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NEPAD and AU Last update: 2020-11-27  

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NEPAD and the Challenge of Africa’s Development: towards the political economy of a discourse

4. Africa’s Silent Revolution: towards a political economy of NEPAD
In spite of continuing tension within the OAU and among the Heads of State on the framework itself and mode of its implementation, NEPAD was endorsed by the Lusaka Summit. A cynic might wonder if the Heads of State read the document, but that would miss the point. Adedeji (2002) expressed anguish at the lack of political will and nerve by African leaders to implement their own agenda, especially the LPA. For a document that detracts in important areas from earlier OAU declarations on globalisation, the debt crisis, democratising the global governance system, trade regimes, and the superintending powers of BWIs on economic management on the continent, what needs explaining is the extent of the consent that it has received from so many State functionaries on the continent, and the “business community.” It is to this, that I now turn.

I will argue that the remarkable shift in Africa in the post-1980s was not only in the imposition of orthodox stabilization and liberalisation programme, but the manner in which this and the change from bipolarity to a unipolar world impacted on the ideological landscape in the continent. This was both at the material level of the constitution of class relations and the mindset. I will contrast this with the post-colonial nationalist project. The shift in the constitution, mindset, and aspiration of the African petty bourgeois class is the critical component.

The immediate post-independence political economy of Africa was dominated by an enthusiastic commitment to the nationalist project. At the heart of this commitment to the nation-building project was a development focus. This is regardless of whether we are dealing with Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania or Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi, Leopold Senghor’s Senegal or Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya, While there were the Left and the Right ends of the political spectrum, there was broad concern for what Olukoshi (2002:6) referred to as the “post-colonial social contract”:

The promise of independence nationalism lay not only in discarding colonial rule and the broad-ranging exclusion on the basis of which it thrived but also opening up access to economic, social and political opportunities… the anti-colonial nationalist coalition was held together by the promise of freedom, unity and development.

It was underscored by different economic visions—from the “African socialism” of Nyerere and Kaunda to the commitment to capitalism in Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire. Even the “capitalist roaders” were driven by a Keynesian commitment to social policy outcome and growth. Commitment to nation-building was an overriding and common vision. As Mahmood Mamdani recently notedxvi , while it is commonplace to stigmatize Julius Nyerere for the failure of the Ujamaa project, history will remember him more as Africa’s foremost nation-builder. Tanzania is the only multi-ethnic country in which no ethnic group has been made a victim. Contrary to the narratives of the period that seems to underwrite much of the current reluctance to increase spending on social policy, the significant improvements in social policy outcomes (cf. Adesina 2002b, Ghai 1987) was not financed by borrowing or ‘printing of money.’ As Mkandawire (2001b) shows, inflation was generally low, and current account deficits quite limited. There are the obvious outliers (cf. Hutchful 2002). The development of an indigenous bourgeois class was equally driven by the nationalist project and dimensions of post-colonial social contract. Micro case studies of Western Nigeria (or Ghana), for instance, point to the development of a strong local consensus regarding the value of investment in universal entitlement to education, health care, and a strong orientation to full employment. This social compact survived into the late 1980s. In spite of the widespread perception, in the late 1970s, of development failure (because as the LPA argued, the average growth rate did not exceed 4.8% annually) there is increased consensus today that compared with the post-1980s, those first two decades have turned out to be the “golden age” (Adedeji 2002) of Africa’s economic and social development (cf. Mkandawire 2001b, Adesina 2002, Olukoshi 2002).

The disaffection with the elite closure of the political space and an increasingly authoritarian developmental state stimulated a dominant mode of alternative politics. This was defined by Amilcar Cabral’s injunction that for the African petty bourgeois class to become one with the people, it must commit class suicide. And the context of Cabral’s statement is quite poignant. In a speech delivered in January 1966, at the First Solidarity Conference of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in Havana, Cuba, Cabral highlighted the critical role of the indigenous petty bourgeois class after the end of formal colonial rule. The petty bourgeois class has two possible options. One is “to give free rein to its natural tendencies to become ‘bourgeois’… and necessarily to subject itself to the imperialist capital” (1979:136). This situation, Cabral argues “corresponds to the neo-colonial situation… [a] betrayal of the objectives of national liberation” (1979:136). The other road is one that commits the petty bourgeois class to “committing suicide as a class, to be restored to life in the condition of a revolutionary worker completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which he[/she] belongs” (1979:136). It involves “repudiating the temptations to become ‘bourgeois’ and the natural pretensions of its class mentality” (ibid). This is the dilemma of the Africa petty bourgeoisie.xvii

