“I can’t eat GDP!”– Why Numbers don’t Matter! By Fekadu Bekele, Ph D
On 25th February 2014 a one-day seminar was conducted by Heinrich Böll Stiftung, a foundation which is founded after the name of one of the legendary figures of peace movements during the 1970s and 80s, famous for his many critical works as a writer. The foundation intimately linked to the Green party, actively participating in ecological, democratic and peaceful movements is contributor to civil society organizations in Germany and civil society organizations worldwide. In this spirit, it actively promotes the aforementioned ideals in Africa and other underdeveloped areas in the world. After many years of active participation in Ethiopia, the foundation decided not to extend its activity under the current politically repressive conditions and was compelled to close its office in Addis due to the ongoing arbitrary arrests of journalists and civil right activists.
The idea behind this seminar was to examine and discuss the nature of economic growth in many African countries, and to scrutinize whether repeated statistical publications about the high performance of the economy in Africa South of the Sahara has a positive impact on the lives of the people. The event was host to many critical participants who provided the audience with assessments about the well-publicized economic growth in many African countries. While not all presented ideas were entirely new, I can say that we have learned a lot during the seminar.
Among those invited was Prof. Lorenzo Fioramonti, who is currently teaching international political economics in South Africa, at the University of Pretoria and who is well known for his very challenging books and articles about inequality and economic growth in Africa. Though he couldn’t participate physically, his well evidenced and thoughtful analysis transmitted by Skype to the audience was very remarkable and the message was clear for all of us. Prof. Fioramonti informed us that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a new concept, heavily loaded with ideology and does not reflect the realities on the ground. According to his analysis, GDP is a very misleading concept, and does not only reflect the realities on the ground and systematically neglects other economic activities that take place outside the formal sector. Accordingly, GDP considers only market transactions and no other aspects of human activities performed by the people in each country. Another misleading aspect of GDP is it does not take into account ecological damages, inflicted when mineral resources are exploited. According to his assessment the ecological, social and cultural damages are far greater than what the society gets from selling minerals. The revenue from selling the minerals goes into the pockets of those companies extracting the resources. That means foreign companies instead of creating social wealth for the people as whole steal African resources while destroying the environment and the entire social fabric of the continent.
Dr. Kumi Naidoo who is also from South Africa and is currently manager at Greenpeace made a vibrant speech, and told us that in South Africa almost 12 Million people are hungry every day because of lack of food. Though rich in mineral resources and relatively developed compared to other African countries, according to Dr. Naidoo, South Africa is the second most unequal country in the world next to Brazil where inequality is more apparent. He informed us that corruption is practically destroying the social fabric of the South African society. Dr. Naidoo has shown us that economic growth in many African countries did not improve the life of the people as the World Bank and the international community makes us believe, but on the contrary, increases inequality. In fact the continent is on the rise, but not Africans. According to his estimation, the number of poor people has increased from 175 million to 239 million people within 20 years. One out of four people in Africa is hungry. Those who benefit from the well-publicized economic growth are the political and the economic elite, while the situation for the majority of Africans is very bleak. Subsidies from the EU for its farmers, and poultry importation from certain European countries, such as Holland undermines the lives of the people in Ghana and elsewhere. In his statement, many African leaders do not understand what they are doing and are simply being manipulated by multi-national companies and consulting firms and are leading their countries to an unknown destiny. In such unequal continent it is not surprising that the criminality rates are very high.
