Survival in contemporary Africa


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THERE is a growing consensus that despite the emerging sites of hope on the African political landscape, the region still faces daunting obstacles to growth, development and peace.1 Contemporary discourses on Africa, even where optimistic, reveal a certain doubt as to the continent’s future. Statistical indictors of progress are hardly reflective of the conditions of living and the challenges from structural distortions and contradictions remain formidable. The end of the cold war and the increasing integration of the continent into the global economy have generated new dynamics, pressures, expectations and fears.

The triumph of the market and the demise of communism has not only increased the power and influence of donors, lenders and the multilaterals, but also posed severe challenges and opportunities for the African continent. On one hand, there is the opportunity to fully integrate into the emerging global capitalist order to exploit the developments in science and technology, the new information revolution, and the expansion of the global market. Such integration, it is argued, will open up extensive opportunities for trade, investment, foreign aid and support for other developmental objectives.2 On the other, the changes in the global market hold out the risks of further marginalization and the redirection of investments and aid to other parts of the world.

The complaints about aid and compassion fatigue by the donors are evidence of increasing frustration with the intractable and complex problems and contradictions of the continent. It is contended by those who see the deepening crisis of the region as an inhibition to full and effective participation in the so called new global order that the legacies of colonial and neocolonial exploitation and mismanagement, the crisis of the state and society, and conditions of poverty, foreign domination, instability, institutional and infrastructural decay and dislocation make effective participation in the global order almost impossible.3 Even the World Bank is of the view that Africa’s future, in the increasingly complex and competitive global order is at best bleak and uncertain, that it is ‘falling further behind the rest of the world,’ and that current projections point at a ‘depressed per capita income level’ for the future.4

This sort of projection raises several questions, not just about the future of Africa but also about its post-cold war relations with other regions of the world. What sort of internal transformations are needed to empower the region to take advantage of current and future changes in the global order? Is the global system structured in such a way as to make it possible for a debt-ridden, crisis ridden and poverty stricken region to effectively and profitably participate in the emerging global dispensation?

How will ongoing implementation of orthodox structural adjustment packages as well as difficult political liberalization programmes in the context of deepening crisis and global marginalization facilitate or mediate Africa’s participation in the new globalization? Are current political balances sufficient to guarantee an effective and maybe productive interaction and participation in the global order? How has globalization affected the ongoing processes and politics of transition in Africa?



Is the global system really changing? What exactly do we mean by change? These questions might appear simplistic, even mundane. But they are important to a holistic appreciation of the depth and implications of current movements in the global system. Until the recent explosion of the Asian myth evidenced in the near total economic breakdown of the so called ‘Asian Tigers’ as well as the crisis in Latin America, Japan and parts of Europe, it was almost considered a sin to be critical of the new globalization, given its numerous promised benefits. The Asian crisis brought the world to a new reality and encouraged a re-examination of not just the role of the multilaterals but also the value of orthodox economic theory, especially in a developing country context.

Without doubt, the global system is entering a new era. The end of the 20th century has ushered in unprecedented and largely unanticipated changes, especially in the context of the rapidity and decisiveness with which these changes have occurred:5 the reunification of Germany with the collapse of the Berlin Wall; the peace talks between Israel and Palestine; the formal end of apartheid in South Africa; the collapse of the Soviet Union as a super power and nation; the widespread adoption of market reform programmes as dictated and supervised by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the emergence of the United States as the hegemonic military and economic power in the world.6

As well, we can add a renewed role for the United Nations especially in the areas of humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and peacemaking; the preponderance of micronationalism; and efforts by the United States to sell the ‘American way of life’ as the only credible alternative left for the entire world in the face of the assumed victory of the bourgeoisie over communism and totalitarianism.7 To this already impressive list of novel developments, we can also add the deluge of struggles for multipartyism which have altered the political landscape of many nations, especially in Africa.



These changes have precipitated a near redundancy of non-alignment as a political/ideological posture in global power relations; the drastic alteration of cold war based foreign policy platforms, and promoted the emergence of new economic alignments or trade blocs. Of course, we are also beginning to witness new immigration restrictions which ‘display more racist tendencies toward minorities, particularly of African descent.’8 Interestingly, the end of the cold war and the triumph of the market and the United States have received intellectual support and rationalization from scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his ‘End of History’ thesis, and Samuel P. Huntington in his ‘Clash of Civilizations’ postulations.9

The changes outlined above have, in several regards, altered the content and direction of global social, economic and political relations. As the World Bank jubilantly declared in its World Development Report 1995: ‘These are revolutionary times in the global economy. The embrace of market based development by many developing and former centrally planned economies, the opening of international markets, and great advances in the ease with which goods, capital and ideas flow around the world are bringing new opportunities, as well as risks, to billions of people.’10 One can hardly disagree with this new euphoria: communications are faster, cheaper and more open; the activities of governments are increasingly more open to external scrutiny; and there are more discussions of economic cooperation and integration beyond ideological and political lines.

