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by Seyoum Hameso
This paper is divided into three sections. The first part deals with the salient themes and features of globalisation: its meanings, flaws and contradictions. The second part involves critical examination of the practice of global power and democratic discourse. Finally, conclusions are drawn on the fate of African people and their struggles for survival in the face of global agendas.
2. What is Globalisation and How it Came About?
No one will do justice to the themes as broad as global power, democracy and profit in Africa in a brief paper like this. It is possible however to summarise their salient features and to see some of the impacts on Africa. Even from Africa, there is no intention to cover the whole continent except concentrating on countries that are referred to being led by �new bloc� of leaders.
To begin with, globalisation is a process involving economic, political, cultural, and technological aspects of contemporary world. As an economic phenomenon, it points to the expansion of international trade and investment as well as fast mobility of international credit, currency flows, speculation and debt. These factors worked to intensify the incorporation or �integration� of economies. Another important feature of the global economy is the growth of Trans-national and multinational corporations most of which are owned by and based on western nations. Among themselves, they control a significant share of global capital, and wield substantial economic power, sometimes with a shift of influence away from national governments and local communities.
Globalisation is political in the sense that the dominant powers insist on the adoption of certain versions of their policies and values (for example, the adoption of liberal democracy and opening up of economies). This meant national states increasingly restructuring their position and their responsibilities in relation to both the global capitalism and to the local economies and societies. This tendency towards homogenisation of politics seeks to form a world government with singular security, army, and judiciary branches with most of its important institutions located in the west. Globalisation in this sense is referred to as hegemonisation.
Globalisation also impacts cultures. It tends to promote homogeneity towards western and American values and influences. In this sense, some see globalisation as westernisation or even Americanisation. They cite, among others, instances of expansion of coca cola, Mcdonalds, and the rock-and-roll music relayed by adverts, radio, and global satellite television. Such expansion, they argue, happens at the expense of local cultures that are the sources of diversities.
All the above are made possible by technical advances especially in information technology that makes use of computers and satellite communication. It is common today to hear of electronic economy and electronic money. Instantaneous communication is possible for those who afford the modern day gadgets such as television, personal computers, digital instruments, and the like. (Yet it remains to be seen if these make any sense to an African villager whose priorities are access to pure water, to decent health and education facilities). In this way globalisation is redefining the significance of physical distance, territorial boundaries and economic, political and cultural space. Interaction is increasing among the local, national, regional and global actions. Such being the elements of globalisation, it is necessary to ask how it came about.
Globalisation became a glaring image of contemporary world towards the end of Cold War. But its foundations had been on the making for a long time, going back to centuries. In the period following the Second World War, the winners of that war, namely America and the allied states, agreed to establish a framework that came to dominate global financial and economic arrangements. The best examples include the formation of the Bretton Woods Institutions (i.e. the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as well as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (now World Trade Organisation) with the aim of deregulating economies and integrating trade.
The period following the Second World War witnessed tremendous expansion of capital whereby national economies came to be dominated by giant Trans-national and multinational corporations. In the political sphere, advances in the technology of war led to concerns of peace to be policed by supranational and international bodies such as the United Nations. At the same time, the group of seven affluent nations (G7 and sometimes called G8) came to influence economic policies among member countries.
In Africa, it became evident in the 1970s and the 1980s that with the growing debt crises, states were forced to undertake what are known as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) monitored by the World Bank and the IMF. Time and again these programmes meant devaluation, macro-economic stabilisation, budget deficit reduction, restructuring of public sectors, privatisation, reform of agricultural marketing and pricing policies. The SAPs were, in general, aimed to reform economies, or in other words, prepare them for integration into the global market. To qualify for foreign aid and credit, countries were required to fulfill the conditions of reform.
Coming back to most recent times, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
and the collapse of the Soviet communism in 1991 ushered in the end of
the Cold War. Some called it the �end of history� and others referred to
it as the end of ideology. There was a wave of optimism and hope that the
bi-polar world was to change for better. The mood of optimism was captured
in the buzzword of New World Order whose basis was said to include:
The United States of America, being the military and economic super power left off the Cold War rivalry, quickly assumed the role to oversee the new order. It declared free markets, liberal democracy and respect for human rights as the bases for its foreign policy. But the very notion of global power has never been free from flaws and contradictions.
