The Marginalisation of Africa
Therefore, while on the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000, the industrialized countries of the world were celebrating the gains of globlisation, including the emergence of a world without frontiers, where capital and investment moved freely to all the corners of the earth, and big corporations found cheap labour to make their products cheaply in poor countries, the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa along with their peers in Latin America and Asia were groaning under an excruciating debt burden, high unemployment, social dislocation and infrastructural decay. Under these circumstances we have experienced a major wave of brain drain: some of the best of their human resources have constantly emigrated in search of greener pastures in Europe and America. We have had the ironical situation where the few professionals and experts (such as Doctors, Nurses, Engineers and Teachers) trained with the scarce resources available in African countries, have often ended up helping to develop further the already developed countries, while at home their hospitals lack doctors and nurses, and their schools and institutions lack experienced teachers and administrators.
It became clear to many discerning leaders, critical observers, human rights advocacy groups and religious organizations that while on the one hand the process of globalization with the accompanying free market economy has enabled the developed nations to advance in leaps and bounds, experiencing unprecedented economic growth and consuming more and more of the earth’s resources, what we have witnessed on the other hand is the continued (and as it were intensified) impoverishment, marginalization or “periferisation” of the African continent. Hardly anyone would deny that the world of 2007 is bifurcated between a part that is developing rapidly and successfully and a part that is stuck in a certain sense.
To put it bluntly: Development is not taking place in most of Africa! The present global economic system is “dysfunctional.” The gap between the average African country and any of the G8 countries for example (measured according to GNP) is today three times more than it was in 1970. It is estimated to be between 1 and 60. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa are living below poverty line – surviving on less than 1 US dollar a day, with high infant and maternal mortality rate, harassed by the scourge of HIV/AIDS and Malaria, living undignified lives in crowded cities and shanty towns, with poor educational and health facilities, with no pipe-borne water, no sewage disposal, no garbage collection, no reliable electricity supply,
in a world where many citizens from the rich nations (and of course beneficiaries of the system and corrupt officials in African countries) are spending Billions of dollars on cosmetics, on the effort to lose excess weight, on space tourism, and such other vanities.
Africa and Ecological Degradation
There is a lot of discussion today about the speedy depletion of our non-renewable energy resources, and about global warming and climate change on account of the reckless emission of poisonous gas into the atmosphere that is now threatening the protective ozone layer. Two thirds of the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide and such other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, are said to have been produced by the rich countries of Europe and North America. Experts observe that African countries have since 1900 contributed less than 3 percent of the global emission of carbon dioxide, yet ironically, the poor African countries, located precariously astride the equator, along with the low lying countries of South East Asia, will face some of the worst consequences of increased temperatures, including floods, cyclones and tsunamis (in Asia) and excruciating heat, draught and disrupted water supply (in tropical Africa). Some of the rich industrialized nations are already taking steps to shield their societies from some of the predictable consequences of global warming. Their wealth will largely insulate them from harm at least for the immediate future. But poor African nations are totally helpless in this regard. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the United Nations climate panel observed recently that “the inequity of the whole global system is enormous if you look at who is responsible and who is suffering as a result.”
MDG, NEPAD, APRM: Hopes Raised and Dashed
On the occasion of Jubilee 2000 therefore the leaders of the world endorsed 8 broad Millennium Development Goals most of which were to be achieved by year 2015. The goals are as follows:
- Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
Towards making the above dreams become reality, some African leaders came up in 2001 with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NePAD) in which they committed themselves to promoting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and free market economy. They also put in place the African Peer Review Mechanism. These initiatives were greeted with widespread enthusiasm, especially among the leaders of the industrialized nations as well as the International Financial Institutions. It was hoped that these mechanisms would at last liberate Africans and their continent from the curse of underdevelopment and their lack of participation in a globalizing world. Summit after summit have been held since then in which the underdevelopment, the debt burden, the widespread poverty and disease, the bad governance and corruption, and the environmental degradation in the continent of Africa have come up for discussion. But as the years roll by, there is little on the ground today in many African countries to show that by 2015 there will be any appreciable change in the economic fortunes of the continent, if those who hold the key to global wealth (and their local collaborators in Africa) continue operating the way they have always done.