Even Cuba and communist China are doing more business with capitalist economies and carrying out internal reforms along market lines, even if they refuse to admit to such ideological somersaults. A crisis ridden continent like Africa, with most of the least developed nations of the world, is increasingly caught in the unpredictable and highly sophisticated and competitive vortex of this emerging global order. Unfortunately, at the economic level, Africa was not quite ready for these changes and so was caught unawares. Politically, however, the dynamics and demands of globalization have contributed to the political liberalization processes in Africa.



One can ask the question: Was Africa prepared for this new ‘revolution’? Are there institutions and structures on ground to receive, mediate, resist, reject, or recompose the products of ongoing changes? What are the ideological platforms on which Africa will be participating in the new globalization and engaging the powerful forces of monopoly capitalism? Finally, how will the plethora of contradictions, conflicts and suspicions all over the region, within and between nations, condition Africa’s location and role in the emerging order?

One would be really stretching the limits of generosity to claim that Africa was ready for the numerous developments within the continent, much less in other parts of the world. Africa was not even prepared for the dramatic changes that took place in South Africa that culminated in the election of Mandela as the country’s first post-apartheid president and the vigorous and aggressive expansion of South African businesses into other African economies. Beyond these, however, the new globalization is marked by other critical features that further demonstrate the weakness and vulnerability of the African economy.11



One major feature of the new globalization is the increasing powerlessness of the state, at least, as far as regulating the movement of information, ideas, capital, even skills is concerned. As the World Bank admits, ‘Governments are increasingly seeking to improve the international competitiveness of their economies rather than shield them behind protective walls.’12 The implication is that governments are taking steps to give more autonomy to private initiatives and to cede some political ground to powerful corporations. Rapid changes in information technology have greatly impacted on the autonomy, capabilities and spheres of action open to the nation state. Boutros Boutros-Ghali has observed that ‘(t)he time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty has passed’ and states must ‘find a balance between the needs of good internal governance and the requirements of an ever more interdependent world.’13

As is evident in Africa, the state is increasingly under pressure and attack, and quite a handful have become stagnant, exhausted or have collapsed outright.14 With the radical restructuring and weakening of the African state, the multilaterals have come to command unprecedented influence and power over national governments. They not only influence and determine the nature of economic policy but also political developments and contestations. Developed nations no longer hide behind diplomatic language and culture to express their political interests in their relations with developing states. Their control over information, foreign aid, loans, investment, and military hardware is now easily mobilized to support political agendas for poverty stricken and debt ridden states.15

At times, this influence is conducted through overt support for particular non-governmental organizations or individuals with potential for taking over the reigns of power. At no time in the post-Westphalian history of the contemporary state system have non-state actors wielded more influence and power than at the moment. The breakdown of ideological orthodoxies and the search for new patterns of socio-economic and power relations have further reduced the relevance of the state in favour of less formal and private structures and institutions. The singular influence and power of election monitors in the current global order attest to the ever growing significance of non-state actors as newly elected or re-elected governments often require their stamp of approval for international acceptability and legitimacy.



On balance, it would appear that scientific, economic and social factors, rather than political developments, have contributed more significantly to the erosion of state sovereignty and in shaping the character of the new globalization in recent times. As the nations of the world came to depend more on each other, as transportation narrowed distances, as communications made it possible for people to interact and exchange information and ideas, and as nations became readily permeable to the power of new communications systems, the ability of the state to lay claim to some higher level of authority gradually weakened.



Of course since the 1980s, with the crisis in the former Soviet Union, and more so since the emergence of the independent republics, the triumph of the market has not only narrowed ideological positions but has also drawn nations together in the struggle to permeate markets, attract foreign aid and investments, and attract new technologies.16 What is instructive, however, is that in most of the ongoing discussions about the new globalization, Africa is hardly considered or taken seriously. This is despite the ‘encouraging progress made in transforming sub-Saharan Africa,’ and the far-reaching socio-economic and political reforms that governments have been forced to adopt to please lenders, donors and international pressure groups.17

These reform packages, often imposed from abroad and supervised by the multilateral agencies and credit clubs, have served in no small measure to erode the autonomy and sovereignty of African states. The combination of externally designed, imposed, and supervised political and economic conditionalities – structural adjustment and political pluralism – is part of the conditions determining Africa’s integration into the emerging global order: as a dependent, vulnerable, weak, dominated, and almost helpless, peripheral actor in the new divisions of labour and power.18

There is no doubting the fact that in a world relatively liberated from hard ideological constraints, ‘new technology is rewriting old concepts of sovereignty and over time will also change national objectives.’19 Recent struggles for democracy in developing countries have benefited significantly from the cellular phone and fax machines which despotic and repressive governments could not control: ‘Ideas transmitted by satellite broadcasts, fax machines and internet ports are prying open even authoritarian regimes.’20



Most of these major technological contraptions are not produced or even assembled in Africa, save perhaps South Africa. Yet, this is a world that is increasingly being run and conditioned by technology, in particular, information technology. In Africa, except for a handful of countries like South Africa, business is still performed mostly manually, relying on outdated information, completely oblivious of new possibilities opened up by new technology. From banking to insurance, through import-export activities to information collection, processing and dissemination, Africa is still decades behind parts of Asia and Latin America, not to mention Europe and North America.

