26 January 2004

Africa: Underdevelopment is a Huge Challenge


Lusaka — Industrialisation is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.

Industrialisation is critical to generating and sustaining economic growth, creating employment and ultimately reducing poverty and Africa's present state of underdevelopment.

And we share New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) executive head Wiseman Nkuhlu's observation that without increased industrialisation, Africa would be unable to provide decent livelihoods for its population and would enhance its contribution to the brain drain, as graduates would be forced go abroad to look for opportunities.

But the neoliberal policies and programmes imposed on us by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have clearly demonstrated their inability to help us achieve meaningful industrialisation. Under the IMF and World Bank policies and programmes, we have even lost whatever capacity we had for industrialisation.

There's need for us to find a system that will help us exploit the link between trade and industrialisation in order to attain sustainable development.

Industrialisation is key to the attainment of the NEPAD's objectives.

From a Zambian perspective, the NEPAD initiative (and the general vision underpinning it - the struggle for an "African renewal" or "renaissance") should mark an important potential shift from the dominant international relations paradigm that prevailed in the last decade of the 20th Century. In this period, the IMF's structural adjustment was the dominant paradigm. And this often meant, implicitly, "aligning" our economic policies and programmes with "international best practice", "bench-marking" ourselves against an assumed "norm", in a world that was assumed to be, fundamentally, "normal".

This paradigm was so powerful that it even obscured the deep complicity of imperialism in Zambia and our Southern African sub-region and it obscured the persisting reality of imperialism as the dominant world system.

Forgetfulness about our immediate past, and confusion about the present lead in turn, to a naïve understanding of how we should now engage with international realities. This engagement is often presented as a simple economic liberalisation programme to 'integrate' ourselves as fully and as rapidly as possible into a generally benign global economic order.

Potentially, NEPAD enables us to approach the challenges of our country and continent from a different perspective. The world is not "normal", and the plight of Africa is not "normal". From the outset, the NEPAD document evokes the concept of "underdevelopment" to characterise the underlying reasons for Africa's marginalisation.

Underdevelopment is not undeveloped, it is not isolation, it is the consequence of an integration of a particular kind into the global capitalist system. Specifically, NEPAD notes that Africa's recent integration into the global system has been by way of credit (which is to say by way of an unsustainable debt burden) and aid (which is diminishing) - "the credit and aid binomial has underlined the logic of African development. Credit has led to the debt deadlock, which, from installments to rescheduling, still exists and hinders the growth of African countries. The limits of this option have been reached."

Our crisis of underdevelopment needs to be addressed. But there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

The state in most African countries is weak, and therefore unable to play an effective developmental role. A major challenge is to strengthen the cohesion, vitality and participatory dimensions of national politics within African societies, thereby strengthening the capacity of states to govern and to lead long-term strategies;

There is very little sustainable accumulation capable of grounding effective growth and development. Political weaknesses aggravate this problem - many states do not have budgets, and government's economic activity is often reduced, at best, to the management of aid programmes, and, at worst, to patronage and corruption.

Infrastructure (energy, telecommunications, transport) is weakly developed and skewed towards the interests of transnational corporations and the former colonial powers.

Agriculture is in a serious crisis, and there is little benefication of agricultural produce within the continent.

Patterns of trade further exacerbate the accumulation crisis. Most trade is with the North, and it is on unfavourable terms. Intra-African trade is, generally, non-existent or weakly developed.

Human resources are also gravely under-developed, there are high levels of illiteracy, increasing numbers of African professionals, intellectuals, technical experts are located outside of our continent, in a new Diaspora. Within our continent there are very impressive pockets of excellence, but there is little co-ordination between them, and, once more, the dominant points of contact and co-operation are with the North.

There is a major health crisis - with health systems (often dismantled by structural adjustment programmes, or by lack of capacity) in collapse. The food supply crisis impacts on the health crisis. There is a deadly resurgence of diseases that are, in fact, curable - cholera, TB, malaria. In addition to all of the above, there is the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with the UNAIDS estimating that 55 million Africans will die prematurely of AIDS by 2020.

The accumulation of these and other crises also threatens the African environment. Yet, Africa's environmental resources (especially the most extensive rain-forests remaining in the world) are an important global resource and critical for the sustainability of the global environment.

At the heart of NEPAD are African-initiated strategies to overcome the crisis of under-development, and the strategies include:

- Mobilising for good political governance - this includes targeted capacity-building and institution reforms to ensure - effective administrative and civil services; strengthening parliamentary oversight; promoting participatory decision-making; adopting effective measures to combat corruption and embezzlement; and undertaking judicial reform;

- Fostering good economic and corporate governance - including prioritisation of public financial management;

- The mobilisation of resources and effective strategic planning for infrastructural development, that connects African countries (ICT, energy and transport); human resource development and the reversing of the brain drain; health infrastructure and programmes; turning around agriculture including benefication; deepening intra-African trade and campaigning for access to markets of developed countries for Africa's exports.

- The environment initiative targets eight sub-themes for priority intervention - combating desertification, wetland conservation, dealing with invasive species, coastal management, global warming, cross-border conservation areas, effective environmental governance, and financing for all of the above.

We strongly endorse the broad thrust of all these. Carried through with consistency and determination, and guided by the principle of "with and for the workers and the poor", these pillars of NEPAD constitute (potentially) an enormously progressive line-of-march.

But we shouldn't forget the challenge of an attempted neo-liberal hegemony over NEPAD.

We should not be surprised to find that powerful forces internationally, are working full-time to hegemonise and interpret NEPAD for their own purposes.

The "partnership" must be less about "good African" behaviour in exchange for "generous" international investment, and more about a collective global endeavour to ensure good and equitable governance, and a collective investment endeavour in which investment opportunities are provided as a result of African-initiated and, as much as possible, African-resourced programmes. The idea of "partnership" must not be reduced to an Africa/developed North partnership, we need to put a great deal of emphasis on intra-African partnerships, and also on South-South partnerships.

Underpinning many of the potential dangers in the NEPAD document, as it currently stands, is a tendency to see major flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Africa as the pre-eminent and fundamental solution to our continent's underdevelopment. There is a real danger that soliciting FDI will become the over-riding concern. There is no doubt that major FDI flows are, indeed, required; but NEPAD's core assumptions in this regard need to be examined carefully and critically.

The NEPAD document assumes that FDI will now be qualitatively different, in the above respects, from previous "inflows". The document tends to confine its historical overview of Africa's underdevelopment to the most recent past, arguing that the "credit and aid binomial" has dominated Africa's links to the developed North, and this "binomial" has now exhausted its "potential".

FDI is, indeed, different from aid and credit, in that it is capital investment that is more than money, and, potentially, also involves the transfer (or development) of technologies, skills, and infrastructure. However, FDI is profit-seeking, and major FDI flows are no guarantee that our country and our continent will be propelled out of their current skewed accumulation and dis-accumulation path. It was precisely major flows of FDI in the last quarter of the 19th century, and the first quarter of the 20th century, that set us on this path of exploitative capitalist underdevelopment.

Notwithstanding its weaknesses and potential dangers, the NEPAD initiative should squarely place the underdevelopment challenge on our national (and hopefully continental) agenda.

Overcoming Africa's crisis of underdevelopment is a huge challenge.

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