Other participants, such as Dr. Franklin Obeng-Odoom, Ghanaian by birth and currently conducting research at the University of Technology in Sidney and Mr. Nimmo Bassely a Nigerian, who came directly from his country for the seminar, gave us very sad pictures about the conditions in many African countries, and how the resources of the continent are being plundered by multi-national companies and by the respective African governments without real contribution to economic development or to the improvement of the life conditions of the African people. Dr. Obeng-Odoom has stressed the need for understanding the meaning of economic growth in its broadest sense. Accordingly any healthy economic growth must also include the concept of well-being, and from this perspective the living standard of the people in each African country must be analyzed. By comparing economic growth in Mauritius and Botswana with that of Zambia, Angola and Nigeria, he explained to us that while inequality in Mauritius and Botswana reduced to a certain extent, this is not the case in Nigeria, Angola and Zambia. In these three countries economic growth and the rise of inequality are two sides of the same coin. In Nigeria, economic growth has even greater negative impacts on the environment. As a city planner and researcher in political economics, told us that city planning in many African countries is being planned from the perspective of market economic activities, and not as a place to live, where human values, culture, ethical norms are being integrated so that individuals develop a sense of belongingness and social awareness. Such cities in Africa and elsewhere which are being constructed from the perspective of pure market transactions produce aggressive individuals which become harmful for any society in general. On the other hand many governments will be compelled to be converted into police states to counter attack such aggressive individuals and groups which the system has produced. It is not therefore very surprising that many African states have become more militarized over the last 20 years to cope with such kinds of problems. In other words, globalization and neo-liberal economic policies inevitably produce overcrowded cities, and destroy generally all human values such as cultural, social, ethical and moral values that are the attributes of all human beings. In Ghana the economy has grown by about 14% with oil, and yet in the western region of the country inequality has risen dramatically. The fact that multi-national companies have free hands, and are doing whatever they like, exploit the resources without contributing to the social and economic developments in the respective countries. Mr. Bassely a Nigerian by birth and well-educated and articulated personality told us about the ecological damages that the oil companies have inflicted upon the environment, and according to the study conducted by his organization, it will take at least 25 years to clean the land, and another 30 years to clean the water, even more than that to get rid of the ecological damages already deep-rooted and widely spread in many areas of the Niger Delta. According to him, the oil companies are criminals and must be charged for what they have inflicted and are still inflicting on African societies and their environments. He is also very concerned about the situations in Lake Turkana, in Kenya and Lake Albert, in Uganda. As a humanist he reminded the audience to ask themselves about their relationships with nature. He told us, as we are part of nature, and since we need nature for our existence we have to ask ourselves about the meaning of life, and therefore we can’t be indifferent to what is going on around us. From this perspective we also have to define the essence of economic development, and since economic planning and economic development reflect economic and political power relationships that prevail in any given country, they are not value free. When foreign companies come to Africa in order to invest in the name of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), their main motive is to take out as many resources as possible without creating social systems that are conducive to live and would enable the people to produce high culture. Statistics show that 70-80% of FDI goes to extract mineral resources, and this number tells a lot about the main aim of foreign companies. Mr. Bassely further explained to the audience that Africa is still a controlled continent, and some countries in West African that were once colonies of France still don’t have their own currencies, and do not have the right to know how much currency reserves in the central Bank of France they possess. Since 60 % of the foreign earnings of the ex-colonies remain in France, these West African countries cannot control their own monetary affairs. As long as any country does not have the right to control and manage its own monetary mechanisms, it cannot control the movements of capital and can’t adapt monetary policies in accordance to the need of the economy.
Generally speaking, the participants gave us a very dark picture about the nature of political constructions and lack of knowledge that exist in many African countries, that are being exploited by those foreign forces which at the moment think and believe that they are omnipotent in many areas, and clever enough to take out huge amounts of resources and profits as much as possible without ever thinking about the damages they are consciously or unconsciously inflicting on various African countries. Though the picture is clear and the participants spoke in clear languages, it was unfortunate to see how the audience became reluctant and was very uncritical. Nobody dared to raise critical questions and it seems that many are either confused or are adapted to such situations. What do we learn from such analysis given by our African brothers? First, though the continent is nominally independent, in actual fact it is still a controlled continent. Second, the economic and political orders that were constructed after the Second World War do not favor the continent. The continent is still being considered by the so-called international community as exporter of raw materials. That means Africa must not use its own resources in accordance with the needs of its people. Third, since the continent does not have its own economic theory and policy it can easily be manipulated by foreign experts. Therefore all the economic policies that have been applied since the 1960s could not help the continent to create true national wealth. Fourth, the way out of this dilemma is that the people in each African country must be empowered to control their own resources and decide over their own destiny. Fifth, this requires strong political leadership form within that does not obey and accept economic policies of international partners.