What has been referred to as the ‘digital age’ with ‘powerful data networks’ is drawing developing nations ‘into the borderless information economy.’21 Nations of the world really have no choice about joining or opting out of the new information age. To opt out is to be isolated and cut off from the massive flow of ideas and information badly needed to move into the next century. On the other hand, participating in the information age requires a high degree of political openness, administrative flexibility, rapid changes in science and technology, even a revolutionary transformation of the educational system of the country.

Internet connections are expanding by 16% every month, fiber optics are transmitting 40 billion bits of data per second, and the US army claims that soon there will be as many computers as persons in the world. Governments have practically lost the capacity to keep pace with the generation, processing, manipulation and dissemination of information around the world.22 The World Bank further supports these claims when it notes that in line with the new global emphasis on the market as the prime mover of growth and development, ‘technological changes have made the world easier to navigate – goods, capital, people, and ideas travel faster and cheaper today than ever before. Underlying these changes have been huge reductions in transport and communications costs.’23



So far, African states are not poised to move in the direction of exploiting these new developments. Yet, as African nations wallow in confusion, poverty, superstition, the recycling of outdated information and ideas, and continue to rely on old and already discarded technology, around the world, medical practices, experiments in science and technology, banking services, academic research and so on are being undertaken in cooperation by persons separated by hundreds of thousands of miles. It is embarrassing to note that over three quarters of the faculty at African institutions lack computers and have no access to internet facilities.

All over the world, even in the most developed market economies, governments are rapidly losing control over the flow of money. As the IMF itself has admitted: ‘This integration of financial markets is not only irreversible, but it can only broaden and intensify in the future. Let us not make the mistake of believing that the answer to financial crises lies in reviewing this globalization through exchange controls and less open markets.’24 The most efficient central bank cannot boast of having full knowledge of or control over domestic financial transactions. The computer has put within the reach of average citizens the power to execute complex banking transactions within the confines of their homes. Geographical location or currency denominations now mean almost nothing to the new financial marketplace.25

Where does Africa stand in this new globalization of the financial marketplace? The answer is ‘nowhere’: the currencies are either worthless (Zaire, Somalia), excessively devalued (Ghana and Zambia) or generally inconvertible. Most of the countries are so poor that their central banks simply exist in name. Others can no longer control inflation, while several countries only do business in the weekly auctioning of foreign exchange in the name of rationalizing the financial market as part of a usually poorly implemented adjustment package. Businesses are not going into Africa because the near worthlessness of the currencies is depressing the market and there are practically no buyers for non-essential commodities and services. Banks are yet to be computerized, and transactions still take forever.



The most powerful actors in the new globalization are transnational corporations. They are rapidly streamlining technology, labour training, utilization and exploitation as well as production processes. This also includes a strategy to, as much as possible, streamline and rationalize consumption around the world to facilitate the production and marketing of goods and services without frequent retooling, investments in fixed capital or skill development. The end of the cold war is strengthening the power and influence of the corporations and encouraging them to move into untested waters.

The end of apartheid encouraged McDonalds into South Africa and encouraged South African corporations to move rapidly into neighbouring countries.26 While western business interests have not been deterred by the uncertainties in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, ‘the foreign direct investment response has been, at best, hesitant and weak in Africa.’27 As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has noted, though most African states have developed ‘new investment codes; the number of sectors previously reserved for nationals has been sharply reduced; screening procedures have been simplified and one-stop investment centres have been established; the relative equity share that foreigners are allowed to hold in enterprises has been raised; and tax holidays of up to ten years or more are now common ...the annual average flow of foreign direct investment to Africa over the 1985-89 period was $2.6 billion.’28



In the same period, Latin America and the Caribbean received $6.0 billion, the East, South and South-East Asia received $13.6 billion, North America received $55.8 billion, and Western Europe received $60.8 billion. In fact, of the ‘23 Sub-Saharan African countries with more than two million people, ten had no foreign direct investment inflows and only six had inflows of more than two dollars per capita.’29 It is clear, therefore, that the new globalization is not redirecting resources towards Africa in any credible or substantial sense. Rather, unlike other developing regions, and despite the rapidly expanding global financial market, Africa has not expanded its ‘exports of manufactures’; it remains a producer of ‘primary commodities and terms of trade have continued to fall.’30 Increasingly lacking the capacity to generate foreign exchange, and without an appreciable inflow of investments, even to those countries which have clearly decided for open markets and liberal democracy like Zambia, Africa cannot be an effective actor in the new globalization.



