Op-Ed: Is the new globalization a flash-back for Africa?

PUBLISHED: Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:52:33 GMT

The global political economy landscape has drastically changed from what it was during the wave of independence of sub-Saharan African countries. China has gained a prominent position and it is arguably challenging the US in attaining super-power status.  To this end, China has been expanding aggressively in sub-Saharan Africa with the rhetoric of a ‘win-win’ relationship (distinct to the memories African states have of the imposed Structural Adjustment Programs of the 1980s and 1990s) and it appears the African countries are receiving the ‘assistance’ of the Chinese with open arms.

US President Trump expressed sentiments, during both his campaign and his transition, of protectionism and economic nationalism. Whilst President Xi, of China, recently positioned himself in Davos (at the World Economic Forum’s summit) as the advocate for openness and globalization.

US-Africa Relations versus China-Africa Relations?  

There had been much uncertainty regarding a US foreign policy agenda with Africa under a Trump administration; but The New York Times recently obtained a four-page document where the Trump team questioned aid flows to Africa. Thereby setting the tone for what may be an anticipated distant US-Africa relationship. Despite the skepticism the US had of the closeness between China and African nations, the direction the African continent had been heading (towards China) may have been the right one after all. Or is it?

The recent turn of events, following the latter part of 2016 to date, are ironic – considering that economic liberalization was a concept dictated to African nations (through the Bretton Woods Institutions) consequent to the over-indebtedness of the said African nations in the 1980s and 1990s, in the form of Structural Adjustment Programs. Fast forward to the 21st century, post-Brexit and the 2016 US elections, and the argument on the table is a defense for economic liberalization to the president of the nation which was one of those spear-heading the cause for economic liberalization and openness post World War II.

The US’ relationship with Africa has been based on dependency and aid. While this has certainly benefited certain areas in need of the aid; this has also arguably stifled robust economic growth on the continent. The aid policy model of the US has been characterized by conditions imposed on sub-Saharan African countries. However, on the other end, China has adopted a different model to their approach to “aid” to sub-Saharan African countries. The Chinese model does away with conditionality and rather focuses on infrastructure building. This model has been lauded by sub-Saharan African leaders and ironically criticized by the US. The US’ previous criticism on the Chinese model (before the recent turn of events in US politics) was the labeling of the model as being anti-good governance in Africa.

China particularly earmarked the following areas: modernizing the agriculture landscape, industrialization, infrastructure, financial services and green development, trade and investment facilitation, public health, and people-to-people exchanges, as the areas it sought to boost cooperation with Africa. These areas were specifically laid out in 2015 during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.  

The Chinese aid approach to Africa is distinct to that which was formerly characteristic of the US’ previous administrations. Now was is as stake is whether Africa will receive any attention from the US under a Trump administration. However, what is certain is that China still remains open for engagement with Africa.

An Exemplar for ‘Political Globalization’?

In an address during the AU summit, former AU Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma envisaged “turbulent times” ahead for the African continent after the recent ‘travel ban’ was imposed by the US on 7 nations which have majority Muslim populations, 3 of which are in Africa. Clearly, the continent is looking elsewhere for an exemplar, and China has been slowly filling that position; but given the recent events as well as the Davos speech, President Xi, has fully immersed China as the nation to fill that void in the global political economy landscape.

Despite the much needed defense for economic globalization (as well as a super-power-like nation to champion the defense), it should be highlighted that China, as the current exemplar for economic globalization; has not made the case for political globalization – as was recently noted in an article by theAtlantic. Political globalization, refers to political and social freedoms (multi-party democracies, free and open internet access), which many nations on the African continent still grapple with.

Legitimate Concerns with the Current Model of Economic Globalization

The criticisms and questions against globalization are not entirely novel, remember Globalization and its discontents, the 2002 book byJoseph Stiglitz? The same arguments being tendered by populist movements domestically in the West, somehow translate to the African context – the widening gap between the rich, industrialized developed countries at what it seems to be at the expense of developing African countries should be noted and given due regard, given the natural resource endowment of the African continent.

Another genuine trepidation somehow caused by the current model of economic globalization is the recent fact revealed by Oxfam, that only 8 men own the same wealth as half of the world’s poor. This does not mean that all countries should resort to closing themselves off from the rest of the world; it does mean, however, that there are legitimate concerns and questions surrounding the current model of economic globalization, not only as it relates to individuals’ lives in the West, but as it relates to the economic positioning of African nations in the international economic regime.

What the African continent (as well as other developing countries) need is a “globalization that is fairer” and at its own terms. 

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