“Nepad, no thanks,” say African progressives

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.

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

`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.’

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.

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.

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).

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.

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:

• 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;

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

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

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.

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.’

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.’

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.

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.

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).

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.

(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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