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Publication Details

Reference
Bond, Patrick (2002) Rejecting Nepad in Good Conscience. Special Report of the CCS website : -.

Summary
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Nepad is one of the main agenda items, having previously gone through official state and capitalist endorsement processes at the June summit of the G-8 leaders (the Group of Eight main industrial powers) in Alberta, Canada in June 2002, immediately followed by the Southern African gathering of the World Economic Forum in Durban, and the July launch of the Africa Union (AU), also in Durban.

Nepad has become an exceptionally politicised process. This is not only because AU financier Muammar Gaddafi--not to mention the main propagandist for the Zimbabwean government, Jonathan Moyo--intervened to ridicule the pro-western nature of the document. The international progressive project rebuffs `anti-imperialism' from such dubious, oppressive sources.

More importantly, Nepad was partially endorsed by the SA Council of Churches in July 2002, following hard-sell meetings of African intellectuals and civil society sponsored by Pretoria's Africa Institute, that were not so successful. Such weakness by otherwise far-sighted human rights advocates cannot disguise the fact that Nepad will continue underdeveloping Africa, and that loyalty to Mbeki will inexorably wane, so that civil society may unite around its first `homegrown', continental-scale neoliberal target.

Beyond these points of progressive unity, it may well be that radical environmentalism can provide an impetus to the bottom-up regional political project, given the need for far-reaching changes in eco-social power relations in each country. Because Nepad opens the door for infrastructure privatisation, even simple struggles over access to water and electricity will emerge as grounds for contesting Pretoria's new subimperial politics.

Those politics have opened up a huge vacuum for progressives. Because of its evolution under conditions of smoke-filled-room secrecy, in close contact with G8 (in Okinawa in 2000 and Genoa in 2001), the Bretton Woods Institutions and international capital (at Davos in 2001), the Nepad plan denies the rich contributions of African social struggles in its very genesis. Instead, it empowers 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.

Indeed, Nepad has gone by various names, including the African Renaissance (1996-2000), the Millennium Africa Recovery Plan (2000-July 2001) and the New African Initiative (July-October 2001). Aside from Mbeki, its main advocates are Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. None can be considered democrats of even a bourgeois variety.

The document's core premise is that poverty in Africa can be cured, if only the world elite gives the continent a chance: `The continued marginalisation of Africa from the globalisation process and the social exclusion of the vast majority of its peoples constitute a serious threat to global stability'. The phrasing becomes more slippery yet: `We readily admit that globalisation is a product of scientific and technological advances, many of which have been market-driven... The locomotive for these major advances is the highly industrialised nations'.

All of these arguments are better put by reversing the logic. Africa's continued poverty and degradation (`marginalisation') are a direct outcome of globalisation, not of a lack of globalisation. Technology lubricates but does not cause international economic dynamics. The advanced capitalist world has itself witnessed lower profits and growth since the 1970s, and the dot.com craze is only one indication of technology's failure to resolve capitalist crisis.

As a result, the African left has expressed thorough scepticism over Nepad's main strategies:

• privatisation, especially of infrastructure such as water, electricity, telcoms and transport, will fail because of insufficient buying power of African consumers;
• 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;
• multi-party elections are held, typically, between variants of neoliberal parties, as in most countries, and cannot act as a veil for the lack of participatory democracy required to give legitimacy to so many failing African states;
• grand visions of information and communications technology are hopelessly unrealistic considering the lack of simple reliable electricity across the continent; and
• South Africa's self-mandate for peace-keeping gives no peace of mind, in the wake of Pretoria's ongoing purchase of US$5 billion worth of offensive weaponry and its unhappy record of regional military interventions.

Likewise in areas of economic reform, such as debt, capital financial flows and foreign investment, Mbeki offers only the status quo. Instead of promoting debt cancellation, as do virtually all serious reformers, the Nepad strategy is to `support existing poverty reduction initiatives at the multilateral level, such as the Comprehensive Development Framework of the World Bank and the Poverty Reduction Strategy approach linked to the Highly Indebted Poor Country debt relief initiative'.

