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ÒNepad, no thanks,Ó say African progressives


South African president Thabo Mbeki made the cover page of the international edition of Time magazine in early June, with the misleading heading: `He has finally faced up to the AIDS crisis and is now leading the charge for a new African development plan. Will the rich world listen?’

Mbeki’s opportunity for a day-long hearing at the G8 meeting at the end of June in Kananaskis, Canada, will centre around requested annual commitments of US$64 billion in aid, loans and investments. Anticapitalist demonstrators massing in Calgary and Ottawa will be told by the G8 and Canadian press that they must not worry anymore about corporate globalisation’s flaws and can go home now, because Mbeki is here to ensure Africa ends its `marginalisation’ from international capitalism.

But is the plan–the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad)–really a `new framework of interaction with the rest of the world… based on the agenda set by African peoples through their own initiatives and of their own volition, to shape their own destiny’–as claimed in the base document (http://www.nepad.org)?

Or is it a sell-out of Africa’s legitimate aspirations for social, environmental and economic justice?

And even if a case can be made that it is the former, can it work? Have anybody or any organisations aside from a few ruling elites and their international capitalist allies and backroom technocrats been party to its authorship? What do Mbeki’s meanderings on AIDS tell us about the nature of partnership, and of Africa’s ability to confront its holocaust-scale challenge?

`We do not want the old partnership of a rider and a horse,’ Mbeki insisted in mid-June when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi criticised Nepad for its obeisance to `former colonisers and racists.’

Gaddafi may have money to bail out both the African Union—formerly the Organisation of African Unity–in the run-up to its July launch, as well as his bankrupt continental allies who include Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, a Nepad spoiler due to debt default, retreat from structural adjustment, malgovernance and the stolen presidential election in March.

Mbeki and Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo, the plan’s two main backers, are considered disingenuous for `talking left’ on human rights and democracy, while `acting right,’ by endorsing Mugabe’s election as `legitimate’ so as to maintain unity amongst African rulers.

Transcending the distractions of venal nationalists like Mugabe, Africa’s progressive movements and intellectuals are uniting in anger mainly because Mbeki’s plan surrenders so much terrain to the international structural power relationships which are responsible for Africa’s last quarter-century of social dislocation, economic austerity and deindustrialisation, ecological degradation and state fragmentation.

Nepad evolved under conditions of smoke-filled-room secrecy, in close contact with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (several times during 2000), the G8 (in Okinawa in 2000 and Genoa in 2001), the Bretton Woods Institutions (in repeated meetings) and international capital (at Davos in 2001). As a result, the plan denies the rich contributions of African social struggles in its very genesis. Instead, it empowers transnational corporations, Northern donor agency technocrats, Washington financial agencies, Geneva trade bureaucrats, machiavellian Pretoria geopoliticians and Johannesburg capitalists, in a coy mix of imperialism and South African subimperialism.

Critical conclusions such as these have come from more than a dozen major consultations within and between social movements and intellectuals across the continent, beginning in January with the African Social Forum’s summit in Bamako, Mali (many statements are collected at http://www.aidc.org.za).

The first public protest against Nepad occurred in early June, at the World Economic Forum’s Southern African regional meeting in Durban, where anti-apartheid poet Dennis Brutus–now acting secretary of Jubilee South Africa–led more than a hundred nonviolent demonstrators against horse-charging policemen. Brutus held up a sign for national television viewers: `No Kneepad!’ and gave Pretoria a taste of protests that will grow in coming months (http://southafrica.indymedia.org).

The main concern is Mbeki’s promotion of the failed neoliberalism of free market economic policies. Nepad’s slippery premise is that poverty in Africa can be cured, if only the world elite gives the continent a chance: `The continued marginalisation of Africa from the globalisation process and the social exclusion of the vast majority of its peoples constitute a serious threat to global stability… We readily admit that globalisation is a product of scientific and technological advances, many of which have been market-driven… The locomotive for these major advances is the highly industrialised nations.’

All of these arguments are better put by reversing the logic. Africa’s continued poverty (`marginalisation’); is a direct outcome of excess globalisation, not of insufficient globalisation, because of the drain from ever declining prices of raw materials (Africa’s main exports), crippling debt repayments and profit repatriation to transnational corporations.

Technology lubricates but does not cause international economic dynamics. The advanced capitalist economies have witnessed substantially lower profits and growth since the mid-1970s, compared to the 1950s-60s, and the dot.com craze is only one indication of technology’s failure to resolve intrinsic capitalist crisis tendencies.

As a result, the main organisations of the African left, including women’s groups which know very well who must pay the bill, are expressing skepticism about Nepad’s main strategies:

• privatisation, especially of infrastructure such as water, electricity, telcoms and transport, will fail because of the insufficient buying power of most African consumers;

• more insertion of Africa into the world economy will simply worsen fast-declining terms of trade, given that African countries produce so many cash-crop and minerals whose global markets are glutted;

• multi-party elections are held, typically, between variants of neoliberal parties, and cannot substitute for the genuine democracy required to restore legitimacy to so many failing African states;

• grand visions of information and communications technology are hopelessly unrealistic considering the lack of simple reliable electricity across the continent; and

• South Africa’s self-mandate for peace-keeping provides no peace of mind, in the wake of Pretoria’s ongoing purchase of US$5 billion worth of offensive weaponry and its unhappy record of regional military interventions.

