“Africa’s Perspective”: Discussions around the G-20 Summit
Fekadu Bekele, (PhD)
July 6, 2017
Over the last three months there have been seminars and meetings related to the G-20 conference which will be held on the 7th and 8th of this month in Hamburg. The conference deals with the economic crises in many African countries, and how to ultimately overcome the economic and social crises that are endemic in the continent. The international community still believes that it is possible to tackle “the continent’s economic and social crises by applying the same policies as in the past, however by giving them different names. The “new” policies and programs will be put in place to keep the status quo in many African countries. African countries must be checked again and again so that they remain within the circuit of global capitalistic production and reproduction systems. The main agenda of the G-7 and the G-20 is to ensure Africa’s weak position within the global market. In this regard the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank under the auspicious of the G-20 published a guideline on how foreign investments could be attracted to various African countries. The two sister organizations the IMF and the WB in cooperation with the African Development Bank have worked out a “reform program” with the name “Compact with Africa”. The German Government itself under its Ministry for Development and Cooperation (BMZ) worked out the so-called “Marshall Plan for Africa”. It is widely believed that by combining these two programs African countries will be able to rise economically. The international community and its institutions believe that after 60 years of trial and error of diverse economic policies under the auspicious of the IMF and the World Bank, it is able to solve the challenges that many African countries are facing.
Related to these programs and to the G-20 conference there have been many seminars that try to analyze the merit and demerit of the G-20 conference. To my understanding, even within those critically-minded organizations and persons that seem to be critical about the IMF and World Bank policies, Free Trade and globalization, there is an accepted belief that the economic and social crises in many African countries could only be alleviated if the West supports the continent within the framework of globalization and gives more assistance. There are only a few that reject the policies of the IMF and the World Bank. These individuals and groups however do not go far away and try to analyze the root causes of the crises in many African countries. They neither have a better alternative that can tackle the root causes of the social and economic crises that prevail in many African countries. Without understanding and analyzing the root causes of the problem, one cannot work out an effective method that combats poverty and underdevelopment in many African countries.
Surprisingly some organizations that are internationally known, and that claim to be ecologically aware and are fighting for the implementation of democratic values in each country, have invited some economists from the African continent that do not have good records in dealing with the continent’s problems. These experts believe that the economic crises in many African countries could be solved by applying only neo-liberal economic policies, among them economists like Dr. Carlos Lopes, who used to work for the Economic Commission for Africa as an Executive Secretary, and now, teaches development policy in the University of Cape Town. The expert from Guinea-Bissau tried to convince us that the situations in many African countries are not as negative as they are portrayed. Dr. Carlos Lopes told us that the continent has the highest returns on investment in the world, and has the best asset manager in the world. He even tried to tell us that some countries in Africa like Mauritius are the biggest investors in the world. He stressed again and again that he works with facts which he has in his pockets. His facts however are numbers that do not reflect the living conditions of the African people. The existing social, economic, cultural, political, and military situations in many African countries seem to paint a different picture. The foundation that has invited Dr. Carlos Lopes has also invited some economists from Nigeria and South Africa that echo the opinions of the speculators from Wall Street. Dr. Carlos and his followers who are strict adherents of a free market economy, and that are advancing the interests of multinational companies do not seem to be interested in the real conditions that are existing in many African countries. The experts do not even try to come up with solutions to fulfill the basic needs of the African masses without which a healthy economy cannot function. They do not even show the slightest sign of feeling about the sufferings of the African masses, in big African cities, like Lagos, Johannes Berg, Nairobi, and Addis Ababa. They do not believe in ordered and aesthetical lives for the masses. In their eyes, the masses are condemned to live like that. In these big cities the so-called investors that have intimate connections with the international capitalist order are throwing hundreds of thousands of people into newly created slum areas. These and the existing cultural, psychological, and political crises that are visible to any ordinary person are not a matter of concern. Experts like Dr. Carlos Lopes believe that there is no alternative than applying the same policy that threw the continent into abject poverty and resource plundering. They do not believe in holistic models that could eradicate all the complex problems. They are unfamiliar to manufacturing activities that expand market economic activities across a given country, division of labor that is essential for the development of a middle class and hence a capitalist economy, and science and technology that is vital for a genuine economic development within a given country. These experts are alien to social systems, to the building of nation-states and national wealth. What interests them are simple direct investments that bring the highest returns for the investors. On the other hand, they have a misconception about economic growth which is detached from real economic development. In their beliefs economic growth must be understood as an end in itself, and not to alleviate the living standards of the African masses. Therefore, the African masses do not have aspirations and dreams to lead a better life. They do not even understand that the living conditions that are prevailing in many African countries are contradicting natural and cosmic order. To my understanding and observation those who attend such kinds of seminars could not exactly understand what these experts were trying to tell us.
