The gods of unbridled capitalism will be gathering in Washington from April 12-17, and no doubt their accomplices in East Africa and elsewhere will not be left behind.
Each spring, thousands of people gather in this American city for the spring meetings of the two institutions that bear the greatest responsibility for extreme poverty and suffering around the world - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.
The participants include many government officials whose greatest agenda is to earn as much by way of daily allowances as possible. There are also civil society participants, academia and private sector representatives, and of course journalists. Predictably, there will also be protesters, who raise a critical and prophetic voice against the obscenity and hypocrisy of the capitalist agenda; their concerns, however, rarely get far when ranged against capitalist might.
Ostensibly, these and other meetings of the leaders of global capital focus on developmental issues that have to do with the global economy, international development, and the world's financial markets. The impact that these two institutions have had on the global economy and particularly Third World countries, however, can hardly be described as development.
It will be recalled that the Bretton Woods institutions have been responsible for many of the failed prescriptions that have been pushed down the throats of African economies. These prescriptions have ended up worsening the plight of the poor, destroying nascent industries, creating dependency, and distorting markets - all to the disadvantage of poor countries.
When you walk into a government hospital in Dodoma and cannot be treated before making some payment, blame the IMF and World Bank. Despite many of the older generation having escaped the poverty trap because of free education in the decades after independence, when today you find that poor relatives in Kiambu cannot afford public education and are constantly seeking financial aid, don't look for answers to this despicable situation anywhere beyond the IMF and World Bank.
Farmers, too, have been badly affected. These lords of poverty have forced countries to withdraw subsidies that enabled farmers to access cheap inputs, a situation that enabled food self-sufficiency for many poor countries. The destruction of the agricultural sector has had a huge impact on the rural poor, and it is all the more disturbing when one considers that farmers in Europe and America continue to be subsidized, without the IMF or World Bank raising a finger.
Unfortunately, our leaders in East Africa - as indeed in most of Africa - have lacked the courage and intellectual acumen to say no to the imperialist machinations concocted in London and Washington. By unquestioningly swallowing every pill prescribed for them, they have ended up condemning whole countries and regions to endemic poverty.
There have been a few sensible leaders. But having dared to confront Western imperialism, they have largely been assassinated and replaced by puppets. The lessons of history should send a clear signal to all Third World participants at global economic forums that Western powers will ruthlessly pursue their interests. Any thoughts of genuine concern about global economic wellbeing are simply wishful thinking.
Yet, it pays to defy unjust systems than live in perpetual subjugation. Malawi, which defied these institutions to focus on sustainable food production, is today a breadbasket as other countries go begging.
Development Economist Ha-Joon Chang cites South Korea as yet another example, saying that history is replete with examples of countries forging a different path from the one prescribed by international institutions.
What intellectual malaise, then, afflicts the leaders of countries in East Africa who unwaveringly follow the advice of external "experts" from these institutions to the detriment of their own citizens? Considering that many of these leaders hide their ill-gotten wealth in the developed world, it is easy to understand why they dare not upset the global status quo.
In the circumstances, it is only proactive, organized and well-coordinated action by informed citizens that will save East Africa and the continent. It will take a movement to bring about change; the change may not be immediate, but we owe it to future generations to begin taking action today. From agriculture to conservation and capital markets to education, the movement towards people empowerment is unstoppable.