As for economic aspirations, such as lower foreign debt, more stable capital financial flows and increased foreign investment, Mbeki offers only the status quo.

Instead of promoting full and immediate debt cancellation, as do virtually all serious reformers, the Nepad strategy is to `support existing poverty reduction initiatives at the multilateral level, such as the Comprehensive Development Framework of the World Bank and the Poverty Reduction Strategy approach linked to the Highly Indebted Poor Country debt relief initiative.’ Jubilee South labels these a `cruel hoax’ and even the World Bank now concedes its HIPC plan has failed to make Africa’s foreign debt `sustainable.’

Only after implementing these discredited strategies, replete with neoliberal conditions such as further privatisation, can African leaders `seek recourse’ through Nepad. Malawi’s worsening starvation, due to a famine amplified when the country’s grain stocks were sold thanks to International Monetary Fund `advice’ to first repay commercial bankers, is emblematic, and so extreme that even that wretched country’s leaders are publicly blaming the IMF.

When it comes to other financial flows, speculative `hot-money’ investments in emerging markets such as South Africa have harmed not helped the vast majority. And most foreign loans over the past thirty years have detracted from local capital accumulation, because they have allied corrupt African state elites with foreign bankers who drain the continent by facilitating capital flight. Nepad calls for more of each.

Nepad’s solution to foreign investment drought includes `Public-Private Partnerships’ in privatised infrastructure: `Establish and nurture PPPs as well as grant concessions towards the construction, development and maintenance of ports, roads, railways and maritime transportation… With the assistance of sector-specialised agencies, put in place policy and legislative frameworks to encourage competition.’

But most infrastructure is of a `natural monopoly’ type, for which competition is unsuitable: roads and railroads, telephone land lines, water and sewage reticulation systems, electricity transmission, ports and the like. Nepad cannot make a case for competition in these areas. There is, in contrast, an extremely strong case, based on `public-good’ features of infrastructure, for state control and non-profit operation. Most noticeably, privatisation of infrastructure usually prevents the cross-subsidisation required to serve poor consumers, especially women-headed households.

Finally, Nepad is at its most self-contradictory when appealing `to all the peoples of Africa, in all their diversity, to become aware of the seriousness of the situation and the need to mobilise themselves in order to put an end to further marginalisation of the continent and ensure its development by bridging the gap with the developed countries.’

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Africans falling further into poverty as a result of leadership compradorism and globalisation do not need to `become aware of the seriousness of the situation,’ as much as do the elite rulers who generally live in luxury, at great distance from the masses. And when progressive Africans express `the need to mobilise themselves,’ they are nearly invariably met with repression.

Pretoria’s own practice in all these regards–repaying apartheid debt, allowing speculative finance and capital flight to wreck the currency, privatising basic services like water and electricity at great social cost (especially damage to public health and the standards of living of women, the youth, elderly and HIV+ people), and meting out repression to those who object–are reminders of the fact that Nepad is being tried at home, and isn’t working.

As for `mobilising,’ Nepad does not mention the mass civil-society protests that threw off the yokes of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and dictatorships. Those protests are increasingly turning against Pretoria’s neoliberal, subimperialist agenda.

One burst of activism occurred in May, when thousands of Treatment Action Campaign supporters went to the South African Constitutional Court to make the case that the country’s five million HIV+ people have a human right to anti-retroviral medicines.

On May 2, just two weeks after Mbeki’s cabinet announced an alleged U-turn on AIDS medication policy, the government’s defense in the court case rested upon denying that AIDS drugs could help due to the canard of toxicity. Still today, the SA Department of Health continues prevaricating on AIDS treatment, including inexpensive nevirapine for pregnant women–to prevent transmission to their babies–and rape survivors.

If Mbeki told a jejune Time journalist that he has `finally faced up to the AIDS crisis,’ that reporter missed abundant evidence of the president’s continuing denialism, such as the recent circulation to African National Congress branches of a 114 page dissident rant allegedly drafted by the late Peter Mokaba, but with Mbeki’s embedded signature on the formatted Word document and quotes by Mbeki’s favourite poet, Yeats (see http://www.mg.co.za).

Following the G8 meeting, at which George W. Bush, Jean Chretien, Tony Blair and the rest will seek legitimacy for more trade and financial liberalisation by fronting their plans with Nepad, African progressives will have two important opportunities to make a different case to the local and global public. In early July, the African Union will be launched in Durban, with Mbeki as chairperson in 2002-03. In late August, the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development convenes in Johannesburg’s plush Sandton suburb, with Nepad.already serving as a key chapter in the Chairman’s Text (http://www.johannesburgsummit.org).

At all these elite events, progressives will protest neoliberalism, imperialism, global ecological degradation and other manifestations of what even Mbeki terms `global apartheid.’ They will argue that the alternatives to Nepad, like South Africa’s own Freedom Charter (1955) and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (1994) in previous eras, are to be found embedded not in Western free market ideology, but in the struggles of Africans for a thorough-going transformation of society that ultimately breaks, not shines, the chains of apartheid.

(Bond is editor of a new book, Fanon’s Warning: A Civil Society Reader on Nepad, available internationally through Africa World Press at http://www.africanworld.com)

(PS, due to fluid and often incomprehensible local conditions, I’ll postpone the analysis of the fractured Johannesburg Left in the run-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development until next month.)

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