The dominant alternative politics of the 1970s, I will argue, was dominated by Cabral’s injunction and inspired a generation of Africans: it inspired a petty bourgeois class with proletarian/peasant aspirations. The nationalist project took an increasing more radical orientation. The liberation movements that dominated the landscape in the 1970s were decidedly driven by Cabral injunction: from the Guinea-Bissau to Mozambique, the emancipatory project was not only conceivable, it was feasible. Unlike the old nationalist project, the national liberation agenda of these movements was enthused with proletarian and peasant aspirations. From the PAIGC to FRELIMO, the gender question was central to the liberation project itself—a deeper sense of social democracy was feasible and was being built in the liberated territories. These in turn animated politics on the continent—from the student uprising in South Africa to contending with military autocracy in Ghana. It was an optimism of the will that made building socialism feasible (even if profoundly dubious of the Soviet project) within the social movements across the continent. In South Africa, it made the South African Communist Party (SACP) a natural home for many who might have little awareness of what Marx, Mandel, Mao, or Machel actually said or wrote

The significant shift, in the post-1980s, particularly in the 1990s, was in the dominant aspiration of the African petty bourgeois class. Unlike the 1970s, the dominant aspiration is increasingly one of a petty bourgeoisie with bourgeois aspirations. This shift has been both at the level of the State and the civil society (or societies); voluntary and compelled. The origin is equally diverse: the ascendancy of rightwing monetarism and conservative politics in Europe and North America, and the debt crisis in Africa and Latin America. The intellectual cohesion for the rightwing project was provided initially by the Chicago brand of Monetarism, but assumed widespread force through the counter-revolution in/against Development Economics, specifically. Attempts to resolve the crisis of over-accumulation in the West, took the form of the displacement of the crisis and aggressive prising open of markets across the world—what Bond (2001) called the geographical displacement of the crisis.

The decline and the collapse of the Soviet bloc and China’s turn from Maoism, as well as the intense hostility of the West to all instances of emancipatory politics would impact directly on the dominant alternative politics in Africa. The containment and subjection of liberation projects in Mozambique and Angola, for instance to intense carnage by proxy forces trained and financed by an alliance of the US, Britain, and Apartheid South Africa, was not only important for moderating the end game of Apartheid but the continent generally. It triggered the perception that the emancipatory project was dead! As with everything, politics is driven by success stories, affined relationship, and demonstration effect of epochal events. Pessimism of the intellect was matched by pessimism of the will.

The escalation of the debt crisis and the balance of payment problems provided the entry-points for the World Bank and the IMF in the illegal micromanagement of the economies of many African countries. The effect was, initially, most crucially within the State: State functionaries were confronted with ultimatums from the IMF and World Bank to implement aggressive stabilization and liberalization agenda or risk bankruptcy. In cases like Ghana, under Jerry Rawlings, the Finance officials complained that empty treasuries left them with no alternative than to accept the bitter pills of adjustment. The turn from left-wing politics to the neoliberal project, which saw many formal left-wing allies of Rawlings imprisoned, was taken reluctantly but taken nonetheless. However, the impact of adjustment policies deployed with an army of western market liberal economists, took the issue beyond compulsion. The sociological effect was to shift the balance of forces within the State itself in favour of neoliberal fellow-travellers by establishing neoliberalism as the undercurrent of policy discussions. In many cases this involved personnel changes (Hutchful 2002, Bond, 2001). In other cases, it was a matter of a dominant ideology becoming hegemonic. Government units with economic mandates—Ministries of Finance, central banks, bureaux with oversight mandate for privatisation and commercialisation—often became the first line infantry for the emergent neoliberal orthodoxy. “Capacity building” projects by BWIs and similarly oriented western agencies focused on reinforcing this ideological commitment. These processes were not uncontested. Tensions within the State, especially in the face of the failure of adjustment to produce the sustained growth or the prosperity for the population (by ‘trickle down) were rampant. Public revolts against the consequences of SAP fed into the scepticism and resistance of those within the State structures that were more averse to the neoliberal project. In certain cases, and at the early stages, the more aggressive neoliberals lost elections. Nevertheless, the continued exposure of the economies to external shocks and the debt peonage set the boundaries of resistance.

