By now we are extremely familiar with the sigh of world leaders trying to turn the spotlight away from their domestic inadequacies by embarking on major new foreign policy initiatives. It seems to have been working for George W. Bush, and Tony Blair – who always takes his cues from the man in the White House – is this week following suit. He has just embarked on a whistle-stop tour of West African countries, keen to show himself a world class leader. He’ll be stopping off in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria. And, en route, he’ll be touting the latest offering from the neoliberal stable – NEPAD, the New Partnership for African Development.




Mr Blair has, apparently, been stung by accusations that his trip is nothing but ‘designer diplomacy’. On the contrary, he says. “We have a duty to act… this is the best chance in a generation to save the continent… Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world.”


It serves Mr Blair well, of course, to construct this as a mercy mission. That he has also raised the spectre of African terrorists visiting Northern shores compounds the image of Africa as childlike yet savage continent. It is a discourse with a long history, and once upon a time Cecil Rhodes used it to justify conquest and dispossession. The rhetoric of compassion, conscience and morality plays to Mr Blair’s self-image as an avuncular, well-intentioned moderate. And, just as with his rhetoric in the UK, this verbiage displays a startling distaste for other terms, like ‘culpability’.




The precipitous decline in aid to Africa might have something to do with Africa’s post-colonial situation? The colonial washing-of-hands of the continent, the usefulness of the African market for Northern-produced military technology and expertise, the extraction of resources for cheap sale on the world market, the steady haemorrhage of capital and trained people from Africa to the North — perhaps these too might be somewhat to blame. But Mr Blair’s discourse of compassionate ‘responsible internationalism’ erases the need to worry about anything as sordid as guilt.


The authors of NEPAD, primarily Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria are keen to play up the image of Africa as the runt of the world economy. As the preamble to NEPAD says:


“In Africa, 340 million people, or half the population, live on less than US $1 per day. The mortality rate of children under 5 years of age is 140 per 1000, and life expectancy at birth is only 54 years. Only 58 per cent of the population have access to safe water. The rate of illiteracy for people over 15 is 41 per cent. There are only 18 mainline telephones per 1000 people in Africa, compared with 146 for the world as a whole and 567 for high-income countries.”


It has long been time for the decline in African incomes to reverse. And it is certainly the case that Africans need to reclaim the power to do this without the crushing burdens of debt, poverty and disease perpetuated, by omission or commission, by the North. But are the leaders of Africa quite the people we want to be administering the ten billion dollars of aid for which Mr Blair is calling from the international community?


Patrick Bond in a forthcoming article has put his finger on the reason why we ought to be very suspicious of Thabo Mbeki. Since taking over from Nelson Mandela in 1999, Mr Mbeki has piloted the South African economy rightwards with unerring skill. The privatisation of essential utilities, the mass evictions and the oppression of political dissent cast into doubt the seriousness of his commitment to the majority of African people. His policies signal, instead, nothing more than compradorism, the liquidation and siphoning of public property into the private hands of an elite. Rather than going to the trouble of building new public infrastructure, Mbeki, Obasanjo and their club of patriarchs want to own what already exists.




Compradorism is a broad problem and one that doesn’t only affect Africa. Fanon could have been writing about the elites in the North when he wrote this, in The Wretched of the Earth: “In the same way that the national bourgeoisie conjures away its phase of construction in order to throw itself into the enjoyment of its wealth, in parallel fashion in the institutional sphere, it jumps the parliamentary phase and chooses a dictatorship of the national-socialist type.”


At Porto Alegre this year, a few people were asking about what Northern organisations could be doing to help those in the South. The betrayal of democracy is a global phenomenon. It’s not just the African bourgeoisie that is tending towards national socialism. The interchangeability of the major European and North American political parties should tell us something about the global crisis of democracy.




See if you can spot the contradiction here. NEPAD asks African leaders to “[promote and protect] democracy and human rights in their respective countries ….[while simultaneously] instituting transparent legal and regulatory frameworks for financial markets…” Human rights and Soweto based activist Trevor Ngwane, speaking at the World Social Forum, parsed this elegantly, and bluntly: “When they talk of human rights, the right that they want above all is the right of property, the right of capital.” That there has been capital flight from every African country to open up its capital markets to attract foreign investors seems to trouble the authors of NEPAD only slightly. They insist that Africa needs to be made more attractive to investors, and have peppered the plan with a gamut of technologies so that the state can subsidise international corporations and capital.


The right to housing, for instance, and the right to ownership are invariably at odds, in contradiction. The philosophers remind us that from a contradiction, anything follows. We know from bitter experience that the rights that will be enforced under NEPAD won’t be the rights of the poor, the homeless or the sick, but the right of the rich further to squeeze the continent’s resources and people dry.




“It’s worse than structural adjustment”, says Prof. Yash Tandon, director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative. “At least under adjustment, the World Bank admitted that it was a purely economic programme, and when social costs were felt, made contingencies, however inadequate. In NEPAD, they’ve made those social problems part of the plan. They know there are going to be millions of poor people hurt by it, and they’re going to do it anyway. Our leaders have betrayed us.”


The indignity of the plan, and its attempt to cream off the assets of Africa for the richest, is craven. To add to the insult, Africa’s ‘leaders’ have written into NEPAD this call to the African people: “The leaders of the continent are aware of the fact that the true genius of a people is measured by its capacity for bold and imaginative thinking, and determination in support of their development.” They are right. The leaders of the continent are scared lest bold and imaginative thinking take place. Hence the mollifying and soothing attempt to create unity behind this plan. Happily, there won’t be any, ever.




In Africa itself, activists, teachers, trades unionists and women’s groups are mobilising against NEPAD. This mobilisation needs solidarity. It deserves international support, not because it can’t be defeated without it – NEPAD cannot be allowed to happen – but because everywhere are facing exactly the same problem, of elites asset stripping countries, undemocratic government, increasing inequality and declining social services.


In both North and South, the captured state is ready to do whatever it can to stop the mobilisation from below. Protest is increasingly becoming criminalised in the United States, in Europe and in Africa – which renders it all the more urgent. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, the Peace movement has mobilised around an exceptionally powerful slogan. ‘Not in our name’. The horrors that will be meted out on Africa under the guise of development, the bloodshed, the arms trade, the entrenching of patriarchy, the enrichment of the bourgeoisie and the hunger of the poor, these are all spectres of worldwide struggles. And we cannot let them happen in our, or anyone else’s name any longer.


Raj Patel is a co-editor of the Voice of the Turtle http://voiceoftheturtle.org and an activist at Harare-based SEATINI http://www.seatini.org

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