Africa entered the 20th century as a dependent, foreign dominated, technologically backward, politically unstable, vulnerable, and marginal actor in the global system. Decades of foreign aid, albeit informed by cold war considerations and calculations, political support for ideological client states, and investments, even if in enclave sectors, produced no appreciable change in the region’s unprecedented deterioration, dislocation and decay. The reasons for this unenviable situation are not lost to observers and scholars of Africa.

According to Layashi Yaker, ‘Africa, potentially the richest continent, with the poorest people, having been exploited for a long time, can and must become a dynamic developing region if there is to be a common future for mankind.’31 Yet, decades of mismanagement, coups and counter-coups, environmental degradation, the exploitation and marginalization of women, misplaced priorities, and the neglect of basic human needs have precipitated distortions and disarticulations in Africa’s political economy. As well, unbridled corruption, the privatization of the state and its resources, the suffocation of civil society, the manipulation of primordial loyalties, and criminal abuse of power have also eroded opportunities for creativity, innovation, growth and development.

Furthermore, the reproduction and rationalization of neocolonial economic relations and unequal exchange relations with powerful profit and hegemony seeking transnational corporations have hampered the overall economic environment. Consequently, limited or no investments in science and technology, the neglect and exploitation of the rural areas and rural producers, an urban based investment pattern and extroverted consumption patterns have precipitated a huge foreign debt profile and discouraged investment and external support.32



The net result has been that, ‘Economic growth proved to be elusive, managing an average rate of only 2.1% per annum (in the 1980s, and much less in the 1990s). This translated into a fall in per capita incomes at the average rate of about 1% per annum. The human and social conditions of the majority of the African people worsened considerably. Poverty increased in both the rural and urban areas; real earnings fell drastically; unemployment and underemployment rose sharply; hunger and famine became endemic; dependence on food aid and food imports intensified; diseases, including the added scourge of AIDS, decimated populations and became a real threat to the very process of growth and development; and the attendant social evils – crime, delinquency, family disintegration – intensified with a vengeance.’33

It is precisely these conditions of desperation and weakness that have constrained the ability of Africa to be effectively part of the changing global order in a positive sense. What this means is that Africa will likely remain in the backwaters of the new globalization, reaping most of the negative outcomes and unable to influence ongoing changes. The negative consequences of the new globalization have more implications for Africa’s survival than ongoing positive developments: how can Africa protect itself from further manipulation, exploitation, marginalization and vulnerability?

Clearly, the move towards a globalized political economy is not flawless or without conflict. Only those economies with goods and services to sell, and which can attract investors because of viable political structures, high credit rating, good infrastructure and an aggressive global agenda will benefit from the emerging global economy. Only those nations with the ability to harness and process information, link up with or develop new technology, and those with the level of skill development relevant for a growing competitive globalized economy will benefit from the emerging order.



Of course, such nations must have credible, stable, predictable, open/democratic and accountable structures of governance presided over by visionary and creative leaderships. Africa can hardly make a stake on any of the grounds above. Even Nigeria with its estimated huge population of over a 100 million is in total disarray, bedevilled by a cruel legacy of wicked and tyrannical of military rule, corruption, infrastructural decay, violence and political uncertainty. As well, ‘approximately 180 million of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 500 million people can be classified as poor, of whom 66.7%, or 120 million, are desperately poor. By every international measure, be it per capita income ($330), life expectancy (51 years), or the United Nation’s Index of Human Development (0.225 compared to 0.317 for South Asia, the next poorest region), Africa is the poorest region in the world.’34 More painfully, almost half of its most educated and creative minds litter the faculties of European, North American and Middle Eastern universities, laboratories and research institutions. Not only have local institutions collapsed but also, the level of insecurity to life and property has never been so pronounced with armed robbers controlling most of the capital and major cities. The region’s sovereignty is under greater pressure and as the state loses the capacity to perform, it also loses credibility abroad and legitimacy internally.35



The so called rapid growth that is accompanying the new globalization is generating severe environmental pressures and problems. As transnational corporations compete for market hegemony in Africa (and other parts of the developing world), they are stretching regulations and utilizing several extra-legal mechanisms to gain one advantage or the other. This has increased corruption and further eroded the already weak ability of these states to regulate the corporations. Because the developed markets offer better pay and conditions of work, and in the context of deepening systemic crisis in Africa, the brain drain has intensified as hundreds of thousands of professionals flee the continent for other parts of the world.

In countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, and Kenya, this has extended to unskilled labour. The new globalization has not stemmed the deepening employment crisis, spiralling inflation, the lack of international confidence in African economies, and the weak structures of state and society that impede creativity and productivity. Automation, the use of robots, reliance on synthetics, stockpiling, and other cost cutting production and marketing techniques are actually stifling the expansion of the labour force and creating antagonistic stratification within the ranks of the working classes. Local cultural foundations of growth and development are being eliminated as the values and tastes of the West are being forced on Africans even in the rural areas. International negotiations on trade and tariff, intellectual property, labour relations, immigration, use of local resources, pollution, and technology transfer hardly take Africa into consideration.36

Given the desperate conditions of African economies, the new globalization, rather than alleviate the region’s poverty, is actually consolidating and deepening it. As social and cultural specificities become more pronounced and politicized, African nations increasingly become ineligible for most forms of support from the developed economies. Admittedly, programmes sponsored by donors and aid agencies ‘have achieved negligible or limited results’37 over the decades, but such poor results have only made it almost impossible for Africa to capitalize on current developments, innovations, and opportunities in the global system.




