Podium: The globalisation of Africa

From a speech by the President of South Africa to the Organisation for African Unity summit in Algiers, Algeria

LAST YEAR, the well-known international financier George Soros published a book entitled The Crisis of Global Capitalism. Being conscious of the negative impact that this crisis of global capitalism has had on the African continent, and certainly on sub-Saharan Africa, I thought that the most intelligent thing for me to do would be to start off by locating any references to Africa in the book. The index indicates that Africa is mentioned in four of its pages. I would like to quote these portions.

"We have experienced... break-ups and breakdowns of state power in the Nineties in the [Soviet Union], the former Yugoslavia and Albania, in various parts of Africa (Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo etc)."

Another reference says: "Even Africa has shown some signs of life." This refers to inflows of foreign capital.

The next reference says: "The US dollar serves as the reserve currency in Hong Kong and Argentina, the French franc in the former French colonies in Africa..."

The last of the references says: "I also made a study of African countries and I found that people in resource-rich and resource-poor countries are equally poor; the only difference is that the governments of resource- rich countries are much more corrupt."

What this shows graphically is the extent to which Africa is off the globalisation screen - the degree to which the continent is marginalised.

Yet the African condition describes exactly the negative consequences of the process of globalisation, if we go according to the 1999 Human Development Report of the UNDP. And here is what this report says: "When the market goes too far in dominating social and political outcomes, the opportunities and rewards of globalisation spread unequally and inequitably - concentrating power and wealth in a select group of people, nations and corporations, marginalising the others."

The report goes on to say: "The challenge of globalisation in the new century is not to stop the expansion of global markets. The challenge is to find the rules and institutions for stronger governance - local, national, regional and global - to preserve the advantages of global markets and competition, but also to provide enough space for human, community and environmental resources to ensure that globalisation works for people - not just for profits."

What this calls for is our conscious and deliberate intervention in the process of globalisation, as Africans, to produce these results of ethics, equity, inclusion, human security, sustainability and development.

And this means that we, as politicians, must seek to gain a profound understanding of economics, so that we can intervene in an informed manner, rather than merely as King Canute striving to wish the waves away.

What next should we do to respond to the challenge of globalisation and establish the African economic community?

At the continental level, we have to elaborate and implement extra-regional programmes and projects aimed at expediting the process of African integration. In this regard, some areas suggest themselves immediately.

These are as follows: expanding the telecommunications infrastructure; speeding up our co-operation in the areas of human resource development; intensifying our exchanges in the area of science and technology; and developing our economic infrastructure, as would be represented by the generation of hydro-electricity at the Inga Falls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The question that arises is: what mechanism do we have to follow up such ideas and initiatives? Some issues that require a concerted African response include: debt; the need to attract capital from the countries of the north, in order radically to increase the level of productive and profitable investment in our economies; technology transfers; restructuring and reorientation of the World Bank and the IMF; gold sales by the IMF and the central banks of the developed countries; and overseas development assistance.

Mere moral appeals from the have-nots to the haves are not likely to take us very far. Such is the degree of comfort among the haves, even in our own societies, that their ears are closed to the warnings we give repeatedly, that the worsening relative and absolute poverty of the many can never serve as assurance that the prosperity of the few is guaranteed for all time.

We must again become our own liberators. Thus can we turn the century that will soon be upon us into an African century, and realise the objective of an African renaissance.

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