«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
African countries have had their dependence on imperialism entrenched and intensified with the imposition of neo-liberalism on Africa through structural adjustment programmes, IMF-loan conditionalities, WTO agreements, debt-write-off conditionalities etc.
In the context of the imperial domination of Africa, African governments have been forced to lever open spaces for Transnational Companies (TNCs) to profiteer in public services. The NEPAD and GATS agreements facilitate this process and South African TNCs have been pivotal in taking advantage of the spaces opened up by organisations such as Rand Water, Eskom Enterprises, MTN and Vodacom.
The World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a recent imposition that is relevant to this chapter as it is the first multilateral, comprehensive and enforceable agreement covering trade and investment in services – GATS covers over 160 "service" activities including social services such as education, healthcare and other domestic policy areas. The GATS aims at eradicating any government measures that can hamper foreign investors from investing across national boundaries in water provision, schooling, transport etc. and was formulated due to demands from Transnational corporations for new global trade laws to foster a new international market in services. Social services, such as education and water, have generally been considered domestic sectors unsuitable for the open market. The GATS is part of the WTO's "single undertaking" meaning that when African counties joined the WTO in 1994 they had no choice but to be a part of GATS in order to be members.
The goal of GATS is to expand trade in services by restricting government measures that interfere with the ability of foreign companies and investors to profit from supplying services. It implies that governments who privatise social services and agree to bring these under the GATS rules, but do not allow TNCs to buy or invest in these services, are being discriminatory and are therefore guilty of putting up barriers to free trade.
In addition to GATS there is a discourse of "good governance" within the World Bank and more recently within the NEPAD, which came into being after the lamentable failure of the SAPs of the 1980s and 1990s. In terms of this discourse, countries are required to operate in terms of neo-liberal ideas as to how states should operate in order to be certified by donor agencies as practising "good governance". And under the rubric of "good governance" African countries are expected to implement the restructuring of their states to become neo-liberal or market states along the lines expanded upon above (ILRIG 2003).
The overwhelming result of this restructuring has been that the enclaves of public services, enjoyed by some African countries, have further diminished. For millions of people in Africa there has been a return to prepublic services – to services "individually" provided through rural networks, families and clans rather than through any private company or public authority.
5. Alternative sustainable human development approach to public services
5.1 Human rights approach. Taking popular struggles and demands as points of departure Public services go to the heart of the quality of life issue, which is by definition a moving target because human needs and wants are not fixed.
People will always struggle to extend the limit or extent of public services fixed by governments. Today public services may be about water and electricity provision, tomorrow it may be about childcare and restaurants.
People's aspirations to improve their quality of life should constantly push back the boundaries, widen the terrain and increase the depth and quality of what public services constitute.
On the other hand there are forces at play such as governments, capitalists, international and national laws, patterns of ownership and control, that try to reduce the scope of public services or make access to them subject to the ability to pay, profitability etc. As it is, many things that were part of public services in many countries, including many African counties, have been taken away as they have been privatised and or commercialised.
Our understanding of a human development approach to public services should therefore take into consideration that the range, quality and nature of public services should first and foremost be moral-historical i.e. what is possible today given the level of development of human capacity, science and technology, what people themselves have been struggling for and how far we can push back the power of capital and Empire, before we look at budgets, economic mechanisms for delivery, legal frameworks etc.
To develop an alternative approach, we need to start with the traditions and demands of popular struggles over the past period. Struggles to improve the quality of life of people in the context where a very small minority has accumulated such obscene wealth that they can buy anything they desire, for example the world-wide struggle for an eight-hour working day since the end of the 19th century so that workers could have leisure time and time for their families. Another instance was the "Asinamali" (We have no money) struggles against paying for services in South Africa in the 1980s because people regarded services as their right and refused to pay an illegitimate authority for them. Similarly, in the 1990s people rioted against the cut in bread subsidies in Algeria and Zambia when the IMF imposed SAPs on their governments.
There was nothing technocratic about these demands. No economist worked out the budgets. No intellectual worked out whether these demands were "realistic". People were simply defining for themselves what they regarded as necessary services in their lives.
In the neo-liberal world of today everyone is told that we must first get the "economic fundamentals" right (meaning the neo-liberal policies) including the sacrifices people would have to make in terms of foregoing any access to services before people will eventually reap the benefits. A human-centred approach to development starts from what people want now and then constructs an economic strategy consistent with those demands.
5.2 Public services and development From a human development perspective, water becomes a resource for development. With this approach we cannot assess water services solely through traditional accounting methods. For example, in underdeveloped rural areas, access to affordable water enhances the potential for agricultural production but water does not only have economic benefits.
An adequate supply of water for drinking and hygiene is essential for maintaining health. In turn, these health benefits have positive socioeconomic spin-offs. On the level of individual or collective productivity, reducing incidents of diarrhoea or cholera will enhance the productivity of a workforce. Moreover, if fewer people are ill due to a poor water and sanitation service, the load on healthcare resources is lessened. Instead of having to respond to cholera epidemics, the healthcare system can focus on HIV/Aids primary healthcare.
