at Rhodes University in South Africa.

G-8 comprises Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, the United States and Russia. Its leaders will meet NEPAD founders, who include Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in Evian.

While NEPAD talks about African self-reliance and ownership by people united in their diversity – the people themselves were never consulted in the process. This has triggered a wave of Afro-pessimism that places the future of the partnership in jeopardy.

“NEPAD is about talking left and acting right,” says Masimba Manyanya, former chief economist in the Zimbabwean ministry of finance and editor of a booklet to be released by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD). “It is exclusionary and reduces African citizens to recipients of abstract social and economic policies that they were not party to.”

In a forward to the booklet entitled NEPAD’s Zimbabwe Test: Why the New Partnership for Africa’s Development is Already Failing, ZIMCODD chairperson Jonah Gokova calls NEPAD a “homegrown rehashing of the Washington Consensus, augmented by transparently false promises of good governance and democracy”.

African civil society, largely ignored by the African leaders, says the partnership’s commitment to democracy, is merely a ruse.

“Rather than breaking the chains of global apartheid, NEPAD is polishing them,” says Patrick Bond of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “The NEPAD document is a top-down imposed blueprint that reeks of technicism, a scent that would dissipate partially if exposed to the fires of popular debate.”

Critics point out that, after the leading African heads of government had discussed NEPAD among themselves they appear to have gone first to the Western capitals and the representatives of international private capital before consulting with their own people.

And, until 2002, no African non-governmental organization (NGO) and broader social movement, trade union, church or women’s group had been consulted.

Rather, African leaders had extensive consultation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2000 and 2001. Major transnational corporate executives and associated government leaders were consulted at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in 2001 and in New York in 2002, and at the G-8 summit in Tokyo in 2000 and in Genoa, Italy, in 2001.

For civil society, NEPAD is simply a mirror reflection of Africa’s socio-historical past marked by neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes.

Behind a smokescreen of people-centre, pro-poor and gender-sensitive rhetoric, the programmes entrenched economic principles that privatised essential services, and socialised the costs and spread poverty.

“NEPAD is simply an attempt to reverse the failed neo-liberal experiences of the 1980s and 1990s and provide a platform for their political acceptability now,” says Manyanya. “International interests are being served behind the pretence of African development. The real promise to the Africans is simply the recycling of crude forms of governance.”

Last week’s conference criticised NEPAD for failing to identify the past conditions attached to neo-liberalism.

“NEPAD is a … programme driven by African elites with a bias towards G-8 politics and a misunderstanding of the actual African issues,” said Naidoo.

NEPAD ignores the wealth of experience and research made by the eminent African analysts of the 20th century such as Claude Ake, Samir Amin, Bade Onimode and Steve Biko. The Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa and Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery, both developed during the eighties – were overlooked while NEPAD’s architects bedded the corporate agenda.

“You don’t start dealing with your own development crisis by begging someone else to give you this or that – this time 64 billion U.S. dollars per annum donation,” says Adesina.

“The substance of NEPAD is historical. There is no recognition of past African initiatives … NEPAD is a continuation of the policies that got Africa into trouble in the first place,” said Naidoo.

But civil society’s discontent with NEPAD risks becoming a toothless tiger unless it moves away from being cynical and critical towards creating a real and feasible alternative programme, Manyanya says.

“The hammering by civil society of NEPAD actually provides an opportunity to discuss real continent-wide issues of African recovery centred on human development rather than capital accumulation. The criticism mustn’t be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end.”

The basis of the civil society debate is that no African country can change its economic and political relations within the international system without pulling down the obstacles to its own development, such as the character and role of African leadership. This depends on the mobilisation and engagement of the African people who have mostly heard about NEPAD only through hearsay.

The Accra declaration of 2002 by African academics of the Council for Development and Social Science Research in Africa believes that altering the NEPAD document will require, “training and dissemination of knowledge about the issue at stake … with social groups around their interests and strategies of development … in collaboration with our colleagues in the global movement”.

In other words, rather than withdrawing from the global economy, civil society proponents believe that the rebirth of the African continent is about reorientating African economies towards the local market through regional co-operation and internalisation of development.

While civil society supports NEPAD’s intentions, it rejects its chosen strategy. Its biggest challenge now is to develop an alternative that includes the same noble ideas of “self-reliance” and “ownership”.

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