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Africa and the patrons of poverty


povertyTHE 48 pages of Karl Marx remain the shortest and most powerful economic treatise ever written. That Marx failed to grasp the fundamental cunning of capitalism is not his fault – coming from a German social science background, a psychological background, the pull of cause and effect, the inevitability of logic-fooled him. Even so, he did capture the essence of the market place, the inevitable rise of the working classes.

He badly missed the time line. Dr. Akhaine’s little book is fundamentally powerful. Both Marx and Akhaine grapple with the incapability of a fabulously wealthy continent filled with the poorest, unhealthiest and forlorn people on earth. Since the late 50s when “development studies” first became a vogue, most economists believed that there must be a linear relationship between natural resources, its exploitation and the raising of the poor to middle class. After all it’s been done before.

Dr. Akhaine’s incisive look at the Bretton Woods Institutions – those institutions which came after Hitler’s defeat in World War II, saw a ray of hope in retooling Europe’s war time machine for peaceful purposes. Specifically the institutions were the IMF, the World Bank, the IFC, a host of other subordinate UN bodies – all, on the face of it, helping the poor countries. They never did.

Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI) were created to rebuild European industry. They had to retool – the machinery and change from military to civilian production – e.g. faster and more comfortable transport – trains, underground, tramways. Hitler had taught the West how to move quickly by road through the autobahns, building of express high speed roads, which were all copied throughout Europe.

Wartime economy was very different from a peacetime economy. During the War, all children in Britain were bused land; women sewed uniforms, socks, made shoes, etc for war and for the soldiers. Butchers produced leather for boots; even steel plants were working flat out to produce guns, ammunition and other war materials; ship yards produced navy gunboats, air line companies produced fighters, planes, etc.

In 1945, all these changed to civilian production: shirts, trousers, etc; rationing continued till 1953 for food such as sugar, bread, etc. Bretton Woods Institutions financed all these changes to modern technology: The U.S. introduced the Marshall plan which was the foundation for European Union which soon followed. That was when they should have scrapped Bretton Woods Institutions. Instead the West wanted instruments of world economic control and kept these institutions which have done more harm than good.

Everything done by these institutions outside Europe was a failure. The mindset of Europe was that Africa and the Third World were to be producing goods for the industries of the West. There was admittedly a short break – but soon the feeling of empire returned. Germany wanted their own empire, Japan too, now Chinese, Belgium, and France – hence the polyglot called Africa and the Third World came into existence.

One persistent fact stood in the way of the West – how come a people so well endowed, so rich, remain so poor. Bretton Woods Institutions stepped in – I do not believe they intended to make the Third World poor – but look at the effects of their presence!! Every intervention was failure. In 20 years we had 126 Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) – none successful. Their policies were centred on trade liberalisation; deregulation, privatisation, balance of payment policies, devaluation and a massive loss of value of African currencies vis-a-vis or in comparison to the West, etc. The above was mixed up further with a heavy dose of militarism – coups everywhere – people who knew how to seize power but were thoroughly clueless about what to do after they had acquired power.

Persistent irreducible question – the richer Africa was in resources the poorer Africa became: devaluation of economy, balance of payments yawning gap in valuation, collapse of commodity prices, so called “conditionalities” for Direct Foreign Investment, (DFI), the bail outs by IMF and World Bank, the neglect of agriculture – how could Africa produce agriculture? To who and for whom? The United States and European Union ring fenced their countries with rules and regulations that made trade in agriculture impossible. Worse they paid heavy subsidies to prevent their own farmers producing more. But some of this changed when U.S. companies came to the Third World to ask them to sew high end fashion clothes – Jardin, Jordon, CK, Dior, Versace, etc. Is this not reminiscent of the work houses during the early stages of industrialisation?

There is undoubtedly, unequal partnership between the West and Africa. Where to start – shipping? Plane? This does not mean that the West hates Africa: it simply means that they are better prepared when negotiating with Africa. They know what they want. We seem not to.

See the effect we had on United Kingdom when we switched our reserves from sterling to dollars? Can we ever have such an influence again? And yet our people are talking about devaluation. Having thoroughly dismantled the pretensions of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the author falls into the predictable error of trying to find an African solution for our problems. He takes what is still today, the most comprehensive plan for developing Africa as enunciated in 1980 popularly tagged as the Lagos Plan of Action. That document is full of pious hopes of what Africa can do for itself to redress the contagion of the ravages of the BWI since its inception or the African continent. Africa should encourage intra African trade, scientific and technological co-operation, removal of the punishing trade barriers, learning African values and our own languages, building African commodity markets, the exchange of knowledge and the forging of a political will to achieve the lofty aims of the LPA.

Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine goes into considerable details about the Lagos Plan of Action which collaborates plans for co-operation, exchange of knowledge: need for political will to achieve self support. The LPA advocates for real technological transfer: studies need to access impact of researchers. African must have rural development legislation to meet the urgent needs of the 80% of Africans who live in the rural area.

Africa must raise and meet these needs with wind power, solar power, geothermal energy, and water power; we must have an inventory of essential drugs: studies on the effectiveness of medicinal plants, etc. Continental wealth prediction should be more robust and it was hoped that funding would come from ADB, Arab Bank, etc. Transportation and Communication Co-ordination. Nothing in the elaborate Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) had any iota of practicality. But it remained enticing because it was home grown even if it was all theoretical.

There will be Pan African Telecommunications Network – PANATECH; complimented by Satellite Service. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), to lead United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNISOM). Foreign Aid of $3.6 million was promised. Food and other agricultural goods would be exported among African countries. Africa was to establish marketing agencies for imports and exports.

The EU has found out that food security and self-sufficiency for Europe would be met by less than 10% of the agricultural produce of EU – the balance they would subsidize under the common Agricultural Policy. But if they would not buy our food products, why should we buy anything from them? The only language the West understands is reciprocity. If they are consistently not nice to us, why should we be anything but equally not nice to them? The West does not respect nice people: they despise them. They fear nasty people because they recognise themselves in those who are nasty.

What we have in Africa is a patent or franchise economy. The world can see patents or franchises to use – patents in medicine, agriculture, agronomy, radiology, or we can buy the franchise of Domino Pizza, K.F.C, DSTV, MTN, Radisson Blue, Sheraton, Hilton but we cannot process our cocoa for Nestle, Cadbury, and Hershley. There is nothing that the Third World has which is franchised in the West, not oil, not diamonds, nothing. This is the depth of our despair and hopelessness. We could have claimed a franchise for cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

Even here where the market is in the West, there is a relentless war, not to stop their own people from taking the drugs, but to stop the world from producing the one thing where the means of production is not Western controlled.
• Dr. (Ambassador) P.D. Cole (OFR) delivered this as a review of the book Patrons of Poverty (IMF/World Bank And Africa’s Problems), written by Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine

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