Only after trying such discredited strategies, replete with neoliberal conditions such as further privatisation, would African leaders `seek recourse' through Nepad. Malawi's 2002 famine, because the country's grain stocks were sold following International Monetary Fund advice to first repay commercial bankers, is telling.

As for speculative `hot-money' inflows to emerging markets such as South Africa, these have harmed not helped development. The vast majority of foreign loans granted to Third World governments over the past thirty years have not helped development, but have instead allied African state elites with foreign bankers. In both cases, Nepad calls for more.

Nepad's solution to foreign investment drought is consistent with the worst international rhetoric: `Public-Private Partnerships' (PPPs) 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'. However, most infrastructure is of a `natural monopoly' type, for which competition is unsuitable: roads and railroads, telephone land lines, water and sewage reticulation systems, electricity transmission and distribution, ports and the like.

Nepad cannot make a case for competition in these areas. There is, in contrast, an extremely strong case, based on public-good features of infrastructure discussed in previous chapters, for state control and non-profit operation. Most noticeably, privatisation of infrastructure usually prevents cross-subsidisation to enhance affordability for poor consumers.

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'.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Africans falling further into poverty as a result of leadership compradorism and globalisation, particularly women, do not need to `become aware of the seriousness of the situation', as much as do the elite rulers who generally live in luxury, at great distance from the masses. And when Africans in progressive civil society organisations express `the need to mobilise themselves', they are nearly invariably met with repression.

Pretoria's own practice in all these regards--repaying apartheid debt, allowing speculative finance to wreck the currency, privatising basic services delivery at great social cost, especially damage to public health, and meting out repression to those who object--are reminders of the fact that Nepad is being tried at home, and isn't working. As for `mobilising', Mbeki does not mention the mass civil-society protests that threw off the yokes of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and dictatorships. Those protests are increasingly turning against Pretoria's neoliberal, subimperial agenda.

For example, the most succinct critique of Nepad has come from an Accra meeting of the Council for Development and Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) and Third World Network-Africa in April. According to the meeting's resolution:

The most fundamental flaws of Nepad, which reproduce the central elements of the World Bank's Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? and the ECA's Compact for African Recovery, include:
(a) the neo-liberal economic policy framework at the heart of the plan, and which repeats the structural adjustment policy packages of the preceding two decades and over-looks the disastrous effects of those policies;
(b) the fact that in spite of its proclaimed recognition of the central role of the African people to the plan, the African people have not played any part in the conception, design and formulation of the Nepad;
(c) notwithstanding its stated concerns for social and gender equity, it adopts the social and economic measures that have contributed to the marginalisation of women;
(d) that in spite of claims of African origins, its main targets are foreign donors, particularly in the G8;
(e) its vision of democracy is defined by the needs of creating a functional market;
(f) it under-emphasises the external conditions fundamental to Africa's developmental crisis, and thereby does not promote any meaningful measure to manage and restrict the effects of this environment on Africa development efforts. On the contrary, the engagement that is seeks with institutions and processes like the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the United States Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, the Cotonou Agreement, will further lock Africa's economies disadvantageously into this environment;
(g) the means for mobilisation of resources will further the disintegration of African economies that we have witnessed at the hands of structural adjustment and WTO rules.

Codesria and TWN-Africa are not alone. During the first half of 2002, African social movements, the largest South African civil society organisation (Cosatu), and leading African intellectuals analysed Nepad and issued public statements that decry the document's lack of participation and consultation, its orientation to Western economic interests and its inability to make good on governance claims.

