Globalisation, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa

S.T. Akindele, Ph.D; T.O. Gidado, M.Sc; and O.R. Olaopo; Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University


© 2002 by S.T. Akindele, T.O. Gidado, and O.R. Olaopo. All Rights Reserved. This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of Globalization. Akindele, S.T., T.O. Gidado, and O.R. Olaopo. "Globalisation, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa." Globalization. 2.1 (Winter 2002).

Globalisation's Problems and Consequences for the States in Africa

To begin with, even though, globalisation as Ohiorhenuan (1998 op cit.), Mowlana (1998), and Oyejide (1998) Grieco and Holmes (1999) respectively opined, is a positive or powerful force for the improved material well-being of humankind, that would aid developing countries to “create better economic environments”, to “leapfrog” into the information age; improve their access to technology; speed development and enhance global harmony”, its effects on the political, economic, social and cultural nerves of the weaker member states cannot be ignored without severe consequences. In other words, the seeming near-consensus on the agenda of globalisation notwithstanding, the unrelenting encouragement of its “uneven thesis” does not give room for comfort as, it is exorbitantly costly to the developing nations. This is particularly so in that, globalisation affects developmental thinking and actions of the developing polities; relegates ethical equity and social concerns behind market consideration and reduces the autonomy of the independence states. According to Ohiorhenuan (op. cit), it challenges the mediative role of the state vis-à-vis external pressures. It threatens the discretion of the state everywhere. Not only this, according to Tandon (1998A op. cit: 2), globalisation encourages “decreasing National control and increasing control over the (Internal) economy (of the state) by outside players. In fact, the gospel of globalisation through its economic liberalism “has been elevated to the position of absolute truth, a sort of pensee unique (or single theory) against which there is no credible alternative” (AAPS, 1995: 3). Indeed, globalisation is an awesome and terrifying phenomenon for African countries.

Concretely put, the planetary phenomenon of globalisation is nothing but a new order of marginalisation of the African continent. Its universalization of communication, mass production, market exchanges and redistribution, rather than engendering new ideas and developmental orientation in Africa, subverts its autonomy and powers of self-determination. It is rather by design than by accident that poverty has become a major institution in Africa despite this continent’s stupendous resources. Indeed, the developing countries/world burden of external debt has reached two trillion dollars (World Bank, 1994). In the process, it has enlivened the venomous potency of mass poverty and, its accompanying multidimensional depravity of the citizenry of all the requisite essence of meaningful living. It has disintegrated or disarticulated the industrial sector of most, if not all polities in Africa. This has been particularly evident in the areas of cost of production which has become uncomfortably high in most of the developing countries (e.g. Nigeria); also in the lack of government’s incentives to encourage local production; subversion of local products through high importation, currency devaluation; and depletion of foreign reserves. This clearly raises the problems of marginalization which, according to Ake (1996: 114), is, in reality, the dynamics of under development - the development of under development by the agents of development.

Nation-states in Africa today, rarely define the rules and regulations of their economy, production, credits and exchanges of goods and services due to the rampaging menace of globalisation. They are hardly now capable of volitionally managing their political, economic and socio-cultural development. Globalisation It has imposed heavy constraints on the internal management dynamics of most if not all the polities in Africa (e.g., Nigeria) where the government now finds it difficulty in most cases to meet the genuine demands of the governed on many issues of national urgency (e.g., the June 1st, 2000, 50% hike in the prices of petroleum and related products and its attendant crippling national strike by the Nigerian workers). The reality in Nigeria today, as it is for most African nations, is that globalisation has made it immensely difficult for governments to provide social insurance - one of their central functions and one that has helped many developed nations to maintain social cohesion and domestic political support. Trends like this have been largely dictated by the asymmetry of powers that accompany globalisation (i.e., inequality in the status of the members of the “villagized world” and, their inability to resist imposed policy options). In fact, this asymmetry which is undergirded by a system of production where capital rules has been clearly amplified by Madunagu (1999) when he claimed that:

the result of globalisation in Africa, is basically a competition between the palatial centres (Developed World) and the slums (Africa) of the village where a preponderant majority of the people daily sink deeper into poverty and misery.

Consequently, its (globalisation) ideology of “free-market liberalism and property-based democracy remains a continuous licence for cultural imperialism and, the institutionalisation of both political and economic domination and exploitation of the weaker partners (i.e. the developing economies) through their internal agents (Tandon 1998A: 2).

This imperialistic cultural dimension of globalisation, particularly in the area of “internet connectivity” which has often been used as a bait for luring Africa and other developing polities into the villagized world, has recently been put into perspective thus:

The world is gradually moving in a unidirectional manner and, the tendency towards uniformity has never been so appealing as it is now.... Consequently, there is a serious concern that nations like Nigeria whose contributions to the internet pool is low may lose their identity (Otokhine, 2000: 2).