The first problem relates to impartiality and conflict of interest. Many doubt if any global power, not least the USA, could be an impartial judge on global affairs. Like any national government, it acts according to its own strategic and national interest. Whenever these interests depart from the outlined principles, it is bound to break them. For example, if the U.S. perceives a particular regime is perceived to be in favour of its interest, or friendly, it may qualify for support regardless of whether it is dictatorial and authoritarian, whether it abuses human rights and violates international norms and standards. This is the case in supporting regimes such as Mobutu Sese Seko�s Zaire, South Africa�s apartheid regime, and largely today�s �New� bloc of leaders in Africa.
Today the old competition for spheres of influence is revitalised in different forms. What remains of the Cold War thinking still guides the post-Cold War foreign policy. And wherever there is a break with the past, be it in Congo or Somalia, be it in Uganda or Rwanda, the U.S. sees fit to capture an opportune moment not to be lost to competitors. The calculus considers the size of the population as potential customers. The policy is also to deal with individuals, be it leaders or local elite including traditional chiefs, in an act that resembles old colonisism based on indirect rule. There is also unproportionate emphasis on 'civil society' with the intent of baypassing the institutional and traditional authority systems that are proven to defend the locales. Moreover, the 'civil' groups of individuals are positively encouraged to alienate themselves from their political defenders, their own political organsiations, be it their national liberation organisations or any institutions that link them to their local environment.
Added to this is the nature of the global economic environment, which is hardly harmonious. It produces competition and conflicts even among the western trading blocs. There are rival trading blocs as in NAFTA, EU, and in ASEAN. The recent trade dispute between the USA and Europe over banana trade from South America is the case in point. Trade often involves a tendency to protect ones market while attempting to penetrate other markets. The free trade agenda is often pushed by dominant powers, while the weak are on the receiving end.
The second problem is about the capacity of any sole super power to play the role of the world�s police force. This mainly relates to the economic capacity of the superpower to sustain global military role. In the case of the USA, observers note its failure in Somalia and events such as genocide in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, wars in Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, etc� in the 90s. They argue that the New World Order is but a New World disorder which unpredictable, risky and even more dangerous.
The third problem with global power ideas is that of the imposition of a certain version of western liberal democracy, that of competitive multi-party democracy, engenders anomalies. In communities and economies based predominantly on agriculture, where the masses of people live in rural areas, where the western style classes (workers and capitalists) are absent, and where the post-colonial state politics has been based more on hegemonic paradigm, such western imposition is bound to yield conflicts. Today the ready-made recipes for conflicts are not the old ideological difference as much as ethnic differences. Where the multi-party elections take place, they end up creating ethnic hegemony or alignments, with all forms of irregularities. Nowhere the fallacies of such a persuasion have proven pervasive as in Ethiopia. And sadly enough such regimes have been viewed positively by foreign officials despite unsettling flaws and their pernicious impacts on the populations subjected to their rule.
Fourth, there is a widespread belief that such global hegemony is sustained at the expense of rising global inequality, worsening environmental degradation (as in pollution, global worming, unsustainable exploitation of resources) and human rights violations. Indeed, as globalisation proceeds, the poorest sections of the world are facing increasing marginalisation, not outside but within the embrace of the very global capitalism. The statistics are gloomy. The share of the poorest fifth of the world�s population in global income has dropped from 2.3% to 1.4% over the past 10 years. But the proportion taken by the richest has risen from 70% to 85%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 20 countries have lower incomes per head in real terms than they did two decades ago. The rising global inequality is a manifestation of the global world today. In the face of global capitalism, Africans appear powerless, vulnerable, and unequal partners of a system that destroys local cultures. By creating winners and losers, sometimes by unjust manners, it worsens the lot of the impoverished. While a decided few remain on the fast track to material prosperity, the majorities are condemned to a life of misery and despair.
Worrying is also the situation of human rights and attendant refugee problem. Badly affected are the vulnerable groups in society, the young and the old who are conditioned to endless wars and endemic diseases. With these broad critical comments, it is time to review what has happened with the �new leaders� and democracy in Africa.
4. �New bloc leaders�, democracy and profit in Africa
At recent times, a lot has been said about �Africa�s New Bloc� or �new leaders� or even the �new generation of leaders�. The terms referred to a block of leader perceived to be a group of people in power with similar political aims and interests acting together on certain issues. The term �new generation of leaders� is a misnomer and sweeping. It refers to regimes as various as Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea. For all what is known, the notion of new leadership is a remote imposition. What is new about this new bloc?