In any case, donors are cutting aid to the poorest nations and expanding investment and support for the more vibrant or promising economies like South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia.38 As a group of NGOs has warned, ‘(r)educed aid to Africa is likely to mean further environmental degradation, increased disease, conflict and refugee flows. The human costs will be terrible, and the long term financial cost is likely to far outweigh the price of an effective strategy to assist Africa now.’39

The contradictions, negative coalitions, and weaknesses of state and society have been compounded by ethnic, religious, regional, and other primordial contradictions and conflicts which scare away investors and force regimes to divert scarce resources to security, survival and conflict containment. No serious investor, new globalization or not, would seriously think of investing new capital in Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, Somalia, the Sudan, Zaire and several other locations of crisis and conflict in the region.

As the IMF has warned: ‘Many others, especially in Africa, are still mired in poverty. What is more, while globalization is a monumental force of economic integration that can benefit the poor countries by speeding their development, it may also lead to the marginalization of those countries that refuse to undertake, or are prevented from undertaking, the necessary structural adjustment effort.’40



Of course, even if one were to subscribe to the orthodox stabilization and structural adjustment packages of the IMF and the World Bank, African states have failed woefully to put in place successful and sustainable reform programmes in the last two decades. In fact the World Bank has identified only one successful case of adjustment in Africa, Ghana. This claim remains questionable even among Ghanaians:41

‘Despite the efforts to improve the macroeconomic environment, open up markets and strengthen the public and financial sectors, most African countries still lack policies that are sound by international standards. Even Africa’s best performers have worse macroeconomic policies than the newly industrializing economies in Asia. Few besides Ghana come close to having adequate monetary, fiscal and exchange rate policies. And Ghana lags behind other adjusting countries elsewhere – Chile and Mexico for example – in trade and public enterprise reform.’42

Rather than reduce government expenditure, cut waste, rationalize financial obligations, promote self-reliance, attract investors, control inflation and encourage productivity among other promised goals of adjustment, African states have been rent by riots, increased state intervention, corruption, economic dislocation, rising unemployment and general deterioration on all economic and social indicators. While governments in other parts of the world are responding to the new globalization by constructing what has been referred to as the ‘competitive state’,43 the beleaguered African state is merely struggling for legitimacy, hegemony and survival in the face of severe challenges from non-bourgeois communities and constituencies.

Based on current socioeconomic and political balances, location and role in the global division of labour and power, the underdeveloped level of science and technology, and the nature of contestations for power, it is doubtful if the new globalization will have much to offer Africa. The George W. Bush administration has made it clear that Africa is not important to its agenda. For reasons that some have interpreted as signs of racism and ignorance, even deliberate wickedness, the administration is following globalization to markets that provide immediate profits. In spite of its huge population, Africa does not provide such an option: it is a market of poor people living in unstable, disease-stricken and unpredictable environments!



Africa has been a victim of too many negative developments in the global system. The continent has been attacked, exploited, colonized and neocolonized by powerful external interests for centuries. It was also a victim of the slave trade, and no matter how generous we might wish to be, the continent has not recovered from the ravages, distortion, deformations and other consequences of the colonial experience.44 In spite of post-colonial alignment and realignment of political forces, the drastic reconstruction of the political terrain, and changes in the continents relations with the outside world, it is yet to overcome structural impediments to growth, peace, development and democracy implanted in the colonial era.45



To be sure, local elites and interest groups that benefit from the existing dependent and unequal arrangements continue to rationalize and legitimize the status quo to the detriment of the region.46 Political independence was not accompanied by socioeconomic and cultural liberation, and since the 1960s, Africa has remained the weakest region in the global system, totally incapable of influencing or determining the content and context of global affairs, and dependent on the productive capacities of other nations.47

As the saying goes, the continent consumes what it does not produce, and produces what it does not consume; it does not set the prices for what it imports and has not control over the prices of what it exports. This is hardly the profile of as region that can enter, find a comfortable location, and participate or compete in the new globalization.48 Yet, all is not lost. As J. Brian Atwood has correctly noted, ‘Africa’s future holds both immense potential and enormous difficulties.’49

For Africa to be an effective actor in the new globalization therefore, some major structural changes must take place. First, a drastic deconstruction and reconstruction of the repressive and exploitative neo-colonial state. Since this state has been identified with all the ills of the region and has been unable to serve as a fountain of protection and inspiration to the people, it becomes rather evident that until this state is dismantled and restructured to serve the interest of the majority, intervene less in the economy, facilitate an enabling environment for creativity and productivity, Africa will remain mired in the sea of confusion, hopelessness, waste, domination and instability.