According to this perspective, if this trend continues:

A sort of cultural imperialism which will seek to enslave the African mind, leaving in its wake a cultureless or culturally disoriented people (may become a permanent feature of Africa and or people (Emphasis mine) (Ibid).

This fear has been greatly highlighted by the effects which Internet use already has on the language of most polities of the world according to the survey of the global reach diagrammatically shown below:

Looking at the foregoing, it is apparent that, the globalisation process is more symmetrical to the “origin and development of the neo-colonial states (in Africa)” which were “determined by the nature and structures of the colonising countries” (Akindele, 1990, Adebo and Akindele, 1990) rather than according to a concretely established philosophy or determination to get Africa out of lingering crises. Thus, globalisation is a form of entrapment for Africa. Apart from its evocation of powerlessness already analysed, it creates a process through which the “poor countries (in Africa) are dominated and exploited by the rich countries (Wohlcke, 1993; 56) and, a vicious circle of vulnerability of African governments” to outside parasitic economic manoeuvring as does the lack of capacity for independence of socio-political, cultural and psychological thinking relative to concrete actions (see Barrett and Carter, 2000). Unless, as earlier stated, its one-arm banditry is understood, concretely discerned and checkmated, globalisation will lead Africa to “increased penury”. This can be better understood in the context of the fact that, the “heavy burden of foreign debt has greatly eroded their capacity to run their own affairs and respond to the demands of the people” (SAPEM, 1996: 2). This unwholesome development has created a legitimacy crisis for most African governments and turned the African continent into an Empire of Chaos.

Generally, globalisation has become a “threat to the poor rather than an opportunity for global action to eradicate poverty” (Obadina 1998:32). Arguing further, Obadina contends that the “concept of absolute freedom that underlies the rationale for globalisation is the same notion” used to justify slavery and colonisation. It is equally anchored on the “belief that the strong, however defined, should be free to exercise their strength without moral or legal limitations that protect the weak”. Thus, it is distinct from positive freedom which states that:

People should be free as long as they do not deny the rights and freedom of others. People should not be at liberty to deny others freedom and basic rights. There must be limits on freedom otherwise the liberty of the powerful becomes the oppression of the weak (Obadina 1999: 32).

Given the foregoing, Obadina (Ibid), argued that the free-market undertone of globalisation is anchored in “greed and ethos of winner takes all” and a “beggar their neighbour” philosophy irrespective of its seeming moral terms of freedom and, this, in itself, has increased the debt burden of most countries in Africa. He summed his position thus:

Western relations with (the) undeveloped countries are not predicated on a desire to eradicate mass poverty but on the penchant to impose the free-market system founded on the notion of absolute freedom (ibid).

The foregoing is even more absurd given the fact that, these same western nations that are clamouring for respect for human rights and fundamental freedom are at the same time pushing for globalisation and economic policies that encourage the abuse of these rights including the denial of the right to economic equality. The predicaments of the people of the Niger Delta (particularly Ogoni people) in Nigeria offer a case in point.

These predicaments are explicable within the context of the (deliberate) inability of the Nigerian government to equitably protect the interests and environment of the people of the Niger Delta particularly the oppressed Ogoni people from the rapaciousness of the forces of globalisation (ably represented by the multinational oil companies).

This is evident from the fact that oil exploration has negatively affected the environment of the Niger Delta and, the Ogoni people in particular, leading to a worsening socio-economic situation for the people. In fact, more than 2 million barrels of oil are explored from the Niger Delta daily (Human Rights Watch, 1999).

Concretely put, despite the immense contributions of the Niger Delta (particularly the Ogoni people) to the fiscal basis of the Nigerian State as well as to global capital, the area remains basically underdeveloped due to deliberate neglect and eclipsing from the rational policy agenda of the Nigerian State. The area continuously lacks basic infrastructural facilities such as good roads, schools, electricity, communications, hospitals and so on. In addition, oil spills have drastically affected the supply of potable water, leading to the high prevalence of water-borne diseases. Also, the impact of the exploratory and extractive activities of these global forces – Shell whose operation in Nigeria alone accounts for 14% of its total global operations, Mobil Agrip, Cheveron, Texaco, Total, etc. – have basically affected the social organization of the Ogoni people and the Niger Delta in general.

A manifestation of these negative impacts is the replacement of the traditional economy that was founded on fishing, farming and hunting for economic sustenance with a petrol-dollar economy. Thus, as the World Bank (1995) noted, the impact of oil exploration in the Niger Delta Area (particularly in the Ogoni Communities) by the forces of globalisation has decreased agricultural productivity and fishing in the areas, leading to the prevalence of poverty which was put above the national average.

