«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
The notion of "globalisation" evokes considerable passion and emotion. To some minds it merely draws attention to a process of global unification of social and economic processes. Some see these processes as ultimately beneficial, others regard globalisation processes as an anathema to the interests of the smaller and under-developed countries of this world. In a world in which the gap between rich and poor both internationally and within countries is increasing, globalisation is seen as primarily a process that favours the rich. As Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank recently admitted, "we have six billion people on the planet …, five billion of them in developing countries. The one billion in the developed world has eighty percent of the assets, the five billion have twenty percent. ….
the inequities are considerable and we have 2.8 billion people who are living under two dollars a day and 1.2 billion under one dollar a day. And we find in fact in so many parts of the world that the equity is in fact diminishing in terms of rich and poor rather than improving."(1) In Africa over 50% of the population lives on less than 65 US cents per day. Abject and crushing poverty increasingly dehumanises African humanity.
Pestilence and wars have made Africans the unrivalled wretched of the earth.
Globalisation also conjures up in the minds of many the reality of dominance and hegemony in the contemporary world; the swallowing up of smaller economic and social entities by the powers that be in today's world. The term globalisation, which came into usage during the 1980s, refers to the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows. The term sometimes also refers to the movement of people (labour) and knowledge (technology) across international borders. There are also broader cultural, political and environmental dimensions of globalisation. Noticeably, some countries are becoming integrated into the global economy more quickly than others.
Some countries appear to be making greater developmental headway in the globalisation process than others. The "tiger economies" of Asia, including China, are successfully transforming to the point that China has become the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and Japan. These changes in Asia are transforming the region from one of the poorest areas of the world 40 years ago to the world's fastest growing area. The record in Africa, in contrast, is dismal. Neo-liberalism has thus far largely strangled African economies and, up to now, Africa has failed to find the solutions which post-colonial Asia has found so well.
At the France-Africa Summit at Yaoundé in Cameroon on January 19, 2001, Stanley Fischer, First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, had this to say, "What should policymakers, especially African policymakers, do to reap the benefits of economic globalization? I could now embark on an IMF list, including sound macro-economic policies, better governance, legal and financial reform, privatization, price liberalization and infrastructure investment" (2). He went on to add that, "trade liberalization, which helps open economies up to competition and deepens their integration into the world economy. SSA is less open to international trade than other developing regions. Several studies have shown that liberalization should improve the region's trade performance significantly and thereby spur the growth of productivity and incomes" (3).
While admitting that, "some African countries have made major progress in liberalizing trade over the past several years", Fischer also rightly points out that "progress on trade liberalization in Africa should be matched by the opening of advanced country markets to the exports of African producers. In particular, the advanced economies should lower the effective protection on goods of interest to SSA countries, such as clothing, fish, processed foods, leather products and agricultural products more generally". Fischer's listing of the above neo-liberal offering of remedies to Africa's crisis of development defies the reality on the ground.
The facts of the matter are that the rich countries of the world continue to subsidise their agricultural products in competition to Africa and the rest of the poor world to the tune of 315 billion dollars per year. Most African countries spend more on debt repayments than they receive as foreign direct investment. Thus Africa has become, in effect, an exporter of capital to the rich countries. The exploitation of Africa, which has been going on for centuries, continues.
Indeed, globalisation is not as new as it is often suggested to be. Its roots lie in the period of the expansion of Europe in the 15th century. Since then the steady integration of all societies on the globe into an increasingly united economy based in the Western world has marched forward inexorably. Although the term globalisation came into coinage and usage in the 1980s, it did not start in the 1980s. It has been in process since the so-called "European voyages of discovery", through slavery and mercantilism, laissez faire free trade and colonialism, on to the era of neocolonialism or post-colonialism. Globalisation is in sum the new face of an old process. It is also not a phenomenon, which can be accepted or rejected at will. We have to live with it, but we can and must negotiate its realities and terms, with all concerned, to the best advantage of Africans, in much the same way as many Asian countries in our times have managed to do.
Riding on the back of contemporary neo-liberal thinking, globalisation has produced different results for different people. From Adam Smith, in the late 18th century to John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, economic liberalism, meaning the abolition of government intervention in economic matters; no restrictions on manufacturing; no barriers to commerce, no tariffs, Western capitalist society has worked on the premise that free trade was the best way for a nation's economy to develop. Such ideas were "liberal" in the sense that they advocated "no controls". Driven by entrepreneurial zest and economic individualism, this ideology encouraged "free" enterprise," "free" competition, or legitimised greed, which in effect meant that the captains of industry were free to make profits as the rules of the capitalist order permitted.
In response to the Great Depression, Keynes turned classical liberalism upside down, suggesting that full employment was crucial to capitalist development and therefore governments and central banks should spend their way out of the Depression by creating employment on a large scale.
These ideas influenced and led directly to Roosevelt's New Deal. However, closer to our times, the rapidly recurrent crises of capitalist slumps have over the past three decades led to the revival of the ideology of economic liberalism. The Bretton Woods institutions with new slogans, incantations and buzzwords have in the last twenty years led this new liberalism. A new mix of ideas has underpinned neo-liberalism. Principal among these are unregulated and deregulated markets, the minimisation of public expenditure for social services, wholesale privatisation and the glorification of "individual initiative". This ideological regime of neoliberalism has economically disabled Africa and much of the Third World.
