FRANCE: Africa in Evian

Issue 

BY PATRICK BOND

The June G8 meeting in Evian, France, may not, after all, feature the anticipated spoils-of-war squabbles between the warmongering coalition (US, UK and Italy) and their ephemeral opponents (Germany, France, Russia, Japan and Canada). But China's invitation to attend will distract attention from a promise by French premier Jacques Chirac to loosen up Northern agricultural barriers to trade which hold back African exports.

Where, then, does the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) fit? Is it, as many commentators now agree, yesterday's news?

More than a year ago, South African trade minister Alec Erwin made a revealing statement just as Robert Mugabe was stealing a presidential election: "The West should not hold NEPAD hostage because of mistakes in Zimbabwe. If NEPAD is not owned and implemented by Africa it will fail and we cannot be held hostage to the political whims of the G8 or any other groups."

In contrast, civil society critics alleged that NEPAD was already a subimperial project, influenced by the elite team of partners who helped craft it in 2000-01. NEPAD surfaced only after extensive consultations with the World Bank president and IMF managing director (November 2000 and February 2001); major transnational corporate executives and associated government leaders (at the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2001 and in NYC in February 2002); G8 rulers (at Tokyo in July 2000 and Genoa in July 2001); and the European Union president and individual Northern heads of state (2000-01).

What was civil society's input? In late 2001 and early 2002, virtually every major African civil society organisation, network and progressive personality attacked NEPAD's process, form and content. Until April 2002, no trade union, civil society, church, women's, youth, political party or other potentially democratic or progressive forces in Africa had been formally consulted by the politicians or technocrats involved in constructing NEPAD.

In addition, tough critiques of the 67-page base document soon emerged from intellectuals associated with the Council for Development and Social Research in Africa. By the time of the launch of the African Union last July, more than 200 opponents of NEPAD from human rights, debt and trade advocacy groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe were sufficiently organised to hold a militant demonstration at the opening ceremony in Durban. Then on August 31, at least 20,000 protested against the privatisation of nature and development at the Johannesburg Earth Summit also forcefully condemned NEPAD.

The economics and politics of NEPAD provide a good basis for ongoing critique. The two central premises of NEPAD are that deeper integration into the world economy will inexorably benefit the continent, and that the enlightened proponents of NEPAD will discipline Africa's ubiquitous dictators.

Is Africa insufficiently integrated? The continent's share of world trade declined over the past quarter century, while the volume of exports increased. "Marginalisation" of Africa occurred, hence, not because of lack of integration, but because other areas of the world — especially East Asia — moved to the export of manufactured goods, while Africa's industrial potential declined thanks to excessive deregulation associated with structural adjustment.

Moreover, Africa's debt crisis worsened during the era of globalisation. From 1980-2000, Sub-Saharan Africa's total foreign debt rose from US$60 billion to $206 billion, and the ratio of debt to GDP rose from 23% to 66%.

Hence, Africa repays more than it receives. Whereas in 1980, loan inflows of $9.6 billion were comfortably higher than the debt repayment outflow of $3.2 billion. By 2000, only $3.2 billion flowed in, and $9.8 billion was repaid, leaving a net financial flows deficit of $6.2 billion. Meanwhile, (already-corrupt) donor aid was down 40% from 1990 levels.

So much for debt relief; by all accounts, the World Bank and IMF debt programs (HIPC, PRSPs) that are trumpeted in NEPAD have failed miserably. Convincing evidence continues to be found that women and vulnerable children, the elderly and disabled people are the primary victims, as they are expected to survive with less social subsidy, with more pressure on the fabric of the family during economic crisis, and with HIV/AIDS closely correlated to structural adjustment.

Africa's pro-Western elites contribute to the problem through looting the continent. The two leading scholars of the phenomenon, James Boyce and Leonce Ndikumana, show that a core group of African countries, whose foreign debt was $178 billion, suffered a quarter century of capital flight that totalled more than $285 billion (including imputed interest earnings). Capital flight by elites is not taken seriously in NEPAD, because a crackdown would conflict with the program's commitment to further financial liberalisation.

But there remained, nevertheless, a naive hope that the "good-governance" rhetoric in the document might do some good: "With NEPAD, Africa undertakes to respect the global standards of democracy, which core components include political pluralism, allowing for the existence of several political parties and workers' unions, fair, open, free and democratic elections periodically organised to enable the populace choose their leaders freely."

While South Africa under African National Congress President Thabo Mbeki's rule still permits free and fair elections, the other main NEPAD leader, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, certainly does not. In the April 2003 presidential poll, Obasanjo's home state of Ogun provided him with 1,360,170 votes, against his opponent's 680. The number of votes cast in a simultaneous race in the same geographical area was just 747,296.

Obasanjo's explanation, by way of denigrating the European Union's electoral observers, was that "Certain communities in this country make up their minds to act as one in political matters... They probably don't have that kind of culture in most European countries". International observers found "serious irregularities throughout the country and fraud in at least 11 (of 36) states".

According to Chima Ubani of the Civil Liberties Organisation, "It's not the actual wish of the electorate but some machinery that has churned out unbelievable outcomes. We've seen a landslide that does not seem sufficiently explained by any available factor". Harsh complaints also came from the Transition Monitoring Group and the Catholic Church's Justice Development and Peace Commission, which together had 40,000 monitors documenting abuse.