The Problem of the Topic and the Discussion
Though the critical analysis that was presented to us was remarkable and very thoughtful, many fundamental aspects could not be discussed and could not be thematically analyzed. Frist, the ideological basis of GDP was not discussed at all, and nobody had raised questions to get clear answer about the fundamental aspects of GDP calculation in many African countries. In other words the place of manufacturing, science and technology was not discussed. Secondly, the differences between economic growth and economic development was not debated or thematically analyzed. Third, the differences in economic growth between those developed capitalist countries and African countries were not highlighted and debated. In other words, though the economic growth in many capitalist countries have never surpassed that of 3% over the last 30 years, and in many cases it was below 2%, why in counties where the economic growth allegedly reaches up to 6%, and in some countries like that of Ethiopia, where the government boasts that the country experiences a double-digit growth rate, why poverty persists and why there are many slum areas? Fourth, the seminar could not bring into light the economic, political, ideological and military construction that are purposely produced and organized after the Second World War, and that are the main causes of poverty, inequality, resource plundering, ecological damages, war and militarization in many African counties. Fifth, the so-called international division of labor that is being thought at the universities across the globe, and the role of the two sister Organizations, the IMF and the World Bank that are vehemently advancing free market economic policies and deregulation and their ideological foundation have never been discussed. Sixth, growth literally means expanding in many directions. Though many African countries show such a remarkable growth rate of 6% or more than that, why many African countries could not experience market expansion in all areas, and why everything concentrates in few cities, especially in capital cities? Such kinds and other numerous questions could not be raised and thematically analyzed. Normally it is up to the moderators to raise such kinds of questions and ask the participants to make clear about these and other related issues. Unfortunately they could not use their privilege position and neither ask the participants to make clear about certain points nor ask the audience whether everything that was presented there well understood or not.
From the outset it must be clear that the economic, social, political and ecological crises in many African countries are not the product of nature that are sent by God to punish Africans, but they are the products of such unequally constructed and ideologically manipulated world, so that the majority of the people in this world should take it for grant that Africans are condemned to live under such kinds of circumstances. Therefore, controlling resources and enriching ones elf, while pushing others into abject poverty, manipulating political power through diverse mechanisms and strengthening the repression apparatus to maintain the status quo, etc. are not natural products, but are products of certain social and political power relationships that are being produced and reproduced on national and international level. Mostly, the abnormal conditions in many African countries are the products of slavery, colonialism, the so-called international division of labor, imposed economic policies by foreign forces that are not congruent to the social, cultural, political and economic conditions of many African countries. In short, since the 16th century until today, the continent and its people are condemned to be exploited and therefore the people of Africa must remain undeveloped devoid of all rights. All the policies that were and are being imposed on Africa are not intended to develop the continent, but their mission is to make it permanently exporter of raw materials and other agricultural products that could not grow in the northern hemisphere.
The introduction of slave trade and subjugating Africans under colonial administration had practically destroyed developmental and evolutionary processes, and African societies were compelled not to grow organically in all areas as coherent nation-states with all their attributes. The civilized Europe has at the end managed to create sophisticated mechanisms that make for Africans very difficult to understand all the intrigues and use their own resources to develop economically and socially. This situation has been perpetuated after the Second World War by implementing the so-called import-substitution industrialization, the basic needs approach program, the Green revolution and later on the so-called structural adjustment program (SAPs). All these policies that have more ideological character than solving the continent’s social and economic problems have never been applied in the European economic and social history. The implementations of all these policies in many African countries have distorted developmental processes; and they are responsible for the state of the African societies as we see today. As such the ideological basis of the well propagated GDP is neo-liberalism or neo-classical economic thought that diametrically opposes real economic development that is based on vast division of labor, expanded manufacturing activities with increasing returns, and that is again supported by science and technology, innovation, research and developments, big market activities, sophisticated infrastructure, and well-designed cities and villages. Neo-classical or neo-liberal school of thought becomes an ideology after most European countries had successfully managed to develop capitalism on solid foundation. Until the 19th century all West European countries including the United States of America and Japan had followed an interventionist or mercantilist economic policy that helped them to build coherent economic structures on the basis of manufacturing activities. After a long battle against state interventionist policies and the political economy of Marxism, neo-classical economic thought that is based on empiricism could triumph. Therefore neo-classical school of thought does not know historical, cultural, social, political, and intellectual processes. It does not therefore incorporate space and time in its model; and even it does not understand the role of human being in shaping its destiny. Economy in any country grows for its own sake, and not to satisfy human needs. Each person in each country can satisfy his needs through the market and by participating in the market. Only the market knows what the people in each country want, and not the people themselves. Therefore the market does everything. It can read the minds of the people; accordingly it plans for them. Governments and the people themselves by mobilizing all the available resources must not act against the rule of the market. Unfortunately, individuals can participate in the market as long as they possess money. Otherwise they will be excluded from the market; and can only satisfy their needs as long as politicians and those who control the means of productions and the resources are benevolent enough and willing to create jobs. Jobs can only be created as long as buyers are willing to pay the prices what the market demands.