5. Appraisal of �new bloc leaders�, democracy and profits
First, experience with economic reform is mixed with various effects. It is common to hear countries reporting positive annual GDP growth rates. One simple problem with such aggregate figures is their inadequacy to capture social and political costs of any reform programme. The IMF-sponsored adjustment measures implied reduction of public spending. The social sectors like health and education can be badly affected as the result of cuts with direct effects on local populations.
Another element of economic reform is privatisation of formerly state owned sectors. The Ethiopian regime underwent privatisation but the scheme itself and the running of the economy has benefited the ruling regime and its supporters more than any one else. Here a web of companies associated with the ruling TPLF/EPRDF regime emerged while other �businessmen have either been dismissed or have been forced to forfeit their licenses through loss of business and their exclusion from participating in the privatisation scheme�. (Pollock, in Hameso et al, 1997, p.95).
For the majority of the population, mass deprivation, displacement and expropriation became ready made outcomes with undue exposure to unfavourable natural and man-made forces. Contrary to the claims of the government, the issue of sustainable development is as remote as ever. Right now Ethiopia needs food hand out. The debt problem is overwhelming with outstanding amount of $10 billion, some of which was irresponsibly borrowed to make wars and violence. The debt burden per person is huge. To make matters worse, the current war with another new bloc country and the associated military expenditure effectively puts on hold whatever could be told about economic reform in Ethiopia.
Regarding aid versus trade, the U.S. focus is on trade though debt relief is considered recently. A bill was proposed to enhance U.S. trade and investment in Africa. But it has not always been successful. Beneath these declared goals lies the pursuit of profit and national self-interest.
Second, the other challenging goals are human rights and democracy. In reality these goals were seen to clash. Where a regime is undemocratic and does not respect human rights, but still gives way for profits, then the choice becomes one of promoting human rights vis a vis profits, or pursuing ethical foreign policy vis a vis accepting the dictates of market competition. In most cases, it is the latter, which guides action. Again the Ethiopian regime is a case in point. Several critics maintained that the regime cannot pass for a democracy. There is a large body of evidence on the human rights violations by the same regime. Yet it has received more aid from western powers than any country in SSA except South Africa.
This shows that it is possible, or even common, for a global power to pursue its own national strategic and economic interests with little or no attention to social, political and ecological outcomes. This will fuel conflicts and may led to increasingly unstable and dangerous situation. For the disgruntled, the question becomes more than one of human rights; it becomes one of survival right. And the African State becomes nothing more than a client to global pillage.
Third come the notions of good governance and political stability. Theoretically, reference to good governance includes aversion to corruption in public life, transparency, accountability to the local populace and the ensuing legitimacy of political rule. The latter is supposed to be ensured by periodic elections and transfer of power. In reality, taking the case of the new leadership rhetoric, we see that the U.S, foreign policy created anomalies. Corruption is reported daily in countries like Uganda, Congo, Kenya and Ethiopia. Visibly autocratic and dictatorial leaders were acclaimed for good governance. Meles of Ethiopia was chosen for an award a few years back for good governance. (The Economist, 16 August 1997). Such actions leave many doubtful of the very definition of good and bad governance and who is the judge.
On the other hand, preoccupation with stability means sticking to the status quo. Depending on circumstances, it means resisting social changes even when they are due. It means supporting authoritarian regimes that crush opposition. It meant supporting tyrants who violate human rights. The global power abhors conflicts, particularly ones that it dislikes. One hears time and again of the so-called conflict management, or peacekeeping initiatives. One example has been joint military training initiatives with counties like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda. Now all these regimes have big fights in their hands.
Therefore most of the acclaimed countries are the ones most stuck in conflict. Uganda fights protracted civil war on the northern parts of its territory. Uganda and Rwanda support rebel movements in Congo. The Kabila government has many supporting states on its side. The whole Horn is a place of chaos. Somalia has no central government despite the U.S. military intervention in 1992 only to withdraw two years later. The border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea engulfs almost all countries in the Horn.