Fortunately, there are also other seminars in which different views could be reflected. In these seminars one could hear critical views. The organization that has organized such kind of a seminar supports farmers in many Third World countries so that they can improve their farming activities to deal with drought situations. “Bread for the World”( Brot für die Welt) have invited well informed and concerned Africans from various countries of the continent. Even those who wanted to defend the “Economic Partnership Agreement with African Countries” that was initiated almost 10 years ago, were not as aggressive as I have experienced in other discussions. Personalities from different parties and those who intimately accompanied the Partnership Agreement were open to hear the concerns and critical views from those who were invited from the African continent. Some parliamentarians who now work as advisors for non-governmental organizations told us openly that parliamentarians are divided on the issue, and some prominent members are in favor of abandoning the Free Trade Agreement for a while until African countries reach a certain level of economic development. I think this is a good sign. On the other side some critical Africans are not entirely in favor of a Free Trade deal, since Free Trade by definition implies that countries who accept the agreement will be compelled to import all kinds of products. If this is the case, economically weak countries will be affected from two sides. Governments will lose income from export and import taxes, while their production potentials will be entirely affected or will be damaged. That means the Free Trade deal, if it becomes operational, will destroy the continent’s production potential, and many African countries become markets for EU products. This means that African countries could not widen their manufacturing activities from within which would enable them to develop protracted market structures that are based on science and technology. The fact that African countries do not have diversified products that can be sold on the world market and are simply exporters of raw materials will be compelled to specialize on few products that are saleable in the EU market. Economically seen, African countries could not develop broad markets structures that enable them to create job opportunities for those who are in search of employment opportunities. Some participants have also questioned the merits of Free Trade deal, because the social and political impacts are incalculable. Free Trade deals do not democratize African societies, they rather strengthen dictatorship, and the development of a cultivated middle class is practically impossible. The new social class in different African countries will be attracted to consume luxury products that are imported from Europe and elsewhere. This will have negative impacts on the trade balance of each African country. That means the cultural implication of such a deal is very negative, and countries that have agreed to practice the Free Trade deal could develop “a new culture” that makes the new generation socially, politically, and ecologically unaware. Those were the concerns that were more or less discussed in the meeting.
By in large those invited from Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal are more matured and have progressive attitudes. In their views societies must be regulated so that the people can understand their duties and rights. The fact that they have studied the consequences of globalization and the structural adjustment programs, they are very critical towards Free Trade and market radicalism. They see on the ground, that because of globalization, their capital cities become dumping grounds of all kinds of products that damage the health of their people and the environment. Thanks to the organizers that gave ample opportunities for those participants who wanted to address their concerns and views. I think these kinds of open and democratic discussion is good for Europe and Africa. Mutual understanding and open discussions, and to listen to the concerns of others is a sign of maturity. This also shows that the participants are not any more concerned about short-term gains but are interested in a long-term perspective that can benefit both Europe and Africa. Unfortunately, the EU as the main actor did not send the person that is assigned for this purpose, though the organizers have also invited the EU to take part in the discussion. There is a difference between the EU as a regional organization, and those European governments. It seems that the EU becomes more omnipotent and wants to determine the direction of these kinds of events in other countries. One German journalist who opposes the idea of Free Trade told us that the EU wants to impose its own will without consulting with its African counterparts. The journalist himself is a member of Attac, a civil society movement which opposes globalization. Attac, a member of an international organization network for global justice, is of the opinion that neoliberalism and globalization produce poverty across many Third World countries. According to the journalist Free Trade and the ongoing globalization are responsible for a mass exodus from many African countries. In his view to compel African governments to accept the Free Trade deal will jeopardize the situation.
In other meetings the direction of the discussions is a little bit different, and it seems that the organizers are not interested in deep discussions that are more critical to the prevailing capitalist order that perpetuates poverty and underdevelopment in many African countries. For many it is still not clear that the driving force behind economic, social, cultural, political, psychological and military crises and the plight for the African masses is the existing global capitalist order. The fact that global capitalism controls the resources of many African countries, and the fact that many African countries are integrated within the circuit of this kind of production and reproduction system that benefits and strengthens few capitalist countries, while impoverishing the African masses is not a matter of debate. In all political spectrums, right or left, however, varied in degrees, the status quo must remain. The world dominance order must not be put into question, since questioning the existing dominating international order contradicts the real politics that has existed hitherto. All countries, small or big must be abided by the existing international order, irrespective of the sufferings and exploitations that the masses are experiencing every day. In this way under the pretext of international order African governments should not be allowed to organize their own system in a way that enables them first of all to fulfill the basic needs of their people and introduce systematic industrialization. By formulating every ten years “new economic policies” that have different names but in actual fact that are not inherently different from the previous economic policies of the past six decades, whether intentionally or not, international organizations, like the IMF and the World Bank deepen the social and economic crises in many African countries. African countries must not be seen as politically independent, and must accept what the so-called international community orders them to do so.