When we come to the second aspect, what can be seen, but not well recognized by many, the economy of many capitalist countries is being governed by different laws, and social mechanisms that do not exist in many African countries. First, many European countries by luck and later on by learning and doing could transform their social and economic structures. Most European countries have gone through three mind cleaning processes, which could not happen for various reasons in all African countries and in other Third World Countries. Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment are the starting points of western capitalism; and the preconditions that enabled most European countries to organize their societies on new foundation were laid from the 13th until the 16th century. After the 16th century onwards, many European countries introduced conscious economic policies that could lay the foundation for market capitalism. The so-called invisible hand as the source and precondition of capitalistic development is a myth. The invisible hand is rather a product of interrelated factors that become slowly effective after traditional values were systematically abolished through various mechanisms, when individuals were freed from old bondages of all types.
From this perspective, the development of capitalism is an ongoing process, based on expanded manufacturing activities, sophisticated and interconnected division of labor, which could slowly be supported by constant scientific researches and institutions in a given country. Capitalism has never functioned and is not functioning without effective institutions and state intervention. Only through effective and well organized institutions resources in any given country can be mobilized and allocated. Countries that lack a strong state and institutions are condemned not to develop in all directions. The people remain poor and will become victims by those forces that think and believe that they are more clever than others. The hierarchical relationships among different nations on a world wide scale have the sole purpose of maintaining the status quo and poor people are being seen as redundant and as such they are not blessed to determine their own fate.
Present day capitalism is unique in essence that it can only operate on a global level and absorbs resources from all over the world for its survival. Production, finance, circulation of commodities and even cultural production are taking place on a global scale; and hence capitalist accumulation in the center is not conceivable without the participation of the periphery. Its contradictory movements on a global level inevitably checks and blocks developments in other countries. From the perspective of capitalism that creates capital accumulation on a world wide scale, it is therefore natural to convert those weak countries into plantation economy and exporter of raw materials. It is indeed silly to expect something good from such a system that is not organized on the free will of the people in each country. Since present day capitalism is not synonymous with that of the days of Adam Smith, there is an intense competition among the different capitalist countries for market share and resource control in other countries. Only those strong nations with developed cultures and uninterrupted historical processes could withstand such fierce competition from the west and build their economies through a catch-up strategy. Many African countries couldn’t follow this catch-up strategy, because their historical and social processes were heavily interrupted by slavery, colonialism, international division of labor, and by economic policies that come from the west and that do not have scientific basis, and proxy wars that have destroyed human lives and dislocated millions of people from their living areas. In these kinds of circumstances, when normal life is not possible, when people of a given nation are deliberately interrupted not to make their own history, how is it possible to develop a given country?
