Globalisation, NEPAD and the Governance Question in Africa

by ‘Kunle Amuwo

Introduction and Problematique

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is yet another initiative by Africa’s Heads of State and Governments intended to reverse, for good, the beggarly and highly embarrassing image of the continent through a ‘sustained engagement’ with the developed world. Among its many objectives, NEPAD seeks to halt the growing and deepening poverty of Africans by working towards altering the basis of the relationship between the rich North and the poor South. The initiative seeks a new global partnership based on shared responsibility and mutual interest through the instrumentality of political democracy and economic development on the continent. It is also concerned to institute people-centered development via market-oriented economies capable of holding their own ground in the global village. Furthermore, NEPAD is in search of building blocks to lay the foundation for a new politico-economic order, one able to permanently reverse the old clich that ‘Africa is rich but Africans are poor’. The politico-economic blueprint of action is also meant to strengthen the capacity of the state with a view to making it an effective engineer, formulator and implementer of people-friendly programs and policies. Finally, where various Lome EU-ACP agreements have virtually condemned Africa to the unenviable role of producing no more than primary commodities for Western industrial consumption, NEPAD proposes a frontal attack on the negative fall-outs of the continent’s integration into the global system as an extremely weak partner and a peripheral player.

What the authors of NEPAD are saying, in brief, is that whilst it is imperative for Africa to clean up its act and begin to take its rightful place in the comity of continents, it cannot-and should not be expected-to go it alone. Yet, little or nothing in the document suggests that the Western paradigm of development that has done everything except develop the continent is being challenged or contested.

My principal argument here, at once implicit and explicit, is that since Africa’s history of unequal relations with the developed world in the last three centuries or so is such that it has largely become a non-autonomous actor without the capacity to decide its own fate and future, NEPAD—by being essentially a-historical does not constitute an adequate response to the continent’s underdevelopment. It needs to be replaced by a more African-centered economic action plan that takes the continents history into account. That is to say a history that is two-sided. First, one needs to consider Africa’s relations with the West in terms of the slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism. In the latter’s contemporary rendition as “globalization,” the continent encounters the diffusion of Western capitalism and cultural values and a network of socio-economic and political institutions and relations that have made Africa’s political economy the most vulnerable to both positive and negative external influences. The second side of that history is the bad politics and venal leadership in much of the continent that were either ignored or supported by the West during the Cold War period—depending on their strategic or nuisance value—but which have become costly in both political and economic terms after the formal end of the Cold War. As Zack-Williams, have argued, “Africa’s crisis is not natural or inevitable but a product of human history; a history forged in the complex interaction between locals and foreigners, states and societies, and domestic and imperial pressures.” [1]

A major lacuna in NEPAD, I argue, is its inability or unwillingness, or both, to boldly account for Africa’s underdevelopment as a function of both the epochal consequences of colonialism/structural imperialism and bad politics of many of the continent’s political leaders. It may be true that “democracy in the form of multiparty elections was generally seen by African rulers as the price to pay for continued financial assistance rather than as the political modality that will make development more likely.” [2]   But it is also true that structural adjustment programs (SAPs) had greatly undermined the capacity of African states economically and strengthened their hands politically to deal with political discontent. To make sense of this methodological impasse, Alex de Waal’s notion of NEPAD as a ‘big idea’ that buys into “the promise of bold international action to resolve Africa’s crisis” is useful. [3] Taken along with his argument that one of NEPAD’s strengths is that there is nothing essentially new about it, that what Africa needs is not so much new development models as “a proper application of lessons already learned,” we get the moral that the success of this African initiative seems to be hinged on a correct reading of Africa’s history as well as on adequate responses to that history. [4] InNEPAD’s attempt to grapple with that history, it seems to have treated the ‘international community’ with kid gloves. And, what is more, this has been done in a rather simplistic manner, in an A then B explicatory schema: If Africa puts its house in order, the continent’s ‘traditional’ trading partners will fund its development. It is as if authors of NEPAD have turned the history of Africa’s relations with the West on its head. It is as if contemporary globalization—particularly in the trade practices of the North in relation to the South-has no abiding hard lessons to teach Africa’s political leaders.

The remainder of this paper is divided into four sections. The first examines the nature of globalization and its effects on Africa and the new development initiative. The second critically interrogates the competing approaches to the governance question and how NEPAD addresses it. The third section analyses the challenges that governance poses to Africa’s political leaders. The last section, which also concludes the essay, is concerned to identify to what extent the document’s provisions are capable of aiding the process of constructing a developmental state on the continent. In all of this I argue that by appropriating, almost hook, line and sinker, a paradigm of Western hegemony that, in various changing forms and guises, has mainly been responsible for the continent’s underdevelopment, NEPAD does not, and cannot, be the Plan of Action to save Africa both from the outside world and from itself and this notwithstanding the good intentions of its proponents. In its place, I make a case for a developmental state that will give locusand focus to the governance project, first domestically by the gradual insertion of consensual politics between governments, unions (civil society organizations) and business, and secondly internationally, through sustained political pressure to render global governance humane.

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