University of the Witwatersand. South Africa
How far back, and from what origins, should Africa's political-economic degeneration be traced? In a recent discussion paper, the leadership of the ruling Alliance between the ANC, South African Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions blame the North and West, in part, for the "global capitalist crisis, rooted in a classical crisis of overaccumulation and declining profitability. Declining profitability has been a general feature of the most developed economies over the last 25 years. It is precisely declining profitability in the most advanced economies that has spurred the last quarter of a century of intensified globalisation. These trends have resulted in the greatly increased dominance (and exponential growth in the sheer quantity) of speculative finance capital, ranging uncontrolled over the globe in pursuit of higher returns" (ANC Alliance, "The Global Economic Crisis and its Implications for South Africa," Discussion document, October 1998).
Is this, perhaps, one "remarkable contribution, in opposition to dictates that have come from elsewhere, to the economic, social, political or cultural development of our respective countries?" Resistance, of even a rhetorical nature, is the first stage of the construction of a new reality, a feasible Utopia that must initially name and condemn the dominant system. The authors of this tract--which was formally adopted and published in the ANC journal Umrabulo and the African Communist--included Joel Netshitenzhe, Jeremy Cronin, Blade Nzimande and Mbhazima Shilowa, all from within the first tier of South African political leadership. This alone is a hopeful sign, emanating as the paper does from a country (and ruling elite) which is generally seen by the North and West as the optimal subimperial site from which extractive capital accumulation in much of the rest of the continent can be relaunched.
My point is not that such rhetoric has shifted South African government practices since late 1998, as many had hoped, but instead that the "extracontinental legitimacy" African intellectuals have sought, and of which Kom appropriately despairs, is being vigorously contested. The durability of the challenge can be located not in musings of influential radical politicians, but in resurgent grassroots activism from churches, social movements, trade unions, environmentalists, women's organisations and youth groups and even by some dissident intellectuals. What bears reminding those of us scratching out a sometimes wretched, sometimes petit-bourgeois existence in the latter category, is the extent to which the much-deteriorated global situation has thrown into question the power relations--especially policy legitimacy--emanating >from Washington, and in turn inspired popular revulsion, which we now need to catch up with and capitalise upon.
The dual economic/political context for this change in the balance of forces is relatively straightforward: the trade/finance nexus which from the 1970s pushed Africa ever further down a steep, slippery slope of declining primary commodity prices and rising debt repayment burdens; and the imposition of macroeconomic and social policies that, flowing >from the resulting desperate economic consequences, allowed the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (and now the World Trade Organisation) to establish a comprador group in finance and trade ministries and central banks across Africa. (Even where there was nominal resistance--Robert Mugabe comes to mind--the power relations have had the same effect, as a decade of failed structural adjustment in Zimbabwe demonstrates.)
These institutions, whose ideology has been called neoliberalism or the "Washington Consensus" (in part because of the importance of the US Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and White House in their operations), are the primary vehicles for ensuring the global capitalist crisis is displaced from the northwestern centre to southern and eastern sites of far less political-economic power. They are also the primary generators of "practical" projects, state socio-economic policies, planning priorities and allegedly "sound" developmental knowledge, more generally.
To be sure, a variety of internal political- economic problems pre-dating neoliberalism bedevil Africa, such as inherited colonial legacies and the illogicality of many borders, and the transition from colonialism to undemocratic, often corrupt, highly- militarised neo-colonial regimes which adopted growth strategies (e.g., luxury-goods-based import substitution) that benefitted a few urban elites at the expense of peasants, women, workers, local manufacturers and the environment. Even so, neither an understanding of their roots, nor the defeat of their legacy can be achieved without acknowledging the relationship between such "internal" factors and the global power relations that assure continuity, not change, in these deep-seated conditions.