Given these situations, we would arrive at a conclusion that the global power idea seems to be very uncertain, hardly sustainable and even harmful to Africa. There are certain aspects I will reiterate in a way of conclusion:
The first relates to the position of the African State. The state in Africa has become increasingly alien and harmful to the very population it rules over. It is incapable of defending the people from internal and external barbarism. Instances are that it has become part of the problem. Preyed in many directions, people are losing their survival mechanisms to decision making from far away places. On the part of the states, the pressure to open up and to be part of the global pillage is immense. The pervious economic mismanagement is used as a case for unquestioning surrender of policy making on social, political, and economic fields. Yet it is doubtful if this is of any benefit to the people. You may ask: What happens if a country or a region opens up itself to unfettered free trade without institutional frameworks? Common sense suggests that, under African circumstances, the local economy may be undermined. A region that depends upon few products to world markets is very vulnerable to shifts in prices as well as to technological changes. (The most recent events on coffee and gold prices are the case in point). We know that trade always needs a framework of institutions, as do other forms of economic development. This is particularly true for Africa which suffers from lowest levels of human well being.
The second concern is the proliferation of conflicts. For a decade now, conflicts are showing only signs of worsening. Examples include ethnic genocide in Rwanda followed by minority ethnic hegemony there and deportations in Ethiopia and the death of tens of thousands this year in what many called a crazy war with Eritrea. The media refers to these and many other conflicts in Africa in the most familiar tone. They were reported to result from tribalism and tribal wars or border disputes. Ethnicity and ethnic differences are vilified as sources of conflicts. This goes well with the intent to globalise and homogenise societies into one global culture, language and government. No wonder if resistance, action and reaction cause more conflicts. No wonder also if ethnicity serves as the ideology of the oppressed for collective survival, a social safety net where the state cannot provide even the crude necessities of life.
The rush towards homogeneity also carries the danger of extinction of human species in the ensuing conflicts and diseases. This is particularly so as stronger cultures push for global uniformity by imposing their own image by nullifying the weaker ones. Lost will be the vibrancy and plurality of approaches and the colours of diversity to be replaced by monotonous uniformity, creating in the process outcasts, stifling creativity and multiplication of insecurity.
The third concern is one of double standards. Human rights and democracy form part of stated western foreign policy. But in reality they take second seat when it comes to national interest and the search for profits. There are discrepancies of declared policy intent and actions.
The fourth point is regarding the operation of TNCs. It is known that in poor countries safety and environmental regulations are low or virtually non-existent. Unless regulated such companies may sell goods that are controlled or banned elsewhere in the West including poor quality medical drugs, and destructive pesticides. All this indicates to ever increasing vulnerability of the poor. Unless approached with extreme responsibility and with proper channels of accountability, global power and global capitalism have the capacity to corrupt globally.
Finally and in order not to finish my presentation with gloomy notes, let me cite few positive sides to globalisation and global power.
One is the impact of communications technology. Assuming there could be access to communication technology, campaigners and community groups can exchange local strategies of resistance from different sides of the globe. They can forge alliances that enable the achievement of otherwise difficult goals. They can exchange views, they organise their thoughts and even their people in manners that would have been difficult otherwise. Today people in different corners of the world are aware of what is happening to the East Timorese, the Kurdish, the Kosovars, the Tamils, the South Sudanese, and other endangered cultural groups in the world.
The new era also ushered in the possibility to document and record what is left of different and diverse national perspectives. There is also observable revitalisation of local nationalisms as a response to globalising tendencies or as the hold of older state-nations weakens. Examples abound of the revival of local cultural identities in different parts of the world. In Brtian devolution of power is being practised with the formation of Scotish and Welsh national assemblies.
The issue of state sovereignty being reconsidered is another aspect. With all its imperfections, the attempt to bring dictatorial rulers and human rights violator regimes to account for their actions, or to question the majority, the legitimacy and the legality of regimes suppressing and murdering domestic populations is essential and useful.
Despite these possibilities, I leave you with the following question to ponder. Are there any contingency plans if globalisation and global power lead to more poverty, more illiteracy, more family and community disintegration, and more environmental degradation and worsening violence and conflicts? 
*The initial version of this paper was presented to the conference held in Berlin, Germany entitled: �A Decade of New Political Order and the Fate of Democracy and Peace in Africa�, July 15-18, 1999.
This article appeared in The Sidama Concern, Vol.4 No. 3, 1999 (pp.5-10)
Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Hameso, Seyoum 1999. Global Power, Democracy and Profit in Africa, The Sidama Concern, 4, 3 [online] URL: http://www.sidamaconcern.com/articles/globalisationtion.html
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