In January, dozens of African social movements met in Bamako, Mali, as the `African Social Forum', in preparation for the Porto Alegre World Social Forum. It was one of the first substantial conferences since the era of liberation to combine progressive NGOs and social movements from all parts of the continent. The Bamako Declaration included the following paragraphs:

A strong consensus emerged at the Bamako Forum that the values, practices, structures and institutions of the currently dominant neo-liberal order are inimical to and incompatible with the realisation of Africa's dignity, values and aspirations.
The Forum rejected neo-liberal globalisation and further integration of Africa into an unjust system as a basis for its growth and development. In this context, there was a strong consensus that initiatives such as Nepad (New Partnership for African Development) that are inspired by the IMF-WB strategies of Structural Adjustment Programmes, trade liberalisation that continues to subject Africa to an unequal exchange, and strictures on governance borrowed from the practices of Western countries and not rooted in the culture and history of the peoples of Africa.

In April 2002, the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of South African Trade Unions added its view on the problems intrinsic to Nepad:

The CEC believe that the transformation of Africa can only happen if it is driven by its people. There was a strong feeling that the Nepad plan has been developed only through discussions between governments and business organisations, leaving the people far behind...
The CEC raised concerns about the economic proposals in the Nepad. In particular, we need to ensure that macro-economic governance does not stray too far towards stabilisation, at the cost of growth and employment creation. Moreover, the emphasis on privatisation in the section on infrastructure ignores the reality: that privatised services will not serve the poor on our continent.

These are just three examples of civil society and intellectual precedents for a critical perspective on Nepad. Notwithstanding the successful last-gasp attempts by Mbeki in June to win over civil society support for an `engagement' with Nepad, there can be no doubt that his plan will become a point of anti-neoliberal unification amongst progressives in African civil society:

• Progressive civil society organisations have traditionally demanded that all policies, programmes and projects of government be conducted in a transparent, participatory and respectful manner. Nepad's formulation failed on all accounts.
• Progressive civil society organisations have also traditionally provided `rights-based' advocacy that takes basic needs as human rights. At a philosophical foundational level, Nepad fails here, and instead promotes market-related strategies and privatised infrastructure even with respect to basic infrastructural services.
• Moreover, progressive civil society organisations have opposed the international neoliberal agenda of free markets, transnational corporate dominance of the South, lower government budgetary spending (under the rubric of alleged “macroeconomic stability”), and the lowering of standards for the sake of foreign investors. In terms of content, Nepad fails on these points.
• Finally, progressive civil society organisations have most forcefully promoted good governance and democracy. While Nepad gives lip services to these ideals, it fails to take them sufficiently seriously such that obvious violations—e.g., of recent elections in Congo-Brazzaville, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe—are publicly criticised and punished. As one of Nepad's own co-authors, Senegalese president Wade put it, the leaders of Africa, including Nepad coauthors in South Africa and Nigeria, appear to have a `trade union' approach that gives mutual support and solidarity to dictators and tyrants.

Ultimately, Nepad's overarching rhetoric of market-led growth plus sustainable development comes together in this paragraph:

While growth rates are important, they are not by themselves sufficient to enable African countries achieve the goal of poverty reduction. The challenge for Africa, therefore, is to develop the capacity to sustain growth at levels required to achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development. This, in turn depends on other factors such as infrastructure, capital accumulation, human capital, institutions, structural diversification, competitiveness, health and good stewardship of the environment.

There is, here, an annoying combination of progressive and neoliberal objectives: infrastructure, human capital, institutions, structural diversification, health and good stewardship of the environment in the first category, and capital accumulation and competitiveness in the second. Objectively, however, Nepad-style neoliberal policies have, during the past two decades, destroyed Africa's infrastructure, human capital, institutions, structural diversification, health and stewardship of the environment.

A rollback is certainly on the agenda. In spite of ongoing divisions amongst progressives in South Africa, the movement against corporate globalisation that is emerging in Africa should be capable of withstanding all the confusion that Nepad and its promoters aim to sow, and within coming years establish its own African Peoples Consensus as a political standpoint. The uselessness and hypocrisy of of Nepad will have by then become evident to all, and gaps for more genuine transformation can be taken by those aiming for Africa's genuine liberation.

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