A state that has no legitimacy cannot be expected to serve as the motor for growth, development and transparency much less good governance. Clearly, the state in Africa has not been constituted and has not operated as a state in Africa; it has operated more like a zig-zag and confused structure with no sense of direction and no sense of mission. It has historically embarked on a project of destruction rather than one of construction, squandered rather than generate resources, asphyxiated rather than build and reinvigorate civil society, and has mortgaged rather than liberate the African economy.

Unable to legitimately organize an agenda for growth and development, the African state, its institutions and custodians have relied on the manipulation of primordial loyalties, the politics of defensive radicalism and diversion, repression and asphyxiation of civil society to maintain control. Organizing development in the interest of the people and promoting an agenda that would facilitate participation in the global system has hardly featured in the overall programme of the African state. Reconstructing this state to make it efficient, effective, responsible, stable, legitimate, accountable, would be a monumental challenge but certainly not impossible.50 The reconstruction of the state to reflect and serve the interests of the majority can only come about through the mobilization, education and full involvement of the people in the ongoing struggles to restructure Africa’s political landscape.51

The second major challenge is the opening up of political spaces. This is directly linked to the recomposition of the repressive neocolonial state. It would require not just the termination of military and one-party dictatorships, but also the drawing up of viable constitutional arrangements guaranteed by the active role of popular organizations in civil society. The new brand of popular constitutions that have been compacted in Uganda, South Africa and Eritrea are examples in the right direction. There is no alternative to a genuine democratic process in Africa.52 Conditions of repression, uncertainty, instability, and constant harassment of popular forces only drain already scarce resources, discourage investors and donors, and force desperate and insecure governments to divert resources to survival and so called security. Only a genuine democratic agenda can bring out the best of the people and their communities, promote popular mobilization, encourage creativity, and redirect resources to critical and productive sectors of society.



Decades of irresponsible governance, presidents for life, one man rule, one party states, confused ideological systems, and military dictatorships have set Africa back and consolidated its marginalization in the global system. The only platform on which this new idea is being arti-culated or could be effectively articulated is in the ongoing struggles for democracy, accountability, social justice, popular participation, gender equality, and the empowerment of the people, their constituencies and communities.

Grinding poverty, the failure of adjustment programmes, the end of the cold war and reduced external support for dictators, and the emergence of new pro-democracy movements and leaders have played significant roles in promoting the new upsurge of struggles for democracy. Though there are many problems and most of the new victories are still tentative and unconsolidated, it is increasingly being realized that only a truly democratic agenda can move the region away from the decades of neglect, decay, deterioration and dislocation.



A third challenge relates to regional integration. If the developed economies are taking regionalism seriously, as evidenced in the establishment of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and the European Union, then Africa should take it even more seriously. To date, the record of regionalism in the region has been poor: characterized by excessive politicization, lack of political will, disrespect for protocols, weak currencies, petty jealousies, colonial legacies, and pressures from conditions of underdevelopment and dependence.

The 1991 adoption of the African Economic Treaty in Abuja, Nigeria equally reflects a high degree of unseriousness. Though it is expected to culminate in the establishment of a common market and the election of an African Parliament in AD 2025, the long time span and current emphasis on nationalistic policies show that the goals might never be attained. In fact, African leaders have not even demonstrated an acknowledgement of the deepening crisis of the region, and the fact that regionalism requires the mobilization of all productive sectors and citizens.

As well, a collective regional agenda will make no headway until African states open up the political landscape internally, and establish new national orders based on genuine democracy, accountability and the mobilization of the people for increased productivity.53 The recent dissolution of the OAU and the establishment of the African Union are noteworthy. However, the taste of the pudding is in the eating: to what extent can we rely on the current custodians of state power that appear so bound to violence and corruption to see such a challenging project through?



A fourth issue that African states must contend with in the contemporary era is the revisioning of traditional notions of ‘autonomy’ or ‘independence’. True, many of the states are young, at least when compared to nations in other parts of the world. But this is no excuse not to learn from past experiences and to avoid past mistakes. Old notions of sovereignty and nationalistic economic policies will only serve, in the context of the changing global order, to consolidate the region’s peripheralization in the global division of labour.

Regionalism requires that some degree of sovereignty be ceded to larger organizations or institutions of collective action aimed at growth, development, peace and stability. For poor and underdeveloped nations that have failed to attract sufficient foreign investments and are clearly hundreds of years behind in the new technologies, the essence of regionalism, and the voluntary surrender of substantial degrees of sovereignty cannot be overstated. If African states fail to exploit the current global momentum towards regionalism, the region’s marginal location and role in the global order might just become permanent.

In Europe, nation states have demonstrated some desire and resolve to give up a degree of sovereignty in order to enjoy the benefits of regionalism. It is amazing that African governments that willingly (or unwillingly) accepted economic, and later political conditionalities which were openly designed and are supervised by foreign interests still spend much time protecting claims to absolute sovereignty. The truth is that with the embarrassing record of most African governments, they have practically no legitimate ground on which to exercise sovereign rule over their peoples.