In contrast, Mbeki's weekly ANC internet ANC Today letter proclaimed, "Nigeria has just completed a series of elections, culminating in the re-election of president Olusegun Obasanjo into his second and last term. Naturally, we have already sent our congratulations to him." Mbeki had to register, and then dismiss, the obvious: "It is clear that there were instances of irregularities in some parts of the country. However, it also seems clear that by and large the elections were well conducted."

A similar pattern of respect for democracy was evident in Zimbabwe. Mbeki and Obasanjo had termed the 2002 presidential election "legitimate", and repeatedly opposed punishment in the Commonwealth and UN Human Rights Commission. In February 2003, foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma arrogantly stated, "We will never criticise Zimbabwe". The NEPAD secretariat's Dave Malcomson, responsible for international liaison and co-ordination, openly admitted to a reporter, "Wherever we go, Zimbabwe is thrown at us as the reason why NEPAD's a joke".

The increasingly cozy relationship between Pretoria and Harare alienated both the Movement for Democratic Change and more progressive civil society groups like the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD). Late last year, the formerly pro-NEPAD MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, concluded that Mbeki had "embarked on an international safari to campaign for Mugabe's regime. Pretoria is free to pursue its own agenda. But it must realise that Zimbabweans can never be fooled anymore."

A February 2003 gambit to readmit Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth was merely, in Tsvangirai's words, "the disreputable end game of a long-term Obasanjo-Mbeki strategy designed to infiltrate and subvert not only the Commonwealth effort but, indeed, all other international efforts intended to rein in Mugabe's violent and illegitimate regime.' Tsvangirai called the NEPAD sponsors 'self-confessed fellow travellers on a road littered with violence, destruction and death."

Most in Zimbabwean civil society were just as cynical. In a foreward to a new booklet entitled NEPAD's Zimbabwe Test: Why the New Partnership for Africa's Development is Already Failing, ZIMCODD chairperson Jonah Gokova writes of "the profound rejection of NEPAD by Zimbabweans from important social movements, trade unions and NGOs within our increasingly vibrant civil society". He terms NEPAD a "homegrown rehashing of the Washington Consensus, augmented by transparently false promises of good governance and democracy".

The durable suspicion from democratic, progressive forces across Africa appeared validated when, in October 2002, political-governance peer review was nearly excised from NEPAD. Johannesburg's Business Day newspaper described how NEPAD "had fallen victim to the realities of African politics... Diplomats said that there were indications that SA had succumbed to pressure from other African countries, including Libya and Nigeria, to confine peer review to economic and corporate governance matters." Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien reportedly called Mbeki to insist that peer review — even NEPAD's voluntarily and hence toothless (but nevertheless crucial for public relations )— be restored.

As a result, who can blame the G8 rulers for a more reserved attitude to their African visitors?

When Pretoria's delegation flew to Kananaskis in June 2002, expectations were high, not least because of a front-page Time magazine feature on "Mbeki 's mission: He has finally faced up to the AIDS crisis and is now leading the charge for a new African development plan". In fact, Mbeki has still denied more than 5 million South Africans access to life-saving medicines, and his health minister was recently charged by activists with "culpable homicide", alongside minister Erwin (who also happens to be a leader of the South African Communist Party).

Last year was Africa's big moment before the G8. However, as Institutional Investor reported, global elites "coughed up only an additional $1 billion for debt relief, failed altogether to reduce their domestic agricultural subsidies and — most disappointing of all to the Africans — neglected to provide any further aid to the continent".

Mbeki refused to accept reality: "I think they have addressed adequately all the matters that were put to them".

Kananaskis was, he claimed, "a defining moment in the process both of the evolution of Africa and the birth of a more equitable system of international relations. In historical terms, it signifies the end of the epoch of colonialism and neo-colonialism".

NEPAD's future is predicted in the current issue of Institutional Investor: "Like other far-reaching African initiatives made over the years, this one promptly rolled off the track and into the ditch... Almost two years after NEPAD's launch, it has little to show in aid or investment. Only a handful of projects have fallen within the plan's framework."

As a sort of kiss of death, the magazine quotes the chief US Africa bureaucrat, Walter Kansteiner: "NEPAD is philosophically spot-on. The US will focus on those emerging markets doing the right thing in terms of private sector development, economic freedom and liberty."

Famed anti-apartheid poet-activist and former Robben Island prisoner Dennis Brutus alleged in a Business Day newspaper column a year ago, that Mbeki and his colleagues in Kananaskis were "apparently intent on selling out the continent under the rubric of a plan crafted by the same technocrats who wrote Pretoria's failed GEAR [macroeconomic] program, under the guidance of Washington and the corporate leaders of Davos... It is past time for us to insist that president Mbeki rise off his kneepad and assume the dignity of an African leader, or face ridicule.'

Unfortunately, Mbeki continues to ignore the advice.

[The second edition of Bond's book Against Global Apartheid: South Africa meets the IMF, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is forthcoming later this month from Zed Press and University of Cape Town Press.]

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.

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