Africa’s Economic Growth- Growth versus Development
After experiencing economic growth in the 60s as a result of the then prevailing demand for raw materials that was triggered by the reconstruction of Europe, beginning the 1970s the demand for raw materials had slowed. The oil crises of 1973/74 and the economic recession in many developed capitalist countries began affecting the balance of payment positions of many African countries, and hence due to shortages of hard currencies many governments could not finance existing projects. When the new emerging economies like that of China and India began demanding raw materials, and due to the favorable raw material prices on the world market, starting 2003 many African countries began showing economic growth. Especially raw material producing countries have benefited from demands that come from China and India. Like in the 60s this time too the economic growth in many African countries is supported by raw material demand on a world market, and not due to special economic policies that could help innovation and widen market activities based on manufacturing. Therefore the highly publicized economic growth in many African countries and that is admired by The Economist and the international institutions, is simply an increase in numbers rather than qualitative development from within that could equally expand across a given country. The supposed economic growth in Angola, Nigeria, and Ethiopia and in other African countries lacks four fundamental aspects that are crucial for a healthy and sustainable economic development. The economic growth in all these countries is not organic by nature and hence does not have evolutionary character. Second, it is not transformative. That means, qualitatively seen many African countries are not transformed. There is no economic, social, cultural and political transformation that is supported by science, technology and cultural renaissance that is crucial for a cumulative development on all sides. In addition to these, resources are simply exported without being processed. In this way the value-added chain will be cut, and many African countries can’t develop internal market structures that could fasten the valorization of money capital, and hence enforces capitalist accumulation on a wider scale. Third, innovation and invention that are central for economic development are not part and parcel of this kind of economic growth. Fourth, many African economies are not being supported by two departments that are essential for capital accumulation, and continuous economic development; namely the one that produces machines and various installments, and the other that produces non-durable goods. As long as there is no clear cut division of labor in these two departments, there can’t be capital accumulation, and hence an internal market can’t develop in scope and size. The growth of income, savings for investments, and demand in any given country depends on such kinds of interconnected economic structures and activities. When a given economy is organized in such a way there is continuous and cumulative growth. Invention and innovation become inevitably part and parcel of such an economic system. This is not the case in many African economies.
The economic growth in many African countries has rather created abnormal conditions in many Areas. Due to its dependency on one sector, the market of many African countries couldn’t expand. Therefore the much exaggerated economic growth that even the west allegedly wishes for itself couldn’t create employment opportunities for the millions of people who seek jobs. Youth unemployment in many African countries is rampant, and the criminality rate has increased at alarming rate. One could observe that over the last 30 years economic activities have shifted more and more to the service sector where one could earn easy money. Hence, the mentality of getting quick money by being engaged in the service sector where social wealth can’t be created has become a culture in many African societies. As a result of such over exaggerated economic activities whose products come from abroad, there is unequal development in many African countries. Over the last 30 years the gap between those rich and poor people has increased widely; and the rich people who become richer without working hard and without investing strategically to expand the internal market, are leading their own lives. Such a class which is living isolated from the rest of the society has become by itself a market for foreign products. In this way resources that are needed for productive investments are being allocated for luxury goods. Building new hotels, apartments that become common in many capital cities, especially in Addis, Lagos and Luanda are pushing hundreds thousands of people from the center and compel them to live in isolated areas. The outcome of such kinds of unplanned building activities and styles without any proper space planning is slum building. At the same time many capital cities have become dumping grounds for second hand goods whose negative consequences are not yet well known. Since such kinds of construction activities absorb resources, like water, energy, and food items of all types life for the ordinary people has become like a hell. This in turn has compelled millions of Africans to live below the poverty line. In many cities, thousands of people lack the necessary food for life support. Due to the backward nature of the manufacturing activity in many African countries, the continent as a whole produces goods and services worth of only $ 1.9 trillion for 1.07 billion people. In comparison Germany produces goods and services worth of $3.5 trillion for only 80 million people. This shows the huge cultural and economic gap between Germany as a country and Africa as a continent. Though we are told that many African countries are showing good performance in terms of economic growth, 40% of Africans live below the poverty line; and one person earns only $1 a day. Out of 40 countries that are characterized as least developed countries in the world, 34 countries are from Africa.