Intellectually, the crisis was posed by the new guardians of global capitalism as not merely short-term, or symptomatic of the crisis of neo-colonial capitalism. The crisis, they argued, was evidence of the failure and bankruptcy of the nationalist project, and the developmental state agenda. This was signalled early by the Berg Report. Neoliberalism—first in aggressive pricist terms, but later with more structuralist content—was presented as the only solution. Every instance of the failure of adjustment was presented as policy slippage and failure of political nerve, requiring exposure to more aggressive neoliberal policy instruments. Incremental additions of political and later ‘social’ conditionalities were imposed—again driven by the market logic. The aggressive production of reports (often with dubious methodological content) by the BWIs and their intellectual associates tightened the perception of the inevitability of neoliberal policy package.

At the level of civil society, there was a concerted effort to develop a new generation committed to the neoliberal vision. The African Economic Research Consortium is such an initiative. The neoliberal counter-revolution took to mind the Maoist principle on revolutionary insurgency—borough deep within the population. The collapse in public sector wages and the secular decline in formal sector employment stimulated the growth of the NGO sector and the drift into the ‘non-formal’ sector. The emergence of the governance argument, initiated the campaign to extend and deepen the “civil society” of a neoliberal hue. Elsewhere, (Adesina 2001b:i”) I have argued that:

The rise in the hegemonic profile of neo-liberalism, with its focus on market-led growth… created an immanent bias towards the “private sector society.” NGOs were the private sector, at least not the public sector. The interesting switching of the argument about democratisation also created a perception of the need to reinforce the “civil society” [often] as the antithesis of the State.

Funding from official and non-official western sources provided the basis for sustaining core actors and the diverse projects, which in many cases became increasingly hostile to the State. The political implication has been profound. Alternative politics in the 1990s lurched decidedly to the right, driven by liberal political theory and the extension of the market logic to the political space. In places like Zambia and Zimbabwe for instance, alternative politics (led by the trade union movement) commenced from the point of view of the inevitability of the neoliberal agenda. Indeed, in both the cases of Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively, the labour movement became the spring board for a conservative agenda, in the name of opening up the political space to competition. Even as the change to liberal democracy is celebrated, perhaps rightly so—the dominant form of politics took the neoliberal agenda as inevitable and disconnected political rights from economic rights, or at least circumscribed the latter.

The NGO sector and the pro-democracy terrain were increasingly dominated by a petty bourgeois class least intent on committing class suicide. The normative shift was underscored by the assumption that the emancipatory project was dead—at least in class terms, and there was no viable alternative to neoliberal growth trajectory. What was described as the 2nd Independence movement of political reform (democratisation) is perhaps better understood as a bourgeois revolution of a kind—driven by a petty bourgeoisie with rampant bourgeois aspirations. The resentment against the one party-state and dictatorship was, in great part, driven by a petty bourgeois class straining at the leash of class aspiration, much more than the social consequences of autocracy. The tendency to acquiesce in the face of growing poverty and still insist on the deployment of market forces for rationing access to social services—health, education, sanitation, etc.—defines this orientation. True, much tears have been shed about poverty, but this is within the neo-liberal concession to the demands of equity. The neo-Walrasian equity/efficiency trade-off still drives even the concession to social policy (cf. Bhagwati 1988, Mkandawire 2001, Adesina 2002).

With limited historical memory, the new petty bourgeoisie often took the neo-liberal discourse of Africa as given—its discourse demonised the State, as the arena of all that was wrong, and the civil society and private entrepreneurship as the domain of all that is virtuous. The idea that imperialism and transnational capital are too strong to be argued with pervades much of the discourse within the civil society and state in most African countries, including South Africa. John Kufor’s article on the “limits of self-sufficiency” (Project Syndicate, April 2002) is emblematic: “Ghana” he says, “needs foreign donors to plug the gap in its finances and assist us in standing on our own two feet”.xviii It is a mind set that is seeing an increasing number of African countries dependent on donor finance for a substantial part of their annual budgets; especially the countries labelled as “successful adjusters”. At the height of its being proclaimed a success story of Structural Adjustment Programme, Ghana was dependent on external aid for between 72.15% and 98.61% of its central government expenditure. In 1999 and 2000, 54.41% and 76.83%, respectively of Uganda’s (the new star pupil) central government expenditure derived from aid (World Bank 2002c)

Those who would not give up their proletarian/peasant aspirations ploughed their energy into the social justice movement, often with considerable postmodern mindset. For many others the emancipatory project involves energetic engagement with ‘local narratives’ and politics of grassroots campaigns. Many civil society organs like the NGOs that are operationally ‘radical’ have become so dependent on donor resources that the imperial and national agenda of European and North American aid agencies are not questioned. Indeed, the assumption that such institutions as USAID are ‘development partners’ is not uncommon in the NGO sector. So far, I have spoken of the dominant tendencies.

