Arusha, the Tanzanian city where the late President Julius Nyerere declared ‘Ujamaa’, (his cultural Socialism) 51 years ago is again the venue of a possible new declaration about getting the Africa continent out of the grip of structural disadvantage in the global order although the activists from International Non-Governmental Organisations, (INGOs), domestic civil society groups, academia, think tanks, gender, environmentalists and community platforms are still debating among themselves the conceptual anchor for such an African Moment.
The 3-day meeting of the activists from across East, West, Central and Southern Africa which opened earlier today took off from the notion that there is a global consensus – Financial Times, IMF, the Pope, the UN, the G-7, the security establishment – that inequality at the local, regional and global is not only prevalent but getting worse across the world and should be checked. It, however, took a new turn when ‘a skeptical ally’ of the global coalition behind ‘The Fight Inequality Alliance’ challenged the adequacy of Inequality as the organising concept for this round of the struggle for Africa.
Although he appreciated the empirics of inequality provided in the overview from the coalition secretariat, Ghanaian International Political Economist Tetteh Hormeku-Ajei argued that some of the things that cause problem for Africa is not because of class or gender inequality within the typical African society but the continent’s position as a primary commodity export dependent economy. Pitching this against historically falling commodity prices as against perpetually rising cost of manufactured goods, the researcher with the Third World Network-Africa contended that inequality is too elastic and not strategic enough in the circumstance to underpin the current wave of the struggle for Africa because the relationship between the slave and slave owner is not just a case of inequality but of subordination and oppression.
In brilliant overviews of ‘The Fight Inequality Alliance’ preceding Tetteh’s intervention, the secretariat spoke to the slogan of “extreme inequality is out of control”, be it police brutality against defenseless citizens in poor neighbourhoods of Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, etc; gender based violence, crisis of water supply, health care, road networks, sanitation and security for all. Above all, the overviews centralised the reality in which so few control so much wealth as against extreme poverty for the vast majority and this is across the world. With such ideologically seductive quotes as “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire”, the argument was well made that building power from below is the agenda of the age.
The Dandora Hip Hop resistance to police excesses in Kenya was cited as a good case of such popular self-assertion in the face of differential treatment of dwellers in upscale parts of the typical African capital cities by the typical national police in Africa. And this victory came from mobilising against such unequal treatment by using popular power resources – music, narratives and cultural strengths.
Against that background, it was argued that the yearly gathering in Davos is not where anything emancipatory would come but from the gospel of praying for the dead but fighting like hell for the living ala Mother Jones. In other words, life before death is as important as life after death and things like evidence, policy proposals and being right are not enough because inequality is like oppression for those privileged. The implication is that the power of the people is greater than the people in power although this was escorted with the caution that people uniting or organising does not automatically imply triumph. It could also end up in defeat, meaning the process of organising is important.
However, breaking down the thesis of Africa’s crises of inequality as manifestations of its location in global political economy, Tetteh pointed at how European powers dismantled every creative advances in craft and industries across Africa unlike the Japanese whom he said left a manufacturing base in South Korea. In the case of Africa, he also argued how neoliberalism has destroyed “everything we have built for ourselves”.
His analysis is that the immediate post-independence African leaders, irrespective of whatever ideological system they subscribed to, nationalised state enterprises, employing state interventionism to build economies that responded to popular interests. In obviously canvassing for return of state interventionism in the economy in Africa, Tetteh argued that there is a difference between what a state has and what it can mobilise. This, he said, was how that earliest generation of African leaders used the leverage of the state to create mechanisms for redistributive justice through subsidised social services such as free education. Citing how Kwame Nkrumah did it in Ghana, he told the story of the late hero’s creation and deployment of the Cocoa Marketing Board to buy the product from the farmers, thereby not only stabilising the price and their income but also gave it a charter to re-invest and provide free education for every child. Citing himself as a beneficiary of such, he pointed out how the cocoa and all other commodity boards have been privatised even when multinational corporations are making huge profits from such commodities.
What this means for him is how the lack of big enough capitalists to mobilise capital which made the first generation of African leaders to build state owned companies is still the situation. Although he agrees that state owned enterprises got into trouble in Africa, he said the problem was in African leaders throwing the baby with the bath water by privatising instead of rectifying the problem. Contrasting privatisation in the industrial societies with the same exercise in Africa, however, the think tanker listed how British capitalists bought British Telecoms, how the German State owns half of BMW or how American capitalists bought privatised American airlines but how state owed companies privatised across Africa were bought by foreign capitalists.
While admitting that corruption has everything to do with the African crises of inequality, he also says there is a sense in which corruption has got nothing to do with it, maintaining that there is no corruption anywhere in Africa that can come near corruption level in some of the industrial economies. Corruption in Africa is a problem to the extent that, unlike in other places, it is taken outside the typical African country instead of serving as a form of redistribution as, say, in the United States, he argued.
He argued against the notion that African leaders kowtow to foreign interests because of the fear of being chalked out of power like NATO did to Gadaffi, saying that it is a case of correspondence of interest between the foreign and the national elite. They make education policies but their children are in foreign schools; they make policy on water supply based on boreholes but they do not drink that water; they make health policies but their wives go to deliver in emergency amenities of foreign hospitals. For him, therefore, it is that their interests coincide, not question of a weaker or fearful elite.
Restating his argument, Tetteh insists that the campaign to end Inequality in Africa must be against the powerful who have structured the international political economy to be what its now as far Africa is concerned. “If we miss this, there is a problem”, he said, adding how a new word comes up every now and then against Africa: SAP, Poverty reduction. Part of the problem in the language of the struggle, he pointed out, might be the leadership of the African struggle by career NGO elements. “Time will come when we (meaning NGO careerists) would be relegated and the struggle will go into systemic issues”, said Tetteh who believes that all struggles go through different stages. Dismissing the possibility that the problem might be communicating a complex international order to the masses, the speaker said whether one calls the current international order imperialism or globalisation or neoliberalism, communicating it to the masses is not the problem because “they will come with you as long as you are describing their reality”.
The gathering continues with more critical sessions tomorrow, Monday, April 16th, 2018 and a communique might emerge marking a new era in Africa’s struggle against structural violence.