When we come to Ethiopia that is favored by the international community for its “success”, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened over the last 15 years. The Gini Index or coefficient for income distribution is just 0.47; that means there is a huge income gap among the Ethiopian people. The economic growth that is highly celebrated by the West has produced very few wealthy people which accumulate too much wealth while the majority of the people are pushed to abject poverty. The manufacturing sector is still underdeveloped, and its contribution to GDP is only 11%. Youth unemployment is very high, and amounts to 50%. 87.6% of the Ethiopian people do not have access to sanitation. 54% of the people lack clean water; and 89.6% of the Ethiopian people have problems of getting energy of all kinds that they need to cook food. 90% of the people are undernourished, and have even a problem to get one meal a day. 80% of the population in Addis lives in slum areas. Because the government is not in a position to feed its own people it is still dependent on the so-called door communities. At least 30% of the government’s budget comes from Europe and the USA. All these misery is irrespective of the well celebrated economic growth. The so-called structural adjustment program (SAPs) of the IMF and the World Bank has brought to the Ethiopian people not prosperity but abject poverty and degradation. It is not as the international community tries to make us believe that the country is progressing, rather it is moving by leaps and bounds backwards to the Middle Ages. That is what the Ethiopian people tell us, and what the reality on the ground proves.
The globalization process that has been going since over the last 30 years has worsened the economic and social conditions in many African countries. The fact that many African countries are compelled to open their markets for foreign products, de-industrialization has become common. Studies conducted by UNCTAD and by other non-governmental international and national organizations, show that SAPs has severely affected many African countries; and as a result of monetary policies of the IMF many countries are far away from a normal functioning market economy. Land-grabbing and commodity markets that are intended to feed foreign consumers are practically killing the economy of many African countries. Due to ignorance from the side of certain African governments, especially that of the Ethiopian government, fertile and valuable land is being allocated for foreigners to plant flowers and other products for exportation. In order to earn foreign currency the Ethiopian government has planned to open 10 sugar factories, and has allocated 150,000 hectare land for sugar cane plantation. It is estimated that the government has budgeted almost $ 4.6 billion to install 10 sugar factories. This is at a time when 3 to 4 Million people urgently need food; and instead of allocating the fertile land to cereal productions that has more economic, social and cultural values, in this way millions of people are being dislocated or compelled to work in non-productive activities. The government of Ethiopia rather imports dehydrated wheat every year worth of $ 150 million from the USA. At the same time it imports seeds of various types from American seed companies, while it has destroyed the country’s traditional seeds, and this makes the peasant more dependent on the American seed companies. In many areas of the country we hear that over 10,000 hectare land of wheat farm is destroyed because of drought and diseases. Though the causes are not yet being investigated, one can guess that such kinds of GM and hybrid seeds might be the causes of such kinds of destruction across the country. Studies in Argentina and Brazil show that millions of maize plantation were destroyed because of wide spread application of GM seeds. Beside this the Ethiopian government exports sesame seed, and flax seeds of all types, while it imports saturated oil that is very unhealthy, and become one of the causes of growing diabetes and blood pressure in many households. In short, instead of economic growth and well-designed cities with clear-cut division of labor we see chaotic situations in Ethiopia and in other African countries
If one observes and studies the economic policies and economic growth of many African countries over the last 50 years, they are planned not from the perspective of fulfilling the basic needs of the African people. Since all economic policies come from outside and are simply imposed from above without any challenges, they couldn’t address the needs of the people of Africa. The fact that humans must first of all eat and drink in order to survive and work effectively is not within the economic concept of the planners. What the planners had and still have in their minds is simple market economic activity, that functions and exits for itself. Such a philosophy that has been propagated on a world wide scale is throwing many Third World countries to non-governable situations.
Actually globalization and free trade doctrine are mere instruments of controlling resources in many Third World countries. They favor those multinational companies to exploit the resources of these countries, and at the same time block economic development in each country. Under the pretext of globalization and free trade the entire world must be converted into a neo-liberal shopping zone. Those who vehemently advocate for a total free trade and implementation of neo-liberal economic policies everywhere forget that such a uniform model and changing the world into a pure neo-liberal supermarket is against nature and human social order in general. As nature is diverse, each society in this world has also its own historical experience, unique culture, way of living and mentality, social and political constructions that can’t be converted into homogeneous ways of lives. What each society needs is conscious modernization to cope with the growing population. Modernizing of a given society must be holistic by nature, and it must not have the potential of destroying the social fabric of a given society by developing unnecessary social and cultural contradictions. What the advocators of globalization and free market ideology are doing is not to create social and economic dynamism through holistic policy instruments, but consciously and unconsciously to create chaotic conditions in many Third World countries. This will enable them to exploit the resources of these countries.
