Good Governance, the World Bank and the Global Coalition for Africa
In 1979, African governments met in Lagos, Nigeria, to consider the deteriorating situation in Africa. From a food self-sufficient continent, Africa, following a prolonged drought between 1968 and 1973 that hit the Sahel at its worst, had become a net food importing country. Despite two decades of donor assistance, growth in Africa had more or less stopped, and the social conditions in most countries in Africa were worsening. African leaders, in this context, considered that the only way left was to pull themselves out of their predicament through their own efforts, and that whatever assistance came from outside in the form of donor funds, must be regarded as secondary to these efforts at self-reliance. The leaders meeting in Lagos set the year 2000 for achieving an 'African Economic Community so as to ensure the economic, social and cultural integration of our continent.' A Nigerian economist, Bade Onimode, summarised the main elements of the Lagos Plan of Action thus:
- Achievement of regional food self-sufficiency through domestic food production - not just food security that can be achieved through volatile food aid and food imports;
- satisfaction of critical needs for food, safe drinking water, clothing, housing, health care, education and transport;
- elimination or alleviation of poverty; and
- achievement of effective regional integration through national and collective self-reliance.
Soon afterwards the World Bank came out with its famous 'Berg Report'. It presented an alternative scenario to the Lagos Plan of Action. Africa, the Berg Report argued, need not despair about aid from outside. More would come provided African governments were to make the necessary economic and policy adjustments. They had neglected the agricultural sector in preference to industries that must be rectified. They had provided excessive subsidies to urban dwellers, those must go. They had excessively intervened in the economy; they must give more free space to market forces. They had concentrated far too much on the internal market; they must go for export-led growth. And so on and so forth. It was this Berg Report that first laid the basis for what was to follow, namely, the Structural Adjustment Programmes that have been the bane of African societies since then. The remarkable thing is that it was the World Bank itself which was the principal author of the very policies that it was now criticising. But of self-criticism there was not one word in the Berg Report.
The promised 'accelerated development' of Berg and company never came. In the meantime, African governments, being essentially petty bourgeois in character, nationalistic at one time and beggars for aid at another forgot about the Lagos Plan of Action. One by one they rushed to the World Bank with begging bowls promising to bring about a structural adjustment of their economies. In return for imposing the will of the WB and the IMF on an unwilling and long suffering population, they did get some capital from the donor community, but by the end of 1980s a new problem arose - the debt burden. In 1980 the debt of the sub-Saharan countries constituted 21% of the GNP and by 1988 it had risen to 88%. In 1980, debt service ratio in relation to exports of goods and services was 9%, by 1988, it had risen to 25%.
In 1983-85, Africa was hit by another drought, more severe than the Sahelian drought of 1968-73. By 1984, twenty African countries had become candidates for emergency food aid. Droughts have a habit of jolting governments out of their smug delirium induced by donor aid, and so, once again, African governments got together and asked the United Nations to hold a special session of the General Assembly to consider Africa's serious situation. The UN obliged, and at a Special Session in 1986, it adopted the UN Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development, 1986-90 (UNPAAERD). No earth-shaking document, UNPAAERD was a mere salve to the bleeding wounds of Africa.
In 1989, the World Bank, with its 'accelerated growth’ scenario in ashes, came with yet another document - Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth. In it, for the first time, the WB introduced the concept of 'good governance', a clear departure from its usual economistic inclinations. After setting out for Africa what it called 'A strategic agenda for the 1990s', which basically boiled down to measures of structural adjustments, the document went on to say:
None of these measures will go far, nor will much external aid be forthcoming, unless governance in Africa improves. Leaders must become more accountable to their peoples. Transactions must become more transparent, and funds must be seen to be properly administered, with audit reports made public and procurement procedures overhauled.
It was this Report that then went on to suggest a 'Global Coalition for Africa' (GCA).
The proposed global coalition for Africa would be a forum in which African leaders (not just from the public sector, but also from private business, the professions, the universities and other NGOs) could meet with their key partners - the bilateral and multilateral agencies and major foreign NGOs - to agree on general strategies that would then provide broad guidance for the design of individual country programmes.