Decades of repression, human rights abuses, and the squandering of national riches have eroded the tenuous legitimacy they inherited from colonial rule. In the new globalization, with the rapid integration of information networks and the unprecedented improvements in communications, traditional notions of sovereignty, beyond its legal articulation to capture the sanctity of recognized boundaries, will mean very little. Africa must realize that only through the collective mobilization of resources, planning, design of a viable and interconnected future, can the small, weak, distorted, and marginalized economies survive the ongoing competition in the global system.



Finally, the policies outlined above: a restructuring of the state, political openness, regionalism, and a revised understanding of the importance of sovereignty, can only enable African states to take national planning, plan discipline, accountability, and the provision of basic needs more seriously. Essentially, this will involve a grand agenda to re-attract qualified citizens who now dot every nook and corner of the globe, re-attract donors and investors, and strengthen local currencies. It would also require an agenda to promote local accumulation through investment in productive activities, rehabilitate decaying infrastructure, and revitalize the dying educational system.

This sort of agenda, anchored on the principles of good governance and an openly democratic system, will encourage the people to become more creative, productive and supportive of government policies, thus reversing the current conditions of anger, alienation, withdrawal and overt/covert resistance to the state, its institutions and custodians. Though, clearly, the market is not enough, and the state, strengthened and more efficient will continue to play a critical role in Africa’s quest for development, the need for very deep rooted internal restructuring cannot be overstated. In other words, a far reaching and comprehensive new national order must precede any effort to find a new location and role in the new global division of labour and power.



1. Michel Camdessus, ‘Closer Integration in Global Economy Vital for Africa.’ Excerpts from address at the high level meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 6 July 1995, reproduced in IMF Survey, 17 July 1995, p. 218.

2. See ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Route to Success Lies in Sound Economic Policies’, IMF Survey, 20 February 1995.

3. See Carol Lancaster, ‘United States and Africa’, in Adebayo Adedeji, (ed.), Africa Within the World: Beyond Dispossession and Dependence, London: Zed Books, 1993; and Stephen Wright, ‘Africa in the Post-Cold War World’, TransAfrica Forum 9(2), Summer 1992, pp. 25-37.

4. Mary Chinery-Hesse, ‘Divergence and Convergence in the New World Order’, in Adebayo Adedeji (ed.), Africa Within the World, op. cit., p. 145.

5. See Christopher Farrell, ‘The Triple Revolution’, Business Week, (Special Bonus Issue), November 1994.

6. See Robert H. Jackson, ‘International Community Beyond the Cold War’, in Gene M. Lyons and Michael Mastanduno (eds.), Beyond Westphalia? State Sovereignty and International Intervention, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1995, pp. 59-86.

7. Olufemi Taiwo of Loyola University has termed this the ‘Be Like Mike Syndrome’. See his unpublished paper, ‘The Be-Like-Mike Syndrome: An Essay on Contemporary Non-Transitions to Democracy’. Department of Philosophy, 1995.

8. Stephen Wright, ‘Africa in the Post-Cold War World’, op. cit., p. 26.

9. See Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’ The National Interest, 16, 1989, pp. 3-18; and Samuel P. Huntington, ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ Foreign Affairs 72(5), Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.

10. World Bank, World Development Report 1995, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 1995, p. 1.

11. See Sadig Rasheed, ‘Africa at the Doorstep of the Twenty-First Century: Can Crisis Turn to Opportunity?’ in Adebayo Adedeji (ed.), Africa Within the World, op. cit., pp. 41-58.

12. World Bank, World Development Report 1995, op. cit., p. 51.

13. Cited in Francis Mading Deng, ‘State Collapse: The Humanitarian Challenge to the United Nations’, in I. William Zartman (ed.), Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 1995, p. 212.

14. See the case studies in ibid. See also Robert Kaplan, ‘The Coming Anarchy’, Atlantic Monthly, February 1994, pp. 44-76; and Steven Holmes, ‘Africa: From Cold War to Cold Shoulders’, The New York Times, 7 March 1993.

15. ‘The End of Sovereignty’, in Great Decisions 1993, Foreign Policy Association, Ithaca, NY, 1993, p. 7.

16. ‘Introduction: 21st Century Capitalism’, Business Week (Special Bonus Edition), November 1994.

17. See Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘The Economic Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa: Depth, Dimensions and Prospects for Recovery’, The Journal of International Studies 27, July 1991, pp. 41-69.

18. See Carol Lancaster, ‘Governance in Africa: Should Foreign Aid Be Linked to Political Reform?’ in Africa Governance in the 1990s: Objectives, Resources, and Constraints, The Carter Center of Emory University, Atlanta, March 1990, pp. 35-41.

19. Walter B. Wriston, ‘Technology and Sovereignty’, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1988/89, p. 73.

20. Ibid. The fax machine was effectively used by pro-democracy forces against the former self-declared life president of Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. While he was able to censor radio broadcasts and ban newspapers, he could not ban or control the fax machine.