But now Kom's query whether we have "mastered the grammar of imperial thought" can be answered, in renewed striving for "a clean break." The ANC- Alliance leaders exclaimed, "As the depth and relative durability of the crisis have become apparent, the dominant economic paradigm (the neoliberal Washington Consensus) has fallen into increasing disrepute." Certainly, by virtue of regular bailouts, of brute force (the obstinance of Lawrence Summers, who as World Bank chief economist in 1991 declared "African countries vastly underpolluted"), and of embarrassed denial ("I never signed a Washington Consensus," proclaimed Michel Camdessus at his last public appearance, in February 2000), neoliberalism seems to survive. A short-lived effort by Joseph Stiglitz (as World Bank chief economist from 1997-99) to introduce a "Post- Washington Consensus" less rigidly demarcated by free-market principles, was truncated by Stiglitz's firing (so that James Wolfensohn could get another five-year appointment as Bank president, according to the respected New York publication Left Business Observer, February 2000).
Thus, as South Africa itself shows, Washington's lack of intellectual and practical credibility does not yet mean a lack of power. In Pretoria, finance minister Trevor Manuel continues to religiously follow the dictates of a supposedly "home-grown" structural adjustment policy, which in fact was supported by the World Bank's macro-economic model and co-authored by two Bank staff. Neither that programme's failure nor the strongest labour movement in Africa (nor the ANC politicians' aforementioned rhetoric) have been able to budge Pretoria out of the Washington lock-step. (Likewise, as chair of the IMF/World Bank Board of Governors, Manuel withstood massive protest at the April 2000 Spring meetings in Washington.)
South African politicians' tendency to "talk left, act right" is not unusual, perhaps. But it is ever harder to confuse the grassroots, as Robert Mugabe learns. For if the African crisis is generating wars and anarchic desperation, there are also strong hints of a radicalised cadreship across civil society. To illustrate, when the Jubilee 2000 "South Summit" convened in Johannesburg last November, the best social movement leaders and activists from Africa met partners from around the Third World and resolved to pressure their respective national leaders to collectively repudiate the debt. (It was Rosemary Nyerere who made this statement to the press, in honour of her late father's unheeded 1983 call for a debtor's cartel.) The Jubilee Summit also called for the closure of the IMF and World Bank. Likewise, in Seattle the following week, the World Trade Organisation was prevented from conducting its business and African trade ministers (with the exception of South Africa's!) plucked up the courage to reject Bill Clinton's dictates.
The Jubilee campaign against debt, and the anti- WTO activists (including the Ghana-based African Trade and Development Network) together represent the best traditions of thinking globally, acting locally, and acting globally. The critiques of global economy >from these sources are certainly informed and supported by the continent's outstanding leftist political economists (e.g., Samir Amin, Fantu Cheru, Thandika Mkandiware, Guy Mhone, Dani Nabudere, Bade Onimode). But just as encouraging is how some of Africa's most talented social movement strategists have turned their attention to debt (Dennis Brutus, Kofi Klu and Njoki Njehu provide three extremely powerful internationalist voices, but in South Africa alone, leaders and intellectuals active on debt include Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Mercia Andrews, Brian Ashley, George Dor, Dot Keet, Neville Gabriel, Fatima Meer, Trevor Ngwane and Jeff Rudin).
To illustrate the potentials of this conjuncture, we might consider in some detail the discursive strategy of the "Lusaka Declaration" signed last May by the leading African social movement and church organisations working on debt, from Burkina Faso, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Dozens of Lusaka meeting participants launched a process for drafting a mass- popular "Africa People's Consensus" to transcend the development orthodoxy of the Washington Consensus and the slightly reformed Post-Washington Consensus, and to do so by building upon similar regional meetings in Accra, Lome and Gauteng in 1998-99 and establishing a representative commission during 2000.