The class implications have been profound. The new aspirant bourgeois class (in politics and society) is defined by its rejection and hostility of the nationalist project and the post-colonial social compact. Its discourse of the nationalist project and the policy trajectory for Africa is driven by the BWIs narratives and is predominantly hostile to the State as a domain of public good. It differs from the nationalist (petty/) bourgeois class in this significant respect. This, I will argue, is important for making sense of the content of NEPAD, rather than its public persona. There is, however, nothing uniform about this trend.

4.1. Black, Bourgeois, and Proud of It

The pattern in South Africa shares similar but also specific characteristics and this is quite significant for the NEPAD initiative. The coalition that developed in the struggle against Apartheid was a loose one. The common platform was race-based oppression. The dominant segment, while subscribing to the principle of non-racialism, was both Africanist and non-socialist. While the language of left parties might have dominated the discourse, the tension between the complex amalgams of forces persisted. The same process discussed above—especially the notion that class emancipatory project was dead, the demise of the Soviet bloc, and the ascendancy of neoliberal globalisation—would have profound effect on the post-Apartheid agenda of reconstruction and change. While the more radical segments of the liberation movement were in ascendancy in the late 1980s to early 1990s, a radical social reconstruction agenda was limited by the murderous violence that was unleashed by the Right wing in the lead up to the 1994 elections. The curtailment of the radical agenda, to accommodate disaffection in the formerly racially privileged groups, also strengthened the traditional Africanist segment that had little inhibition about its bourgeois aspirations. While the terrain has been vigorously contested, for the soul and direction of the dramatic changes that have happened in post-Apartheid South Africa, it is in the class agenda that we understand the import of NEPAD, as a development project.

The class force that drives the project combines passionate Africanist agenda (exemplified in the idea of African Renaissance) with class agenda to create and nurture a black bourgeoisie. In its experience of racism and social exclusion of the Apartheid era, this segment shares common history and concerns with ordinary black people. Its quest for race-based (and gender-based) justice creates common purpose with ordinary South Africans. But it is also trenchantly committed to the bourgeois agenda. In this context, it shares common purpose and concerns with the international, and predominantly white, capital-owning and directing forces. The shift from the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)—a neo-Keynesian agenda—to the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macroeconomic framework signalled a major shift in the class balance of forces within the ruling coalition (Congress Alliance) and deepened the commitment to active engagement with global capitalism. It is in the twinning of a race-based (and gender-based) social justice concern, and the class aspirations that we fully understand NEPAD as a class project. It is this twinning of race and class aspirations that the South African promoters and drafters of NEPAD share with their counterparts in other parts of Africa. As Africans they strain at the leash of global geopolitical and economic subordination (or subsumption). In their class aspirations, they share similar concerns with the bourgeois project, worldwide. It is this that makes Benjamin Mkapa, Frederick Chiluba, Abdoulaye Wade, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Thabo Mbeki fellow-travellers.

In its Africanist orientation, and concerns for race-based justice, the South African sponsors of NEPAD do have a track record of serious concerns and commitment to what happens on the continent. South Africa’s involvements in the Comoros, Burundi and the DRC have been at considerable emotional, financial, material, and military expense. It is difficult not to take in the deep emotional feeling and pride with which President Thabo Mbeki approached the signing of the peace deal in Pretoria between the Presidents of the DRC and Rwanda or the final DRC accord in Sun City. His statement that it was a bright day for Africa is in the sense of Africans taking responsibility for resolving their own crisis. It is this Africanist dimension that is a motivating factor in trying to write a development agenda for Africa.

It is, however, the wider class and specifically neoliberal project that sets the Pretoria group apart and defined the instruments of development that was considered feasible. The size of the South African market, the extent of the commitment of its economic policy team (Treasury, Presidency, Reserve Bank, and Trade and Industry) to active engagement with global capitalism and being a major player, defines the more aggressive commitment to neoliberal policy direction. Part of this may be defined as national interest, but it will fail to fully appreciate the extent to which being “black and bourgeois” is not necessarily manipulative or a case of the deployment of alternate identities in different terrains. It is that of class aspirations and orientation which is distinctly ‘black’ and Africanist. Often in this context, it is not a question of the conflict between class and race—it is that of class aspiration within a racial locus.

