Africa Must Go Back to the Drawing Board

Opinion by Noelina Nabwire, The Nation (Nairobi), 18 June 2002

President Moi's Madaraka Day statement that Kenyans should go back to the drawing board and rethink liberalisation policies could not have come at a better time.

And, as the President made the belated admission that the policies had hurt the agricultural sector, the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) made the same observation in a recent seminar.

Nepad's call was clear: Africa needs to reflect and recognise what resources it actually has. The thesis is that the continent needs to utilise its resources locally before opening up to the outside world.

The participants were incensed that currently, the international division of labour has doomed Africans to producing what they do not consume and consuming what they do not produce.

Clearly, most global economic reforms are often embraced without much thought. Though some of the radical reforms introduced in the agricultural sector were aimed at development, their intended results have not been very helpful.

Development entails changes of patterns in society that allow better realisation of human values, and society's control over its environment and its political destiny. Sadly, this has not happened in African countries. In Kenya, for example, the realisation that some reforms hurt comes 40 years too late.

President Moi's remarks thus mirror a problem that has widely been ignored, and therefore proceeded to impoverish the majority of Kenyans.

His disappointment, correctly, appears to be hinged on the fact that Africans are too dependent and have resorted to waiting for outsiders to solve their domestic problems.

However, the conditions that have turned most developing countries into beggars are not difficult to understand.

But it is difficult to blame African states as this propensity for dependency began with the expansion of capitalism. This expansion allowed capitalist states to penetrate and establish contacts with developing nations, resulting in slavery and colonialism. It is this history of colonialism and slavery that has made developing countries prone to the whims of the industrialised world.

Characterised by capital and technological transfer from the North to the South, the relationship has remained largely parasitic, setting the stage for the integration of the less-developed countries into the world capitalist system.

The dependency is deeply embraced to an extent that the parasitic states in Africa must turn to the developed ones to meet their needs. In return, the capitalist states transfer technology, capital, foreign aid and credit facilities.

Besides perpetuating the culture of dependency, the practice has also generated a vicious cycle of dependency. Several countries in Africa and Latin America have been turned into one-crop cultures (the single crop is usually a cash crop needed in the industrialised countries) and into importers of food grains is undeniable.

This practice began with the agrarian revolution, whose proponents argued that with the introduction of new farming techniques, the poor did not have to rely on nature for food. Then later came pesticides and drought resistant crops hoisted on the same arguments that the poor would forget their hunger problems.

This, like the agrarian revolution, did not come to pass. Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots widened. With the introduction of the genetically modified products, caution is required. For a start, it is the inequality among competing partners that makes the periphery depend on the centre.

Secondly, while the centre relies on manufactured products, the periphery relies on raw materials. Thirdly, and of great concern, is the tendency of one player, the centre, to determine the quality of products and fix their prices.

Then there is the infamous practice in which the periphery can never benefit from re-investment of surplus capital. Coupled with this is that the mainly specialised export-oriented production in Third World countries is now managed by an elite that shares the same cultural lifestyles and tastes as the dominant classes in capitalist states.

The challenges ahead, to echo the chairperson of the Tanzania Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Ms Marie Shaba, is that industrialised countries are what they are because of what developing countries are. African leaders must come up with people-driven reforms. There is a need for the people to be involved in planning and not just become consumers of what has been planned by others.