21. Ibid

22. See UNRISD, States of Disarray: The Social Effects of Globalization (Geneva: UNRISD, 1995), p. 9. This document also notes that ‘in practice this evolution has been strongly influenced by the economic and political agenda of advanced industrial countries.’

23. World Bank, World Development Report 1995, op. cit., p. 51.

24. Michel Camdessus, ‘Close Integration in Global Economy Vital for Africa’, op. cit., p. 218.

25. Walter B. Wriston, ‘Technology and Sovereignty’, op. cit., p. 72.

26. Christopher Farrell, ‘The Triple Revolution’, op. cit.

27. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, ‘Some Reflections on Africa and the Global Economy’, in William Minter (ed.), U.S. Foreign Policy: An Africa Agenda, Africa Policy Information Center, Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 9.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid, p. 9.

30. World Bank, World Development Report 1995, op cit., p. 52.

31. Layashi Yaker, ‘The Case for Solidarity in the South’, in Adebayo Adedeji (ed.), Africa Within the World, op. cit., p. 132.

32. See Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘Between Debt and Disaster: The Politics of Africa’s Debt Crisis’, In Depth: A Journal of Values and Public Policy, 4(1), Winter 1994, pp. 108-132.

33. Sadig Rasheed, ‘Africa at the Doorstep of the Twenty-First Century’, op. cit., p. 41.

34. U.S. Agency for International Development, Africa: Growth Renewed, Hope Rekindled-A Report on the Performance of the Development Fund for Africa 1988-1992, USAID, Washington, D.C. n.d., p. 20.

35. See Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘Surviving at the Margins: Africa and the New Global Order’, Current World Leaders, 35(6), December 1992, pp. 1053-1072; and Olufemi Vaughan, ‘The Politics of Global Marginalization’, Journal of African and Asian Studies, 29(3-4), 1994, pp. 186-204.

36. Christopher Farrell, ‘The Triple Revolution’, op. cit.

37. USAID, Africa: Growth Renewed, Hope Rekindled, op. cit., p. 5.

38. See The Reality of Aid ’95: An Independent Review of International Aid, Earthscan, London, 1995.

39. Ibid, p. 7.

40. Michel Camdessus, ‘The IMF in a Globalized World Economy’, Third Annual Sylvia Ostry Lecture, Group of Seven (G-7), Ottawa, 7 June 1995. Reproduced in IMF Survey, 19 June 1995, p. 194.

41. See ‘Happy 38th Mother Ghana, But Where Are We Heading To?’ Ghana Drum, 4(3), March 1995, (editorial).

42. World Bank, World Development Report, 1991, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 8.

43. Ibid, p. 33.

44. See Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Bogle L’Ouverture, London, 1972; and Claude Ake, A Political Economy of Africa, Longman, London, 1981.

45. African states have changed their names, constitutions, leaders, ideologies, local government structures, anthems, national pledges, currencies, and built new edifices and institutions in the effort to consolidate political independence and plan some form of development. Because these are generally superficial and superstructural, and are often designed to please the tastes and interests of a largely decadent and unproductive urban-based tiny elite, they have failed woefully. The structural contradictions that have to do with the nature of politics, power, production and exchange relations remain unaddressed.

46. See Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, op. cit.; Ali Mazrui, The Africans, BBC Publications, London, 1986; and George B. Ayittey, Africa Betrayed, St. Martins Press, New York, 1992.

47. George Ayittey, Africa Betrayed, op. cit., p. 8.

48. Edward V. K. Jaycox, The Challenges of African Development, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 2. Jaycox also notes that ‘The scope and severity of the economic crisis facing Sub-Saharan Africa is unique in the developing world: declining per capita income, food shortages, unsustainable debt, and institutional and environmental neglect. This daunting crisis demands exceptional response.’ p. 11.

49. J. Brian Atwood, ‘Dear Friends’, in USAID, Africa: Growth Renewed, Hope Rekindled, op. cit., p.6.

50. See Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘The "Irrelevant" State, Ethnicity and the Quest for Nationhood in Africa’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 17(1), January 1994, pp. 42-60.

51. See Richard Sandbrook and Mohamed Halfani (eds.), Empowering People: Building Community, Civil Associations, and Legality in Africa, Center for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, 1993.

52. For a detailed discussion see Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘Beyond Governance: The State and Democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 50, 1995, pp. 141-158.

53. See the contributions on regionalism, security, and development in Olusegun Obasanjo and Felix G. N. Mosha (eds.), Africa: Rise to Challenge, Africa Leadership Forum, New York, 1993. See in particular the contributions by Bade Onimode, P. Anyang’nyongo, Wilfred Ndongko, and Yoweri Museveni. For a critique of the current state of regionalism in Africa see Julius O. Ihonvbere, ‘The African Crisis, Regionalism and Prospects for Recovery in the 1990s’, in Bruce Berman and Piotor Dutkiewicz (eds.), Africa and Eastern Europe: Crisis and Transformations, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, 1993, pp. 121-132.