The experiential basis of the self-embeddeness of race and class, however, also explains the extensive misreading of Africa’s development crisis and growth and social development achievement that is so inherent in NEPAD. In reproducing the reading of Africa that was so typical of the Berg Report, NEPAD failed to recognise the complexity of the paradoxes and puzzles of Africa’s development experience (Adesina 2002d). There is the lack of fit between macroeconomic indicators of performance and social development outcomes: the richest countries sometimes have social policy outcomes that are far worse than the poorer countries. Foreign investment flow has been highest in countries with pervasive social instability and/or rampant dictatorship. Further, the specific location of South Africa within the continent, and the extent to which its trade policies are driven by actors with strong commitment to existing mechanisms for governance of global capitalism, explains the enthusiasm of the NEPAD document for the World Trade Organisation, even as other African countries are sceptical, and often hostile to the power-based nature of the organisation (cf. Keet 2002). Class and neoliberal commitments would explain the extensive antinomies in the document, as well. Much of this has been dealt with elsewhere (Adedeji 2002, Adesina 2002a, Olukoshi 2002, Bond 2002, Tandom 2002), and therefore need not delay here. The extensive subordination to the BWIs’ perspectives raises its class project above its Africanist aspirations—but it predates the NEPAD project (Bond 2000, 2001).

The effect is that NEPAD proposes the same set of policy instruments that have extensively damaged the continent in the last two decades. Its proposition that Africa should strive to develop “into a net exporter of agricultural products” (par. 154), for instance, reveals considerable lack of understanding of the logic of the failure of a policy that African countries have pursued since the 1960s. Indeed, in making “market access” such an integral aspect of its mode of ‘partnership’ with global capital, NEPAD reinforces a false debate. Increased market access for agricultural products may assuage some conscience in the North, but nothing we know in theory or practice suggests that this is in fact the way to go (Adesina 2002c). The persistent argument in the NEPAD document about Africa’s economic marginalisation also misreads the basis of Africa’s “marginalisation”. It is not the extent of ‘integration’ of Africa into the global economy that is the problem but the mode. A good measure of ‘integration’ is the percentage of trade (export and import of goods and services) in a country or region’s gross domestic product. Figure 1 shows the comparative trend of this measure for the sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries and the High Income OECD countries. The SSA region shows a consistently higher degree of ‘openness’ than the later. It is in changing the mode of Africa’s integration into the global economy that we address its marginal voice in the global economy. In this regard, NEPAD offers little that is of promise.

Figure 1: Trade as % of GDP (comparative data on Sub-Saharan Africa and High Income OECD countries)

Trade as % of GDP

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators, 2002

Simply trying to encourage quantitative growth in macroeconomic indicators, as NEPAD seems so concerned with, is also only one side of the equation. Reduced inequity in wealth distribution is fundamental to sustainable economic growth (Mkandawire 2001b), and macro-economically poor countries do hide highly inequitable distribution of wealth. In countries such as Central African Republic, Nigeria, Zambia, Mali and Niger, more than 60% of the population are classified as living in absolute poverty. Yet in many of these countries income distribution remains highly skewed. The richest 10% in Nigeria, Zambia, Mali, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, and Burkina Faso, to name a few, control more than 40% of income or consumption. In the specific case of Nigeria, we are not dealing with a poor country. Indeed, stupendous wealth has been accumulated by a tiny fraction of the population during the same decade of mounting poverty, destitution, and structural adjustment.

The return to ‘democratic polity’ in Nigeria, as in Zambia or Malawi has done little to tame rampant corruption in the economies—if anything Zambia, for instance, demonstrates the extent to which the opening of the political space also widens the space for corrupt enrichment of public officers with detrimental effect on social policy outcomes. Kuznet’s thesis that income inequality must first get worse before it gets better has been shown to be absolute nonsense. This pattern of inequity has been fostered by the same set of policy instruments that NEPAD proposes.

It is in recycling the neoliberal agenda of the BWIs and purporting to give it an African ownership that we understand the enthusiasm for the project by the same global forces that have dominated Africa for centuries.


  1. Mahmood Mamdani, Keynote Address to the 2002 South African Sociological Association Congress, East London. 30 June 2002.

  2. My continuous appreciation to Omafume Onoge who introduced me to Cabral as an undergraduate at University of Ibadan.

  3. John Kufor. “The Limits of Self-reliance”, Project Syndicate. April 2002. (Accessed 26 September, 2002).
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