27 June 2002

Africa: Global Agendas Are Set By the Usual Suspects


Johannesburg — SA AND the world are faced with critical ideological choices in coming weeks. What kind of case is the global left making?

The stakes couldn't be higher. When the World Summit on Sustainable Development convenes in Sandton in late August, it will literally be deciding on an agenda for the planet.

When countries joining the Africa Union (AU) meet in Durban next week, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) will set the agenda for our continent.

But in reality, much of the agenda for both these events has already been determined by the Group of Eight (G-8) leadership in its mountain hideout in Canada.

George Bush, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Helmut Schröder, Jean Chretien and the others serve as a sort of board of directors which promotes northern corporate interests. That is not good for the rest of us.

This was proven at the Bali prepcom for the world summit in early June, when corporations pushed the privatisation agenda via the G-8, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Frontline battles to save humanity and environment have been waged often enough by people's movements against these institutions, from Seattle to Prague to Washington.

And there are many other sites across the Third World that have hosted IMF riots against neoliberal (free-market) economics.

Now we find that we also must do battle with the United Nations bureaucrats and a global compact that, because of US unwillingness to pay back dues, requires Kofi Annan to go begging to some of the world's most criminal multinational corporations.

And now we learn too, that the host country for the world summit and the AU are apparently intent on selling out the continent under the rubric of a plan crafted by the same technocrats who wrote Pretoria's failed Gear economic programme, under the guidance of Washington and the corporate leaders of Davos.

It is past time for us to insist that President Thabo Mbeki rise off his kneepad and assume the dignity of an African leader, or face ridicule.

In Durban at the launch of the Africa Union, social movements will remind the world that discredited elites cannot rename their club and continue to endorse the Washington consensus.

Virtually all civil society commentators have complained that Nepad is top-down, nonconsultative, and so prone to neoliberal economic mistakes that it must be tossed out and a new programme started from scratch.

Time magazine put Mbeki on its front cover on June 10, alleging incorrectly that he has made a Uturn on AIDS.

The G-8 elites need a rehabilitated Mbeki, and they insist that, as Time claimed, Nepad "could be the continent's last hope for joining the global economy".

Yet Africa has joined the global economy, and that is the problem. For more than a quarter of a century, the revenue from our outputs mainly cash crops and minerals have fallen dramatically even though our outputs have increased, due to what economists call "declining terms of trade".

Meanwhile, debt repayments and capital flight continue to suck us dry of finances we desperately need for investment.

So why then does Nepad politely agree to repay debt under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries programme that even the World Bank now admits has failed?

And how can Mbeki in good conscience promote more "public-private partnerships" in Africa which do not work at home?

The privatisation of water, electricity, transport and telecommunications by European, US and Asian firms have all failed on their own terms, as well as in providing sustainable access to the masses of South Africans.

In the movements for global justice, our strategy is to endorse, attend and create a series of progressive events at the AU in July and the world summit in August that will allow the voices of angry citizens to be heard.

These include communities resisting evictions and water and electricity cut-offs, rural people demanding land reform, AIDS activists seeking antiretroviral medicine, environmentalists halting dams and dirty energy projects, women opposing patriarchy and violence, consumer organisations opposed to corporate domination of everything, and labour on strike against their oppressors in the private sector as well as municipal and national governments.

We expect all these movements will join a mass march on the Sandton Convention Centre at the mid-point of the world summit. Its aim is to nonviolently remind the elites that we don't trust them, and to remind society of the issues that the elites are doing their best to ignore.

Brutus, emeritus professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, is a poet, internationalist activist and former Robben Island prisoner.

Bush, Blair, Chirac, Schröder and Chretien serve as a sort of board of directors

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