A similar initiative began in West Africa last year, known as the "Dakar 2000" Coordinating Committee. It took on more momentum in a Yaoundˇ conference in January 2000, and by May the Dakar Committee stated, "The new slavery in Africa, which results from the burden of the debt and the enforcement of structural adjustment policies, is an unprecendented shame at the beginning of the 21st century... Like all previous gestures, the initiatives taken in Cologne (June 1999) and in Cairo (April 2000) do not offer any actual solution." A December 2000 Dakar summit is being supported by groups like the Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Dˇveloppement as well as numerous West and Central African social movements and NGOs. Dakar 2000 is networked across the Third World through the International South Group Network's well-respected Harare branch, and internationally through the Paris-based Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financi¸res pour l'Aide aux Cityens, and the Comitˇ pour l'Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde in Brussels.
What kind of organic grounding does this ambitious activist agenda require? If the source of the problem is international capitalist over-accumulation (overproduction) crisis, as the ANC intellectuals insist, nevertheless the broadest possible practical coalition can perhaps better establish itself fighting the specific problem of debt. Indeed, the Lusaka Declaration captures both the impossibility of debt payment and the delegitimisation of development knowledge foisted upon bankrupt African countries: "We insist that debt is a manifestation of the neoliberal world order, the power of international banks to push loans on Southern borrowers without the democratic inputs of parliaments and civil societies, and the disastrous character of the world economy, which charges ever greater prices for imports from the North while paying ever lower prices for Southern exports. In short, debt is one of the most important instruments of Northern domination over the South and the domination of financiers over people, production and nature everywhere."
What, then, is to be done, as a specific response to debt? "We reiterate the call for total debt cancellation and we insist that creditors and G7 countries cannot be allowed, anymore, to dictate the terms of cancellation. Africans ourselves must determine our own development path. We as a civil society have a strong--sometimes-decisive--role in determining the necessary conditions for sustainable development."
In contrast, conventional debt relief (for well- behaved "Highly Indebted Poor Countries," or HIPCs" like Mozambique and Uganda) carries conditions, the Lusaka signatories complained, "invariably associated with the top-down Washington Consensus, which has had such a devastating impact on so many countries these past two decades. Structural Adjustment Programmes and the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility have deepening economic, social and ecological hardships for the vast majority of people on the continent. Enough is enough."
Thus the critique does not stop at debt. The Lusaka signatories demand "the cancellation of debt as part of a broader struggle to fundamentally transform the current world economic order and transfer power from the political leadership of the rich countries and the economic power of Transnational Corporations and international financiers, and their instruments, notably the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation. Likewise, these forces have instruments in the South, namely some of our own technocratic, political and commercial elite who are in the tiny minority of Africans who continue to promote the Washington Consensus."
Here there may be divergence with Kom, who seeks "an African modernity of the sort that can be seen in a good number of Asian countries. These borrow from the West whilst at the same time keeping a look-out for alienation." Yet if some Asian traditions were firmly supported by Washington prior to the 1997-99 crash--political and labour repression, severe gender exploitation, unchecked pollution, ruling-elite cronyism, the insane drive to export to ever more over-accumulated foreign markets, the countries' inability to withstand speculative financial flows, and so many other disfiguring aspects of East Asian capitalism--are these appropriate for Africa? The Consensus process will no doubt shed more light on how to establish national/regional sovereignty and how to apply it in a far more humane and sustainable manner than have Asian rulers.
What Kom terms the "rhythm of the people" has shaken the ground before, the Lusaka signatories argue: "in helping to end apartheid, in successfully questioning ecologically-destructive projects (such as big dams), in banning landmines, and in halting the transnational corporate Multilateral Agreement on Investment, our civil societies have made their mark over the past decade." In all these respects, progressive African activists are supporting the globalisation of people, while rejecting the globalisation of capital and Washington's power and ideology. How far behind will the intellectuals follow, if follow they must?
Patrick Bond is a volunteer research associate of the Alternative Information and Development Centre (https://www.aidc.org.za), and Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand's Graduate School of Public and Development Management (PO Box 601, Wits 2050, South Africa). He authored three recent political-economic manuscripts: Uneven Zimbabwe: A Study of Finance, Development and Underdevelopment (Africa World Press, 1998); Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Pluto and University of Natal Press, 2000) ; and Cities of Gold, Townships of Coal (Africa World Press, 2000).