Public services that ensure a potable purified water supply contribute to health and minimise the risk of water borne diseases. Tap water provided to households frees women in poor communities from having to walk to rivers or having to visit distant communal taps after dark.
For the poor, electricity brings many benefits. Domestic tasks such as cooking and heating become easier, and students can study more effectively. In informal settlements, electricity reduces the likelihood of shack fires often caused by paraffin.
Public provision of decent housing means that workers living in shacks are less prone to illnesses, women have less burdensome domestic conditions and young people can attend schools knowing that the domestic space is more conducive to effective homework and study.
All of these moral-historical provisions of service as public services contribute towards the general health, well being, health and capacity for skills development of whole nations. All of them ensure that the ambient level of productivity increases and thus allow for goods and services to be produced more efficiently. The human development model of public services does not start with the mantra of international competition but the outcome of a healthier, productive nation actually opens space for a more efficient domestic industry and success in international trade.
5.3 Developing a domestic market for endogenous growth The state is not only a provider of public services, which are in and of themselves beneficial in terms of human development, it is also a market for goods produced and "consumed" by the public service provision. For instance, an extensive provision of a rail network can stimulate the growth of the steel industry and a programme of public housing can stimulate the growth of a domestic cement, brick and building materials industry. Public schooling creates a demand for school buildings, school uniforms and computers – all of which are markets for industrial outputs in building, textiles and electronics.
There are important downstream and upstream linkages that go with these in terms of electrification and the development of other consumer and capital goods. People who have houses need furniture, fridges, stoves and carpets. Every public service provided is in itself a market and a stimulator for industry and each industry stimulates upstream and downstream industries. Economists refer to this process as a "multiplier effect".
All of these activities require the services of workers, which means jobs are created. With these jobs workers have disposable income, which means that they increase the size of the domestic consumer market even further.
Of course these demands can be met by imports and some importation may be necessary in the short-term while domestic industry is still undeveloped. The point is that public services are about domestic markets that governments in Africa can shape themselves. Instead of African countries living at the mercy of international prices and ownership ebbs and flows (what economists call "exogenous" factors), developing industrial capacities, on the basis of domestic markets driven by the public service provision, is about relying on domestic factors. This is referred to as endogenous growth, which if pursued, can allow African countries to determine their own destinies.
5.4 Relieving women from domestic labour In an earlier section we spoke about the evolution of public services as the development of public authorities and their capacity to provide, on a grand scale, services such as education, healthcare, sewerage, water, electricity, transport etc as opposed to having these provided for in the private or domestic sphere. We also said that many of these services, such as childcare, care of the sick and aged and cooking food, have remained in the domestic sphere. Within the domestic sphere, under patriarchal power, these activities have been associated with women who are "full-time" housewives and mothers but who also do a range of other formally waged activities or have other forms of livelihoods. Previously, the development of public services by public authorities provided relief for women from many of these activities (even if women still remained oppressed within defined roles in families and clans).
The impact of globalisation and its commodification of services has made devastating cut-backs on the range, scale, quality, accessibility and viability of services for most people and has thereby increased the load on women for what is now an expanded version of the domestic sphere for services as far as water collection, extended childcare and healthcare, cooking with more labour intensive energy forms and labour intensive foods, walking greater distances to access resources etc.
Effective public services would have important gender equity benefits such as relieving women of the burdens of having to care for the sick and the elderly, educating their children and having to obtain water and energy from distant sources. Half the population will also be included more in social and political life, engage in other productive activities more and have more time for leisure.
5.5 Promoting peace and cohesion Delivering services contributes to social sustainability by building links of solidarity among community members. If one is without water or electricity, a neighbour can help out. By contrast, many case studies have shown how commodification approaches stratify communities that are fragile already. The law of competition prevails. Those who cannot afford to pay become ostracised or become the commercial prey of their neighbours who may resort to selling them water from their own taps.
Much of Africa is not only poverty-stricken but also racked with strife, violence and disintegration for which neo-liberal programmes, such as SAPs, are directly responsible. While neo-liberal inspired programmes, such as NEPAD, ignore all these issues and call on Africans to make peace as a pre-condition for foreign investment and overseas development aid, a human-centred approach would reveal that peace is a direct consequence of uplifting human beings out of the desperate daily struggle for survival.
The machinations of the Empire stoke the fires and fan the flames by bribing local warlords and seeking to divide the spoils of Africa's wealth.
Whole sections of some countries, such as the DRC, have simply been hived off into competing fiefdoms.
African countries inherited a colonially skewed pattern of public services.
The enclaves of imperially linked areas, often the major port, the industrial-mining centre or settler-inhabited zones, were surrounded by hinterlands that hardly had access to public services at all. Neo-liberal globalisation has exacerbated this situation and vast areas are outside the ambit of the national state.
This means that:
• Most people simply have no contact with any kind of civic authority and have retreated to pre-capitalist methods of survivalism that allows people to be at the mercy of local tyrants and their imperialist paymasters.