Globalization and Challenges for Africa
June 26, 2017
Borne out of the capitalist system, globalization is set up to have winners and losers, for those who have the means and capital will always out-perform those who do not. And Africa has been on the losing end for the most part. Experts will debate the number of people who have been raised out of poverty, thanks to globalization. The reality, however, is that in spite of measurable successes by a few, greater challenges continue to linger for the masses.
On the international stage, investors and western nations have made the case for African investment and have encouraged access into African markets. However, oftentimes the reverse into developed countries is not so easy. Even with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), African countries continue to face relative challenges in penetrating the U.S. market. When they do, they face hurdles caused by multiple factors, such as fierce competition, costly and insurmountable quality standards, onerous labeling requirements and other prohibitive measures, which can discourage would-be entrepreneurs.
Whether it is by design or not, globalization has morphed into yet another form of domination in which western countries and multinationals dictate to Africans what they should consume and produce. This is strikingly similar to the days of European colonization of Africa. Back then, colonies were a source for goods and commodities to enrich colonial powers and to heighten their prestige. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, king Leopold II of Belgium, sole proprietor of the Congo Free State, needed rubber to sell to fledgling American and European car companies and tire-makers. Spurred by high demand, he imposed on the people of his newly acquired colony the rapid and brutal collection of rubber trees to meet global demand. Failure to meet quotas of rubber resulted in outright killing of Congolese people or in the chopping of their limbs. Today, western, Chinese and Indian multinationals exploit Congolese minerals and make huge profits for their shareholders and nations, while the Congolese earn miserly wages, fight endless wars they did not start, and die by the millions. Meanwhile western and Asian businesses continue to thrive. From the triangular slave trade, colonization, to independence, through different monikers and nomenclature, African resources are exploited for the benefit of others, while Africans remain poor.
To the detriment of Africans, western countries and their multinationals have been setting the rules of the game and cooking up recipes for development. And when African leaders fail to play by the rules, their days in politics are numbered. Since the Berlin Conference of 1885, in which western powers carved out African colonies, many African leaders have tried to liberate their countries and people, only to find major obstacles in their way. If they were not eliminated politically, they were broken and forced to change their thinking. Even well-intentioned educated Africans who have risen to high levels of government, quickly find that their hands are tied, and their inability to put in practice noble liberating ideas become patently clear. Oftentimes they give in and join a powerful system they are unable to defeat. Instead they opt for self-enrichment, while the interests of their African people fall into a deep afterthought.
The unipolarity of a world that is dominated by the U.S. posits that global economies will continue to be fueled by unabashed, unapologetic capitalism. Even the communist party that governs China is beholden to capitalism in order to keep its economic growth steady and maintain a standard of living acceptable for its billion plus people. Any major hiccups could cause turbulence that very few leaders or countries can ill afford. Therefore, any non-adherence to the system is anathema. And in order to pay salaries and finance job-creating infrastructural development projects, African leaders kowtow to western countries on whose aid they are completely dependent.
For decades, international institutions and world-renowned scholars have advised Africans to borrow money from western lending institutions in order to close wealth and development gaps, as well as to avoid bankruptcy or default on payments. As a result, African countries have incurred huge debt, which they have been repaying at astronomically high interest rates. In essence African leaders have jeopardized their future and their children’s. To make matters worse, through a system known as tied aid, they are told to purchase specific goods and services from the same donor countries, thusly losing their competitive edge. However, with diverse sources of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), African leaders have the ability to invest in projects that can grow their economies in a sustainable manner, as they are no longer dependent on only one donor country or institution.
African countries should further diversify their economies, a long and assured road to economic independence. With Chinese investments in Africa, the economic situation of some countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, just to name a couple, has improved; however it is not enough to qualify those exceptional cases as widespread success. Unless African leaders change course, with their mentalities first, the situation may not improve anytime soon, or may even worsen. By design, the global balance of power, including legacies of colonization, has forced Africa to emulate the west. Yet, most African countries still find themselves poor and underdeveloped, even with China’s massive investments of late.
In the end, African leaders must put Africa’s interests first. Their people should be able to hold them accountable and replace them when they fail to deliver. Elections should be cyclical, fair and transparent and good leaders should be rewarded, while bad ones are held accountable. More often than not, through constitutional manipulation and shenanigans, these leaders cling on to power and drive their countries into the ground for twenty years or longer. This power grab by one party or a single person can have deleterious effects that are generally hard to undo. If African leaders are not afraid to lose their jobs or face justice for mismanaging their countries’ treasure; if they’re not accountable to their people, but to western powers and multinationals whose interests they are hell-bent on protecting, then nothing will change for Africa.