The Report called this 'a new international compact for Africa'. At a conference held at Maastricht in July 1990, the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, J.P.Pronk, and the former head of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, shepherded the launching of the GCA. Some NGO representatives from Africa, were invited to a pre-GCA conference meeting to present their comments on the proposed programme of action. They did so welcoming the efforts being made to address Africa's predicament, but went on to suggest that African leaders must go back to the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) for only through self-reliance, as suggested by the LPA, can Africa pull itself out of its present crisis. The NGO representatives were subsequently not allowed to speak at the official conference, being given only 'observer' status, so much for the 'consultation' with NGOs that the WB had so liberally heralded in its document "From Crisis to Sustainable Growth".
The situation in Africa has worsened. It is the same old story. Donors have increased their grip over Africa by a plethora of 'conditionalities' that they now attach to their money. With donors all on one side backing SAPs and WB-dominated strategies, the African states stand on the other side as individuals, each in competition with the others, each holding its own begging bowl.
Africa must reclaim its hijacked agenda
In the present international conjuncture, it is difficult for African governments to lead the struggle to claim the democratic agenda. First, they are themselves under censure both from their domestic populations for failing to provide the basic wherewithal of survival and welfare, and, ironically, from their own mentors in the West, the donor community on whom they depend for largesse. Secondly, most African governments, even those that had revolutionary ambitions, have finally knuckled under pressure from the World Bank and the IMF, and are desperately trying, under great odds, to implement Structural Adjustment Programmes.
Does that mean that we should write off African governments? No, not entirely. Whether one likes them or not, they are here to stay. However, the way things are going with privatisation and liberalisation of the economy, they will have very little to do except keep peace and order. African governments are getting reduced to the purely policing functions of state. In so far as they are involved in welfare activities, these are also, in essence, mere extensions of the policing functions. The populations cannot be allowed to starve to the point of revolt and disorder, as indeed has been happening with "IMF riots" in several cities in Africa. Many western NGOs are thus involved in welfare activities to fill gaps left by the inability of African states to fulfil even the basic welfare responsibilities towards their populations.
Under these circumstances, it is the responsibility of all democratic forces working at the grassroots level to reclaim the agenda that has been hijacked by the World Bank, the IMF, and the GCA. African people demand democratic rights not because the West says so, or because that will bring in more donor funds - dubious in any case - but because these rights are inherent in the African being ever before the Europeans stepped on the soil of Africa. African must claim genuine democracy based on the rule of law, the principles of justice, the accountability of the rulers, and community responsibility for the welfare of all people who are part of the community.
African governments, in their present emaciated condition, have abandoned their own Lagos Plan of Action in favour of the foreign-inspired and directed strategies for Africa. The grassroots democratic forces must go back to the document, demand of their governments to stick to their commitments uttered in that document, and begin building from there on.
Finally, African democratic forces should learn from the experience of South East Asian countries and China. To be sure, we need not emulate their ways and their institutions. These have their own problems, and they are products of their own history and culture. What we need to learn from them is the manner in which they are prepared to stand upto the hegemonist pretensions of the West. These countries (especially, the four tigers and China) have deliberately built in 'democracy deficit' (as the West sees it) in their systems as a means to accelerating economic growth. That way they have at least kept the political processes firmly within national control, whatever one might say about the democratic credentials of their regimes from a western standpoint. They even speak of 'Asian values' as a way of keeping western notions of democracy and accountability out of their way. They know fully well that the West's democracy, in any case, is a fraud since it is really a plutocracy. Countries in Asia know this, and they know that the 'democratic conditionality' bandied around by the West is merely a weapon to try to pry open their economies to western control. This they will not allow, and their talk about 'Asian values' is a defence mechanism against Western attempts at subverting their system.
Africa has no such defence mechanism. There are occasional references to 'African culture' and 'ubuntu' but Africans have encountered difficulties building institutions based on African culture and values. Why? Because Africa never really had an opportunity of the kind that Japan offered South East Asia. The exploitative basis of Japanese imperialism in SE Asia notwithstanding, the Japanese did succeed in effectively transferring technology to these countries whilst giving them a share in the profits and a market in Japan. The West, on the other hand, has continued to pillage Africa without giving anything in return that could sustain Africa's own efforts to build their economies. To this day, the West uses 'democratic conditionalities', as well as a host of other conditionalities, to impose on Africa an economic market based model of growth and a political model of governance that is foreign to African condition and disrespectful of African indigenous traditions.
But that is the challenge Africa must face. It must dig deep into its own culture and spirituality to bring forth the energy of the ancestors to stand up to those who have disempowered Africa.
By Yash Tandon
International South Group Network (ISGN), Harare
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