«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
• The collapse of public services in much of Africa has meant that the rich – the small middle classes and settler populations – access services privately using their relative wealth. Middle class parents send their children to exclusive private schools or to schools in rich countries. Middle class houses become like fortresses in fields of squalor policed by private security companies against threats from poor scavengers. Middle class Africans respond to the collapse of national electricity supplies by buying their own generators.
The result is that violence, whether criminal or internecine, is on the increase and African societies become more divided. When these divisions and disproportionate access to services overlap with religious groups and clans then there is a breakdown of any kind of social cohesion fuelled by the fact that some people have services and others have nothing.
Providing public services to all provides for peace and social cohesion.
5.6 Building democracy and public power We have noted that globalisation has marginalised African governments under the sway of the Empire and that the market state is hollowed out and not geared for delivery of public services to citizens. This means that a human-centred endogenous development will require a strong developmental state.
Firstly this means reclaiming the terrain of public services to include services now taken away by neo-liberalism (e.g. education, health, transport); extending it into new services (ICT, child care, housing) and into new areas geographically (i.e. outside the enclaves); and limiting the possibilities for commercial gain by private service provision.
Secondly, this means reviewing the relationship between central governments and local governments that are based not on the commercial perspectives and models of the neo-liberal market state but on the needs of the people, social cohesion and the redistribution of wealth. This may mean that a greater role will be played by some central governments and a lesser role by others.
Thirdly, there must be increased funding from national government to local authorities. The assumption of the present model is that municipalities have the capacity to raise additional money apart from national government funding. This is largely founded on the neo-liberal visions of cities as business entities, which compete for investment, tourists and other sources of funding. Yet the reality in many municipalities is vastly different. In most rural districts, there is a very little possibility to become "competitive." With minimal infrastructure and severely limited potential for attracting either tourism or investment, these municipalities will remain at the margins of any competitive process.
If there are tourist or investment dollars to be captured, they most likely will flow to the best-resourced areas such as Johannesburg and Harare.
Furthermore, in these rural districts, other sources of revenue such as rates and taxes are also extremely limited. To make matters worse, most residents are unable to afford payment for services, let alone tariffs for much-needed additional infrastructure.
However, there is an important and over-riding context that should make us review these necessary measures to be carried out by African governments critically which is: in addition to its economic restructuring and its increase in imperial domination of African states (thus making it important for any developmental agenda to expand the role of African states), globalisation has also attacked democracy everywhere, in both rich and poor countries, in many ways.
Undemocratic global institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, have taken control of more and more societal aspects. State power has become centralised in the offices of presidents and prime ministers.
Media freedom and diversity has been restricted as large media TNCs have bought out radio, television and newspaper networks and established media monopolies. The structures of political parties have changed to give more power to leaders and less to ordinary members. Special legislation and entire state departments have been set up to circumvent laws protecting the civil liberties of people. Legislated rights to protest and organisations formed to use such rights have come under severe attack.
State departments dedicated to social welfare have increasingly lost power and resources whereas state departments dedicated to making war and profits have increasingly dominated within governments.
As neo-liberal prescriptions take hold, political parties have started to converge – lining up to sing the same songs from the same economic hymn sheet. The need to compete for global investors has imposed the same policies on different parties, leaving electorates with no real choice.
Outside rich countries, attacks on democracy were far more violent. The first two countries to have their economies globalised were Chile and Indonesia. In both cases this globalisation was preceded by military coups initiated by the US that overthrew elected governments and instituted vicious dictatorships. These dictators in Chile, Pinochet and Indonesia, Sudharto are today remembered with horror and loathing as embodiments of anti-democratic violence.
After independence, in the 1950s and 1960s, most African countries suffered from Cold War interference and experienced many coups or imposed dictators depending upon what suited the US imperial interests at the time. Where countries had some level of stability after successful national liberation struggles, they attempted to forge paths of national development using Keynesian policies of import substitution together with social welfare programmes. However, under pressure from the debt crisis of the 1980s, most African countries had become so destabilised that they were governed by authoritarian one-party rulers but often with extended programmes of social welfare and continued attempts at domestic production.
In the 1990s the IMF/WB called for neo-liberal programmes that cut social welfare in the form of new structural adjustment programmes and good governance under the guise of democracy. Neo-liberalism found local allies who took advantage of the mood for democracy among the people by conflating freedom with the free market. For instance, in Zambia a Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) was swept to power on a neo-liberal globalisation programme. Similar changes occurred throughout Africa in the 1990s as regimes came into power against one-party states and championed a combination of political "freedom" with market freedom. In all cases, African people ended up swapping one form of dictatorship for another i.e. a military or one-party dictatorship for a welfarist state or an IMF-dictated elected government with no social services at all.
Reinserting the state in a developmental role, after decades of globalisation's attack on democracy, raises the risk of greater state control over public life, albeit replacing the tyranny of the neo-liberal market state, but still leading to less democracy. Expanding a human development state must, therefore, go hand in hand with extending public power over all public authorities, nationally, regionally and locally.