As the 2007 G8 Summit approaches, here we are once again gathered as Civil Society activists, to reflect at this panel upon the African predicament, and hopefully from our interaction come up with certain concrete recommendations that would be tabled before leaders of the G8 countries that are soon to meet here in Germany. In the name of the suffering men, women and children in Africa, I thank you all for your commitment to the emancipation of the African continent from all that diminish it today.
Conclusion: The Charge before G8 Members
I would end this overview with a few points that I would like Civil Society leaders to put before the powerful leaders of the world who would soon be hosting their summit:
- The prevalent international economic system is dysfunctional on account of the inequities embedded therein. As constituted, the system provides opportunities for some (industrialized nations) to enjoy unprecedented growth,disenfranchising others. Unless the system is revisited, no amount of rhetoric will see African nations out of the present predicament.
- In an increasingly globalised world, fortress Europe and fortress America is no longer sustainable. Globalisation challenges us to work sincerely towards a world without frontiers. And here we ask: Is the G8 itself and the manner in which it is constituted (like the Security Council of the U.N.) not a structure of inequality? Is it not an economic caste system? Can such a system truly superintend a just, equitable global society?
- Big Capital has taken the world captive, and unless there is a major decisive intervention by leaders of powerful nations to rescue peoples and nations from its grip, there may be no substantial change in the fortunes of African nations. From the conduct of many multi-nationals today, it appears that poor developing nations are “on sale.” The preponderance of the profit motive and the globalization of greed and reckless consumption will only push many more millions of Africans into degrading poverty and misery.
- There is no place for limitless growth in a limited world. The rich segments of the world that are presently experiencing excessive economic growth must recognize that their present level of consumption is not sustainable on the long term. The resources of nature are meant to take care of all God’s creatures in the present and future generations, not just for the smart and clever people who can devise the means of grabbing everything available today. The rich must learn to live simply so that others may simply live.
- It should be considered a matter of scandal that as the world faces the gloomy prospects of nearly one billion people dying of hunger and disease, the rich nations appear too selfish, too self-centred, too protective of their vanities and indulgencies to be able to offer even 1% of their resources as Overseas Development Assistance. Considering the enormity of the challenge that faces poor nations, the 0.7% ODA which they had committed themselves to, even when redeemed can only scratch the surface of the problem. To make any appreciable impact on the lives of the nearly one billion people who are living on less than one dollar a day, the rich nations shall have to pay more than lip service to official development assistance. They should start thinking of an upward of 5.0% as O.D.A., for a more just, equitable, secure and peaceful world would not emerge without those consuming too much of the world’s resources today paying some cost and without them taking some responsibility (in collaboration with leaders and citizens of the poor countries) for a more equitable human society.
- The rich nations must start thinking of diverting some of the enormous funds being channeled towards fighting global terrorism today. Experience so far should tell us that we cannot win the war on terrorism in the manner in which it is being prosecuted. A world where obscene affluence exists side by side with degrading poverty, and a world where a few rich nations and institutions dictate the political choices, decree the economic systems and determine the cultural orientations of the vast majority of humanity, will be a world of endless tension, conflict, terror and war.
- Poverty is as serious a threat to global peace as fundamentalist inspired terrorism, because it divides people and breeds anger and resentment. A large population of hungry and angry people can spoil the party of the rich – people who lack the password to key into the digital democracy, people who remain untouched by the wonders of science and technology, people who are living in the zones of fear, people disenchanted by the cultural arrogance and imperialist dispositions of the rich, etc. The challenge before the G8 is to make the world accessible to these people. We need a global leadership that would abandon the hypocrisy of today, rise above the exigencies of politics, and summon the will to lead humanity towards a new era characterized by the globalization of solidarity!