The Question of Economic Growth and Nation Building
In the social and cultural history of Europe begging the 16th century, economic development had never been planned by dissociating from nation building. At that time it was common that the fate of the people of a given country was intimately linked with economic development. It was believed that only through expanded economic activities that are interconnected through various kinds of instruments, people of a given country come together and feel that they belong to one nation and culture. Therefore absolute Monarchs had pursued conscious economic policies to realize their dreams. Though many European countries had experienced bloody wars in their history, there was a common understanding among the various kings and Monarchs that the urgent task of any government was to lay down the foundation for broader economic developments. Therefore the creation and building of a nation-state on firmer grounds is the task of every successive generation. Though economic development was a necessary criterion for the formation of a nation-state, however it must also be accompanied by many other factors like culture, city buildings, infrastructure, and various types of activities that could hold the society in a given country together.
The concept of nation building and nation-state are practically abolished especially from the minds of the present leaders. Many African governments are simply pursuing and implementing the advices of foreign experts and do not bother about nation building and creating harmonious societies on the basis of science and technology. On the other hand inward-looking attempts by certain African leaders are seen by foreigners as dangerous; and from the outset such kinds of thinking and attempts must not be tolerated. From this perspective all economic policies that have been practiced in many African countries are not suitable for nation building and for the formation of nation-states. The impositions of austerity programs had the sole purpose of blocking each African country not to organize its own system based on science and technology that ultimately leads to strong nation. Therefore the clue to poverty eradication and continuous economic development in all sides’ is not by pursuing a neo-liberal economic policy that strangulates the economy in general, but by pursuing conscious economic planning that has the capacity of mobilizing all the available resources in any given country. For this African governments must follow a strategy of protectionism for at least a period of 30 to 50 years. Only when they strictly control the movements of goods and capital and also their resources they could surely build an economic system that could benefit all the people in each country. Therefore it is an urgent task to bring all the intellectual and political forces together for a common agenda i.e. to build strong nation-states on the basis of manufacturing, science and technology.
These kinds of seminars are important. However, it is the task of African intellectuals to create and drive a debate over the social, economic and cultural conditions of their own countries. African intellectuals should voice their opinions and create platforms for their voices to be heard. Since African intellectuals understand their own culture, development related issues and structural problems better than foreigners; it is up to them to formulate economic policies that are suitable for African countries. That does not mean that they should totally reject advices and good intentions that come from friends and certain institutions. What I want to say is that every advice and intention must be theoretically and scientifically studied and assessed whether it has the merit of solving African problems. Therefore they have to focus more on theoretical issues that are scientific and philosophical in nature. This will surely help them to understand also their own role in their societies.
Concerning the seminar that was conducted under the title “I can’t eat GDP”, though the organizers must be thanked for they have chosen such a title and invited prominent civil right activists, it was practically impossible to raise critical questions and give one’s own assessment. Questions and comments that have been raised by well-articulated Pan-Africanist activists, like Dr. Aziz Fall who came from Canada and others about the role of AFRICOM in destabilizing Africa were simply unheard and the participants didn’t want to comment on this and other critical issues. Comments about inherent consequences of neo-liberalism and the production of poverty on a global scale are seen by some as ideological, rather than answering the questions in a scientific way. It seems that from this and other seminars in which I have participated and heard that neo-liberalism as a policy instrument remains without any alternative. Such attitudes are very dangerous for humanity in general, and especially for the people of Africa. The continent can free itself and develop well when it looks at alternative economic theories and policies that can eradicate poverty and at the same time lay the foundation for a science and technology driven economic development. It is up to African intellectuals and citizens to come up with alternatives and show a way for Africa to harness its own resources and at the same time develop economically and socially.
Fekadu Bekele is a Development Economist by profession and holds PhD. He is also an expert in international politics, peace, and social systems.