5.6.1 Steps towards a human development state Firstly, it is important that public authorities are not accountable only to parliaments and other formal institutions of the state. People need to continue to pressurise governments outside the formal institutions of democracy and should have the recognised and inviolate right to do so by their direct action. People can occupy a public space, occupy land, go on a march or take over a factory. Workers can test their power in the factory by going on strike. In each case, such direct action can and does come up against the institutions of the state and the public power then has to be tested against the power of the state. Today, in many countries, young people attempt to exercise their public power by taking over public roads and planting trees. Social movements in places such as Brazil and Mexico have practised direct democracy by taking over unused land and turning it into co-operatives.
Secondly people need to be engaged in all institutions of formal power. It is important, for instance, that local authorities involve the people in a combination of representative and participatory governance. This means not only having the right to vote for representatives and for the right to have them recalled, but also for the right to participate directly in decision-making and the budgets required in realising their objectives.
In the case of representative governance, the people elect from among themselves a smaller group of representatives to govern society.
Case study 1 of participatory democracy The participatory budget process in Porto Alegre, Brazil Although Brazil was ruled by a neo-liberal national government in the 1990s, the strong Workers' Party (PT) with roots in the working class and poor farmers emerged and made significant gains in national and local elections. The PT won elections and became the governing party in a Southern city called Porto Alegre.
In this period the PT-led city council started what became known as the participatory budget process. The city was divided into 16 regions. Each region was represented by delegates who were elected by mass assemblies of the citizens of those regions. These delegates received mandates from the assemblies and together with the city administrators decided on the priorities for the city's budget.
Mass meetings of citizens came to play a crucial role in deciding how to spend the money available to the city council.
Clear benefits to working class and poor people flowed from this initiative. People became politically more active and aware and therefore more influential in the governing of the city. City councillors and the executive became more accountable and the council increasingly spent its money on meeting the basic needs of the popular masses.
Case study 2 of participatory democracy
Parallelism in Venezuela In 2002 Venezuela elected a new president, Hugo Chavez, on the basis of a programme of popular reforms for the poor. Chavez has called the developments in Venezuela a Bolivarian Revolution and has championed experiments in new forms of local democracy especially after the elite in Venezuela tried to overthrow these popular reforms, first through a referendum and then through a US-inspired coup.
In Venezuela a nation-wide attempt to create participatory institutions was given the name "parallelism". Initially this meant participatory institutions that would not replace representative and authoritarian institutions but would exist "parallel" to them. At local government level, the participatory institutions are called local public planning councils or CLPPs by their Spanish acronym.
The CLPPs and other participatory institutions in Venezuela are facing the same problems as the participatory budget process in Porto Alegre. However, in Venezuela there is clearer evidence that 'parallelism' has, with the enthusiastic support of the national government, inspired and accompanied a growing mobilisation of the popular masses against the elite.
However, for such a society to remain democratic, the representatives must not govern according to their own wishes and needs but according to the wishes and needs of the people.
Participatory democracy, through discussions, consultations and joint decision-making, gives the people a role in governance beyond electing representatives. Elected representatives enter into discussions and listen to suggestions and criticisms before making decisions. Participation in these discussions is open to the public and participative structures must be put in place to which people can send their mandated delegates.
5.7 Developing short and medium term measures In the pursuit of breaking the chains of imperial domination, African countries are faced with difficult choices. Particularly with the apparently inexorable logic of competitiveness at stake, there is a tendency to seek out possibilities and niches whereby African countries can "beat them at their own game." This is particularly so in the case of South Africa and its approach to services in other African countries where the TNCs and parastatals, such Rand Water and Eskom Enterprises, are seeking to take over the water and electricity services elsewhere in Africa.
In the context of the collapse of any modicum of public services outside of specific enclaves in African countries and the barely functional ones even within these enclaves, it is tempting to regard South African interventions as the "least worst option." Moreover, given that South African interventions suggest a kind of African integration, there may be some temptation to regard the expansion of organisations such as Eskom and Rand Water as "alternatives" to neo-liberalism.
However, these interventions come with the very perspectives of neoliberal approaches to services that we characterised in earlier sections of this chapter i.e. perspectives of privatisation and commercialisation, of cost recovery, strategic business units and "new public sector management".
Africa cannot break the stranglehold of imperialism if it were to adopt the "services sector" as some kind of competitive edge, such as tourism, by which to beat imperialist neo-liberalism at its own game. It has to break the stranglehold of the commodification of services at the same time. One concept that can be used to contest the commodification of services is "public goods", which is a concept with a history of acceptance in mainstream economics, even though it has fallen out of favour in today's neo-liberal world.
Public goods are those for which consumption is collective. In the more orthodox version of defining public goods, they are also said to be "indivisible" in the sense that individual consumption cannot be calculated.
Classic examples of public goods are public security and street lighting.
Both of these are generally seen as necessary although billing according to use is difficult. Because of the importance of public goods, the general assumption of Keynesian economists was that they should be provided by the state. The notion of public goods is linked to another category, that of merit goods. Merit goods are those that benefit the society as a whole but are not profitable if run as a private enterprise. Classic examples of merit goods are mass education and preventative healthcare.