Politically, it has often supported a sociologically disembodied formula to democratic governance, which can be best described as "a one size fits all" approach. Culturally, it has opened the way to the "MacDonaldization" of non-Western cultures, or if you prefer, the universalisation of a "Coca Cola culture".
What is of particular interest to us in this paper is the cultural effects of the process of denationalization in the shadow of neo-liberalism, and how to construct a new paradigm, which negates the theory and practice of neo-liberalism in the cultural sphere. In other words, how do we arrest the process of accelerated cultural denationalisation, which is eating away at our historical and cultural belongings as Africans and making it difficult to construct development on what the people in their masses share in common.
2.1 Neo-liberalism, globalisation and culture Doubtlessly, the development of the global village has increasingly meant the expansion of some shared cultural attributes for the whole of humanity. This shared cultural space has redefined cosmopolitanism, moving it away from elitist affiliations to "high culture" or unrestrained Westernism to a situation in which being a "citizen of the world" has come to have meaning for increasing numbers at all points on the globe.
However, this tendency has not obliterated local cultures as familiar and defining points of reference for the majority of humanity, particularly those lying out of the immediate ambit of the West. The point has been made that one of the popular insights of our times is that while we acknowledge the global we must fully permit the celebration of the local.
Africa's solutions will need to be defined and implementationally be advised by policies, which reflect the cultural realities of the society they are intended to serve. The solutions would need to be constructed on African cultural characteristics i.e. the cultures of mass society, but such latter-day social engineering would need to acknowledge tolerance, social inclusivity and the coexistence of cultural diversity both in theory and in practice (4).
Globalisation is challenging the ability of smaller and weaker cultures in their diversity to share a common space, especially where rival nationalisms, power and religion intersect and vie for influence and hegemony. This, plus the attendant tensions of terrorism, has led some such as Samuel Huntington to suggest a coming "clash of civilizations".
Others argue more forcefully for the need to develop higher tolerance levels, stronger global consciousness and a purposefully constructed interdependence between peoples and cultures, "a dialogue of civilizations". It is in these cultural realities that our humanity is ultimately defined.
It is culture that distinguishes us from and raises us above other animals.
Humans learn and create culture as a social heritage, which is generationally transferred as material and non-material fabrication of the human genius. Thus, much as we make culture, culture makes and defines us both as individuals and as members of groups. Its assemblage of ideals, values and patterns of institutionalised behaviour, socialised symbols and shared meanings underscore the centrality of language. The social character of language and its function as the key transactional instrument for human groups makes it both the supreme divider and at the same time invisible instrument for uniting people. The shared civilization of humanity is based more on achieved social characteristics than ascribed criteria. How we manage diversity will determine whether we are successful in institutionalising cultural pluralism in a democratic world or living with a divisive conflict-ridden scenario with mindless bloodletting as has been seen in recent years in the eastern Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, northern Uganda and the Sudan (5).
Neo-liberalism in the cultural sphere tends to promote Western cultural hegemony, especially American cultural constructs. It is not only Africans who protest against this, numerous European minds share this disquiet about American cultural hegemonism. In Europe, the French have been particularly vocal about this. In a closely argued text which appeared some years ago, the then chief correspondent of Le Monde, Claude Julien, explained how through the film industry, educational exchanges, intellectual brain-gain, publishing, literature distribution, broadcasting and other means, American economic and political imperialism is complemented by cultural imperialism (6). But seen from the Southern African viewpoint, given the cultural fragility of our situation and the dangers of near total cultural effacement, the denationalisation pressures we face are not only American but are more specifically the persistent cultural legacy of our erstwhile colonial masters. In a letter, which recently appeared in the South African Cape Argus, the writer lamented that, "I see the youth of South Africa embracing the gangster rap culture of America enthusiastically. They are walking the walk, talking the talk and emulating the colours, codes and behaviour of the ego-laced American gang culture. South Africa willingly imports the endless gangster rap music and videos filled with near naked women of colour looking and acting like whores. The lyrics leave nothing to the imagination with foul language, degradation of women and the glorification of violence, gangs, guns, money and thugs. This is what the youth of the South African nation are emulating. South Africa has willingly allowed this negative and damaging foreign influence of culture to invade its radios and television, straight into our children's minds, goals, priorities, morals and values.
Back in my day, 'peace and love' were the influences my parents had to worry about. Today it's trying to implore your daughter that being a scantily clad hoochy-mama is not a goal and to your son that a foulmouthed gangster is not a career.
Freedom is apparently the right to make gangsters and whores the influences and heroes of today's youth, to emulate, admire, look up to and strive to be like. As an American South African, it saddens me that some of the worst of my country is embraced so enthusiastically abroad, where it's taken as a serious lifestyle choice instead of the dollar-making gimmick it's generally recognised as back home." (7). This indeed is a lament we hear right across the continent and beyond. From Hollywood to hip hop, throughout Africa, the youth are constantly inundated with the cultural symbols of America. The cultural-overkill of this process engenders disquiet. Some parents complain but politicians and lawmakers do nothing about it. Public voice continues to be weak and inarticulate.
Bewilderment mixed with anxiety, hopelessness and a lack of political will hold the leaders of Africa back. It is however important to understand that this process is enabled through the agency of the wider local elites which serve as surrogate cultural custodians of such imported hegemonic culture. A syndrome of cultural compradorism is in place among the elites, which stands in the way of the development of an African national culture in Africa.