Economics of Pan-Afrikanism in Contemporary Africa

Published on 18th November 2008

Ironically, most of “decolonized” independent Africa continues to be economically dependent on the West and other rich nations of G8. The central question to be posed is: “Why is this precisely the case today?” What is the political and philosophical significance that economic and financial independence for Africa was not part and parcel of the decolonization- cum-independence process?


In search of development, African states have adopted all language requirements such as good governance, human rights and so on, to be able to access aid from the West. While many of the values of human rights, good governance and rule of law are fundamental and appropriate democratic norms in Africa and elsewhere, the parroting of these terms without critical analysis and contextual application of same is quite concerning.


Many African leaders believe that these terms and their uncritical application have a “modernizing effect on our society”. However, if one looks at it from the perspective of modern geopolitical realities in areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the US-controlled Guantanamo detention centre in Cuba, human rights and rule of law are brutally abused by America. As Basil Davidson argued in his book “The Blackman’s Burden”, the Post-colonial African governments struggle to shake off colonial institutions that were meant to serve Western political and commercial interests. Instead, many African governments have re-shaped and continue to use Western institutions and norms, which often inhibit locals from benefiting from their resources.


Out of this experience comes the strength of the argument that the African state must be a responsive and activist state, rooted in the historical struggles of the people, and aligned to meeting their current and future strategic economic, social and political aspirations.


Anti-African development and self-reliance agents argue that Africa needs western investment and that multinational corporations are not the cause of Africa’s problems, but the solution. The need for foreign investment cannot be denied, but when these investments result in a hemorrhage of public funds and natural resources, without benefit to the people, they certainly are not the solution. Regina Jere-Malanda (November 2007, New African) argues that the “UN estimates that unfair trade rules deny poor countries US$700bn every year and 70% of that trade is controlled by multinational corporations.


British journalist George Monbiot puts it more vividly: “Debt, unfair terms of trade and poverty are not causes of Africa’s problems but symptoms. The cause is power; the ability of the G8 nations and their corporations to run other people’s lives.” The unchallenged power of the IMF and the World Bank to force poor countries to open up their markets to Western corporate and financial interests has generally weakened African governments.


African Economic Realities


The 2003 Human Development Report of the UNDP revealed the following, as quoted in the Financial Times, 9 July 2003: “Unless things improve it will take Sub-Saharan Africa until 2129 to achieve universal primary education, until 2147 to halve extreme poverty and until 2165 to cut child mortality by two-thirds.” While the world’s economies grew and expanded in the 90s, most of the African countries had become poorer. For instance, 291 million people had an average income below a dollar a day in 1998.


The UNCTAD Report of Least Developed Countries in 2002 revealed that: “… proportion of people in 29 African countries living below US$2 a day increased from 82 percent in late 1960s to 87.5 percent in late 1990s. For those in extreme poverty - under US$1 a day - the increase was from 55.8 percent to 64.9 percent. …. Africans in extreme poverty rose … from 89.9 million to 233.5 million over the same period.”


The challenge, as most agree, is to grow key productive sectors of the economy such as agriculture, and expand manufacturing and infrastructure, while investing in quality education and health care, in order to unleash economic growth. Endowed with vast mineral resources and human capital, Africa should collectively decide how to use these abundant resources for her development and for the improvement of Africans lives.


This must be our primary aim.


But unfortunately, some African leaders mimic Euro-centric models and development paths. The development models, such as NEPAD, a neo-liberal strategy, are based on assistance from the G8 to the tune of US$64 billion, which will never come!


Yet, Africa spends US$15 billion on arms, US$18 billion on food imports and roughly US$20 billion annual capital flight occurs, while corruption, a global problem, accounts for US$148 billion, as reckoned by George Ayittey in his book titled “Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa’s Future”.


The Lagos Plan of Action, Abuja Treaty, Cotonou and Lomé Agreements, NEPAD etcetera, will all remain meaningless if and unless Africa begins to develop inter-state trade in earnest. The lack of clear economic policies, which will inform and transform African foreign policy into a vessel for articulation of economic interests of the Continent persists. As long as African countries consider their international political and economic strategic interests intertwined with their former colonizers, Africa will remain fragmented.


Witness for example how Namibia and Germany have a ‘special relationship,” and how the francophone countries adore their linkages with France. We would wish to see African nations deliberately developing special relationships in economic and developmental terrains. These colonial-servant special relationships, renamed “development partnerships” influence national political and economic objectives from time to time. Although development cooperation is in itself not wrong, it is the conditionalities thereto attached that stifle the genuine development of the Africans.


Pan-Afrikanism will not be viable to the ordinary African as long as no effort of empowerment is made by African policy makers to empower the ordinary peasants, men, women and youth in each African village. Since the days of Kwame Nkrumah, there have been many meetings of Heads of State and other policy makers at continental and regional blocs. At such meetings however, where considerable empowerment opportunities manifest themselves, hardly do ordinary Africans get to be invited to tender for such services. Millions of dollars exchange hands at such functions but rural Africans are only spoken of but not represented. We do not know of any such gatherings where traditional leaders from our respective countries, for example, were invited to attend.


By Bernadus C. Swartbooi, Henny H. Seibeb, T. Elijah Ngurare

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