However, such a short-sighted view and strictly adhering to one ideology sooner or later will have negative impacts even on the Western capitalist countries. Since globalization and the Free Trade doctrine could inevitably worsen the situations in many African countries, masses of people will be compelled to come to Europe in order to find new opportunities. This will inevitably create social grievances and conflicts in many European countries. This will in turn pave the way for the rise of right-wing parties and movements that will endanger the entire system in each European country. Under this kind of circumstance, it is still advantageous not to put much pressure on African governments. Since all economic policies of the past that were introduced in the name of the free market economy under the auspicious of the IMF and the World Bank have failed, African governments must be allowed to choose the best option that brings genuine economic development in each country. From this perspective, it must be clear for all groups that advance a strict market economic policy, and for those that are a little bit critical to such kind of a free-market ideology, a systematic organization of the African economic and social order that can free individual creative activities will also benefit the capitalist countries in the long run. However, this is not possible with the strict ideological nature of the market economy and the fact that economic policies are being formulated and implemented from the perspective of short-term profit. At the same time the nature and inherent mechanism of global capitalism does not allow other countries to go their own ways. Irrespective of the pressures from the international community, however, African governments’ must become bold in dealing with their own societies, and they must not be dictated by the so-called international organizations. Every government is responsible for its own people, and as such it must advance the interests of its own people. African governments must learn from the experiences of other countries, like Japan and South Korea. Even one can learn from the social history of Europe. As we are not at the end of history, and since historical and social processes are dynamic, and we should not lose hope as if everything has been decided, and as if some nations have the natural rights of dictating the lives of millions of people on the globe. The social history of Europe and other countries prove again and again that without holistic approaches that are independent of international order there is no genuine economic development. From this perspective the struggle for a just order and genuine development in each country must continue.
In this case all other seminars that are being organized to civilize multinational companies, or introducing transaction taxes, or for that matter stopping or limiting capital flight, which is an impossible task under the prevailing international order and existing political power relations in many African countries, bring more confusion than clarity. Such kinds of seminars with prominent political guests, economists of noble price winners, and others could only perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment. International prominent economist experts like professor Jeffrey Sacks who collect huge amounts of money from foundations “to help the African poor”, and who formulated the so-called Millennium Development Program that has totally failed, and other Keynesian economists who believe that they are on the side of the poor people of this world are not interested in real social and economic freedom that eradicate all the miseries that the people of Africa are facing. By wrongly advising African dictators and portraying some of them as progressive such as the Ethiopian government, which is one of the most primitive and fascistic governments of the world and receives all the necessary help from the capitalist west for its underdevelopment policy and divide and rule system, they are prolonging the quagmire of the African people. The West by siding along with these governments which are known for their gross human right violations, contradicts and violates the humanistic values of its own philosophers from Plato to Hegel and Immanuel Kant, and those great poets and thinkers like Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, and Goethe who teach that true freedom is undivided, and that all human beings have the same genuine aspirations, which is aesthetical development which is intimately related to spiritual development. The capitalist west by rather expanding the ideology of free trade and globalization, consciously or unconsciously expands negative energy across the globe which is the root cause of war, ethnic violence, dictatorship, and plight in many African countries.
Therefore, the fate of Africa and its people could not be solved in such kinds of seminars that do not touch the root causes of the problem. In these seminars it is practically impossible to discuss the need for science and technology that are the basis of genuine economic development. It is neither possible to discuss and debate on the basic need issues nor how each African country could mobilize its resources to meet the demand of its people. The need of developing well-organized cities and villages, and institution buildings that are necessary to mobilize human and natural resources are not the center of discussions in these kinds of seminars. Intentionally or not these seminars that focus on particular subjects will necessarily divert the attitudes of African intellectuals not to concentrate on matters that are necessary to build an integrated economic and social system on the basis of manufacturing activities and systematic industrialization that generate true national wealth.
From this vantage point such kinds of seminars bring more confusion than clarity. Those institutions and internationally known figures that are assigned to formulate economic policies for African countries are not able to present different programs and policies. Since the theoretical and philosophical foundation of the economic policies of the IMF and the World Bank and the African Development Bank is empiricism, the root cause of the African economic and social crises is not addressed. What African countries need is a holistic policy that systematically eradicates all the crises, and creates a social condition for free individual creative activity that brings genuine civilization in each African county. The spiritual power and creative activity of the African masses could only be alleviated through a renaissance type of economic policy by changing the existing political power relationships and repressive state apparatus that are organized to undermine freedom and perpetuate underdevelopment. Only in this way African countries gain true freedom and introduce humanistic values that are vital for the coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups.
Dr. Fekadu Bekele is specialized in development economics. He has published numerous articles on various topics about development economics and international political systems. He advises various institutions and gives lectures on economic development. He is the author of “African Predicaments and the methodology to solve them effectively“
He can be reached at email@example.com