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Alternatives to Neo-Liberalism in Southern Africa, part II

by Herbert Jauch


One of the most comprehensive alternative policy proposals to overcome inequality, unemployment and poverty is contained in the books of the initiative, Alternatives to Neo-Liberalism in Southern Africa (ANSA).  

ANSA points out that the state is a creation of history and a product of struggles.  Its role and orientation depends on the balance of forces in society and thus the task is for people at grassroots levels to transform existing states into independent, truly developmental, accountable and ethical states.  This can only happen through daily struggles, as people are the defenders of their own rights.  Only they are the agents who can bring about fundamental change.

ANSA argues that the current crisis in Africa can only be understood by, looking at the root causes in a holistic way.  This means analysing the imperial strategy on the continent, including its co-option of local elites into the imperialist project.  ANSA appeals to think beyond the “regime change” agenda that is promoted by imperial powers and analyse why Africa’s postcolonial elites came and went without being able to significantly improve the standards of living of the majority.  ANSA also calls for a critical analysis of “civil society organisations” and the role they play in transforming the society.  

Once in power, civil society leaders like trade unionists all too often behave no differently (or even worse) than the politicians they replaced.  This can be called the “Chiluba Syndrome” and may happen in any country if the “regime change” does not take place in a holistic and transformative manner.

Engaging with the state

ANSA identifies 2 main reasons why African states have become agents of imperialism/ globalisation so soon after independence:

1.  The people were de-politicised and demobilised after independence, hoping that their “comrades in power” would rule in their interest.  Thus at critical moments, they could not intervene when the Empire imposed its will on the new governments.

2.  The agents of globalisation quickly filled this vacuum and determined policy (either through advisors, loan “conditionality’s” etc).

At the time when Africa celebrated its independence, the door was already opened for the agents of the empire to walk in.  Examples of imperialist interests gaining the upper hand can be found in almost all countries of the region.  

In most African countries, it happened with the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the early 1980s.  In other countries like South Africa and Namibia, the seeds of neo-liberalism were already planted during the negotiated settlements leading to independence. 

ANSA points to the critical challenge of reversing this trend by igniting a revolutionary, transformative spirit amongst people that has been demobilised and made despondent through impoverishment and loss of confidence in the political system. 

The famous slogan of the Mozambican revolutionaries “A luta continua” captures the crucial point that struggle is a daily business; a continuous process.  The struggle for basic services is part of the everyday battles.  

When Governments privatise services under pressure from the IMF, World Bank or donors, they affect people immediately – not at some future date.  

In Ghana and South Africa, for example, community-based organisations are taking up the battle against water privatisation.  Similarly, several organisations have taken up the battle against the proposed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and ACP countries.  These are battles that have to be fought today and they are crucial ingredients for a continental transformation.  

An 8-point strategy

ANSA points out that these ideas need to be translated into actions but also recognises that transforming a region of over 200m people is a daunting task that cannot be achieved in a short period by a few activists and intellectuals.  It requires a mass movement that is dedicated to a sustained struggle, including education, consultations, debate, action and reflection. The main elements of the proposed ANSA strategy can be summarised into these points:

It is a people-led (as opposed to an IMF-World Bank-WTO donor-led) strategy. It proposes an alternative production system primarily based on domestic demand and human needs and the use of local resources and domestic savings.  It also proposes the “horizontal” integration of agriculture and industry.

A grassroots-led regional integration as opposed to the current fragmentation by the Empire.

A strategic, selective de-linking from neo-liberal globalisation and the preparation for a negotiated re-linking to a fundamentally different global production and distribution system.

An alternative policy on science and technology based on harnessing the collective knowledge and wisdom of the people.

Forging of strategic alliances and networks with progressive forces at national, regional and global level.

A politically governed redistribution of wealth and opportunities from the formal to the non-formal sectors of the economy.

Women’s rights as the basis for a healthy and productive society.

An education system that addresses the needs for sustainable human development by improving technical, managerial, research and development skills.

The creation of a dynamic, participatory and radical democracy, which regards peoples’ mobilisation, demonstrations, open hearings as part of the struggle for an ethical and developmental state.

Twenty-one years after independence, Namibia is still facing huge challenges and most of our politicians seem to have run out of ideas; what needs to be done to overcome inequality, poverty and unemployment.  The ANSA ideas could provide a starting point for the way forward but they require political will to effect fundamental changes.  Otherwise, the status quo will remain.