On Monday-Tuesday next week, Berlin will host the G20 finance ministers’ negotiations with African elites led by a South African, Malusi Gigaba. Is this the next neo-colonial defeat for the continent, harking back to another process 132 years ago?
From November 1884 to March 1885, fourteen European powers met in Berlin to discuss the division of European imperial interests on the African continent. The outcome of this negotiation process by the European powers was the General Act of the Berlin Conference. This provided an international legal framework for the formal annexation of African territories in furtherance of European capitalist interest.
Through European imperial control, the ruling oligarchs and elites were able, as Walter Rodney observed, “to underdevelop Africa.” Their work led to extreme fragmentation that makes it difficult to solve durable problems including climate change, acute poverty, economic dependency, violent conflict, chronic hunger and general lack of basic social services such as education, health and social infrastructure.
Now, 132 years after Berlin, the leaders of the Group of Twenty (G20), 19 leading economic countries plus the European Union, meet at another German City, Hamburg on 7-8 July 2017, following next week’s Berlin meeting of financial officials. Key on the agenda of the G20 leaders is its partnership with Africa as contained in a blueprint titled, Compact with Africa (CWA).
According to the G20, the CWA aims is to improve conditions for sustainable private sector investment, investment in infrastructure, economic participation, and employment in African countries. At face value the CWA proposals appear relevant, but does this framework respond adequately to Africa’s problems?
The core self-interest of those who went to the earlier Berlin project was to resolve the infamous “Scramble for Africa” so as to advance imperialist trade. The continent’s dysfunctional borders were drawn then in order to facilitate property rights for colonial extractive industries, all the better to ensure infrastructure investment. Roads, railways, bridges and ports needed to withdraw resources have been cemented into place ever since, and now require refurbishing and expansion. Is that the hidden agenda of the G20 in Africa, and hence the reason for the CWA’s focus on expanding state subsidies that promote corporate investment?
Another major concern is the absence of African voices, especially from below. Africa is currently represented only by South Africa which has its own sub-imperial ambitions across the rest of the continent and has long served as a gateway for European, US and now lately Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) commodities and finances.
In Berlin next week and Hamburg next month, the vast majority of Africans will not really be represented in the CWA, and as a result it is at best an elite arrangement for continued milking of African resources while leaving behind millions of Africa’s poor, unemployed youths, disenfranchised and disempowered women as well as millions of workers who continue to labour as slaves of big capital.
The progressive concern about the G20 is aptly articulated by the ‘C20’ (a group of civil society critics), which appraised the CWA as a ‘top-down process’ which leads to “higher costs for the citizens, worse service, secrecy, loss of democratic influence and financial risks for the public and the multinational corporations involved demand that their profits be repatriated in hard currency – even though the typical services contract entails local-currency expenditures and revenues – and that often raises African foreign debt levels, which are now at all-time highs again in many countries.”
The CWA is also very narrow in its approach and does not seek to view Africa’s challenges as emerging from past and present global inequalities rooted in colonialism and its extractivism. It seeks to perpetuate the same template as laid down at the Berlin Conference and does not address key challenges of climate change, inequality and poverty. It cements the neo-liberal stance of maintaining Africa as a source of cheap raw materials, labour and a large market for overpriced and poor-quality products from the developed north and lately the BRICS.
Proponents of the CWA argue that it will create jobs through investments in infrastructure and the extractive sector. However, the infrastructure – i.e. ports, roads and rails – is aimed at speeding up extraction and leaving the continent’s poor to pay the cost of associated environmental damage. Most of the projects will be covered by Special Economic Zones or the notorious Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) which pressure our governments to increase labour market ‘flexibility’ (fewer protections) and give more state subsidies.
Labour liberalisation means that workers at these mega projects will be subjected to conditions of work and salaries that would be far from making their work decent, as envisaged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The increased state subsidies for the PPPs mean that government expenditure on social services such as education, health and social welfare would be cut, thus leaving the poor of Africa with less access to essential social services.
In simple terms it means that Africa will enter a new era of privatisation of social services and public infrastructure, harking back to the disastrous International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). With hundreds of millions of people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, the privatisation of essential services and infrastructure could lead to a kind of massive socio-economic genocide.
Indeed as leaders of the most economically prosperous nations in the world meet in Berlin next week and in Hamburg next month, they must be conscious of what is at stake for ordinary Africans, especially its youth. They must also be aware of the grave inadequacies of the CWA and open up space for broader consultations and engagements with Africans in different spheres. Another Berlin deal is not in the best interests of Africa. Nothing can be for Africa without Africans!
* PRIDE MKONO is a social justice activist and current national Coordinator of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Alumni Zimbabwe. He blogs on www.pride-peoplepower.blogspot.com, can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @pridemkono.
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS