Setting the global agenda for Africa

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Prime Minister of Mali and President of ADEMA-PASJ, examines the challenges facing Africa in an era of globalisation

Issue 1, Volume 48, 1999

The African continent is in urgent need of re-examining its priorities for the immediate future as the whole world enters into a new phase of its evolution. Globalisation brings troubles and worries, but also greater opportunities than ever before. What we have to do is to think not just about principles and concepts but also about strategies for action which will allow Africa to take its place successfully in the world economy, which is rapidly taking shape before our eyes, and regather its strength. If that does not happen, its position on the sidelines, already worrying enough, will worsen and become irreversible - even fatal.

Humanity is entering a new era of dislocation and change. We are living in a totally interdependent world where domestic events - almost in real time - take on a global dimension in a world which has been transformed by information technology.

The world lives more and more at the pace of international commerce, the liberalisation of trade and the globalisation of the invention, development, production, distribution and consumption of goods and services under the influence of giant companies. It is a world taken hostage by financial speculation; it is a world characterised more and more by the disappearance of boundaries where a new set of players, the giant corporations, tend to make the laws, unrestricted by the control exercised by states and international organisations, due to their power and technical skills.

It is a world which has less and less regard for the nation-state, to national economic and financial policies, to social and education policies, all concepts which have been until now at the root of global growth. It is a world which therefore tends to ignore the fundamental notions of solidarity and social cohesion, a world which worships the regulating virtues of the market.

It is not at all surprising that such a situation should attract the attention of our political family made up as it is of men and women with a belief in social democracy, in the North as in the South. After all, we are moved by a deep humanism and sense of solidarity among people. There in lies the basic reason for the great advances made by our ideas in every continent of the world. It is clear that there is a move, as recent election successes show, towards social government. The support being given to those who uphold our values and our political ideas give expression to popular apprehension about the risks contained within a process of globalisation based on an ultra-liberal ideology. But at the same time, and above all, it signifies hope that our political family will be able to find the right responses to new questions facing humanity. I am absolutely convinced that we can fulfil those hopes. In any case, such is the mission assigned by history to our generation.

None of us is opposed to globalisation just as none of us at this moment when we are struggling almost alone to ensure that the policies of structural adjustment take account of the social dimension of development is proposing policies at variance with rigorous macro-economic equilibrium. In the face of globalisation it would be absurd to play the role of rearguard which was adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries by those who opposed the industrial revolution.

Moreover, globalisation does have undeniable advantages. Greater access to culture, knowledge and familiarity with technology is no longer contained within frontiers. The virtual world which is developing encourages innovation and furthers creativity. The emergence of an international public opinion renders all forms of exclusion and oppression intolerable. The development of trade can benefit everyone, all the more since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in Marrakesh which is opening the way for unprecedented development of organised, international trading activity. But at the same time economic, social and environmental waste is also on the horizon.

Inequalities grow wider, not just between North and South but also within countries, even those in the North, where pockets of poverty are developing day by day. Social cohesion is weakened as attacks are mounted against social policies, justified by the supposed death of the Welfare State.

The recent financial crises, first in the emerging countries of Asia, hitherto presented as evidence of the validity of ubiquitous neo-liberalism, and more recently in Brazil, have demonstrated strikingly that if the financial markets are highly integrated these days, if technology is transferred at speeds unimaginable only ten years ago and if, finally, governments are more bound than ever by multilateral agreements, the hidden hand of the market, on its own, regulates nothing at all. On the contrary, these crises attest to the fact that the nation-state retains its importance and to the urgent need for it to retain its role as a social and economic regulator, as it is this which guarantees social cohesion.

We must therefore consider the way humanity should enter the next millennium, and, concretely, how to tame, civilise and humanise globalisation so as to seize it, for the great benefit of humanity as a whole, from the forces of the transnational economy and avoid being torn apart by that process. We must ensure that the principal values of a globalising world are not the market and money, but rather the social virtues of equality, justice, solidarity and social harmony. For us the men and women of the third millennium must not be the slaves of the market, however global that market may become. The market must be at the service of people.

Consequently, social democrats will not allow politics to be subsumed into economics which would be the sign of resignation and despair. On the contrary they are involved in intense, popular, democratic, political debates on the risks and the outlook which pertain to globalisation for the sake of democracy and society itself. That is why the Global Progress Commission set up at the historic New York Congress of the International, under the chairmanship of Felipe González has brought in such an excellent harvest of ideas through its meetings, seminars, thematic and regional meetings.

We must maintain the initiative, as we have done before, on political and institutional levels. In the new context of our daily lives, we must rehabilitate politics, rehabilitate the State, so that the passive citizen does not prevail over the active one. We must forcefully proclaim that the State must remain as the centre of gravity of social endeavour, the forum for social dialogue and the cement of social cohesion. With equal forcefulness we must insist that under no circumstances must it give up its role as a social and economic regulator. And in the particular circumstances of developing countries, while it should favour the emergence of other players, the State should remain the vector of development.

At the same time we Africans, as part of our strategy of integration in the world economy, must invest in the quality of our states - even to the point of re-founding them. The African continent must continue in its efforts to promote democracy, to strengthen the rule of law and to achieve better governance. A particular aim must be to encourage decentralisation in order to ensure that those at the base of society play an active role in local development.

With our macro-economy in a better state it will help us to develop the specialisation needed to stake our claim in the world market. To achieve this we need imagination and a consolidation of our economies through a push towards integration. The great lesson we have to learn is that the economies which work best in the era of globalisation are those that favour subregional cooperation in wider economic groupings.

In this process human resources are key. The present market is not a market of raw materials, rather it is a market of know-how where investment is attracted by high levels of technology. We are living in an era where education and technical skills are becoming paramount.

This means that we, in Africa, must be aware that the impending century will be merciless for unskilled workers. It will be a century of excellence; a century which will not tolerate mediocrity.

At the heart of the problems of the African continent becoming a part of the world economy is putting sufficient emphasis on human resources: education, training, culture, health, mobilising human resources. We must give this area the importance it deserves.

We have begun this process of development, proving that no-one will build Africa but Africans themselves. We are convinced that such efforts must come first and foremost from ourselves.

But we have not lost sight that this process also involves the international community, which we must work with in our efforts, all the more so as globalisation engenders an unbalanced environment, emphasising the gap between current economic powers and the developing world.

Africa must fully participate in the debate on economic and financial regulation targeted at controlling new threats to economic stability worldwide and to promoting global development.

Our action must be conceptual, incorporating both principles and methods able to take social democratic ideas into the 21st century, while governing our countries today in the best way for the African continent. But we must also have organisational, not only academic, objectives. We must constitute a force which provides concrete answers to the current expectations of our people.



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