The attempts by the people of the Niger Delta and, the Ogoni people to challenge the inhuman and mindless capitalistic wastage of their marine life and environment through series of mass protests and attacks on the forces of globalisation have been smothered by the Nigerian State using the instruments of coercion, repression, intimidation and unjustifiable killing of the leaders of the oppressed. The unnecessary and avoidable supreme price through hanging which Kenule Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni Environmentalists were made to pay in 1995 offers a useful explanation of the predicaments under reference here. These inhuman measures were embarked upon ostensibly to continuously generate capital for developing needs, debts (re)negotiation and, to ensure that the process of capital accumulation is not altered against neo-colonial compradors (Turner, 1995). These developments have created renewed determination by the people to prevent further degradation of their eco-system hence, the constant conflicts between them and the Nigerian State on the one hand and, the multinational oil companies on the other hand. These conflicts and the predicaments of the Ogoni people continue to persist because the Niger Delta and its resources (oil) are significant to the existence of the Nigerian Nation and its economy. Oil has become and, largely remains the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, accounting for 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 90% of foreign exchange earnings and more than 70% of budgetary expenditure (Ashton-Jones et al, 1998; 135). It (oil) is the most strategic commodity on which Nigeria’s attempts at industrial capitalist development is dependent hence, the Nigerian State found it difficult to lose the resources to such agitations regardless of their rationality.

The determination of the Nigerian State to maintain the status quo in this regard, despite its accompanying problems of legitimation occasioned by domestic crises, depicts its renter status and, relegation to the sphere of dependence on collection of - (externally realized) – oil rents for reproduction rather engaging in productive service(s) (Obi, 1997). It equally depicts the continuous rapaciousness of the forces of globalisation in their quest for the critical needs - (e.g. oil) - of the G8 Countries in the Ogoni area of the Nigerian polity. Indeed, the dominance of the forces of globalisation in the Niger Delta areas of Nigeria accounts for the incidence of mass pauperisation in the midst of affluence.

There is no doubt that globalisation has “created a vast chasm between the North and the South” (Tandon 1998 op cit. 3). This is particularly identifiable from the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 1996 contains the fact that:

the gap in per capital income between the industrial and developing worlds tripled from $5,700 in 1960 to $15,400 in 1993 (UNDP, 1996:2).

This shows that Africa has a plethora of problems particularly in the areas of industrial and economic growth which her continuous “unequal-partnership status” in a villagized world would further worsen. As Mule (2000:8) once stated:

the most obvious (of these problems) are the low incomes on the continent with the GDP per capital of only US315 and with declining service sector contribution rates from around 20% GDP to 15% of GDP. These are accompanied by declining government revenues. The low average per capital income levels are further exacerbated by very high income inequalities comparable to, or even worse than those of Latin America. There are high incidence of social exclusion.... Africa is also marginalized globally, with it contribution to world trade amounting to less than two percent ... Africa is also highly aid - dependent with aid accounting for nine percent of GNP on average for all countries.... These are also problems of governance ... on the political and Economic management fronts.

Without any gainsaying, Africa is the hardest hit continent by the rapaciousness of globalisation. Ironically, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) put before the American Senate by President Bill Clinton in 1998 which was passed into law in May, 2000, and, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developments (OECDS) are part of the instruments put in place by the West to further deplete whatever is left of Africa’s resources. These are devices to “roll-back whatever gains the third world counties were able to make at the economic level during the cold war years” (Tandon, 1998A: 5). In fact, both the AGOA and MAI are traps aimed at foisting-without much conscious resistance by the victims of the so-called “global constitution” - a “global economy” on Africa and other developing economies. This constitution, argued Obadina (1998 op. cit.: 32), allows the powerful international corporations unfettered freedom to operate anywhere around the globe without any limitation by the policies of host nations irrespective of the consequences of their operation to the interests of the host nations.

It should be particularly noted however, that, the advocates (western nations) of globalisation are hypocritical in their approach giving the fact that:

the Western Nations pressing the poor nations to open their doors to the free-market are advocating policies they did not follow). (The) governments of virtually all developed nations gave their agricultural and industrial producers some level of protection at crucial stages of their economic development. But today’s Western leaders conveniently forget economic history (Ibid: 33).

The foregoing is further corroborated by the fact that:

the same globalisation process that champions the eradication of the great divide between the East and West is negating the dissolution of the North-South divide (CASS in Guardian: 1999).

It could be reasonably argued that, this explains why the officials of the instruments - (the World Bank and IMF; and also the WTO and the G8) - of globalisation cannot see or have chosen not to see any “connection between globalisation and Africa’s poverty” (Tandon, 1998A: 5). This ideological blind spot aided by the “uneven thesis of globalisation” is very consequential to Africans and Africa’s development because:

the consequence of the ideological blindspot and the refusal (by the instruments of globalisation) to accept the evidence of history is that whilst capital-led globalisation is at the root of Africa’s crisis, it is also miraculously suggested as its solution (ibid).

This has promoted the argument that, globalisation has damaged Africa’s natural environment and, on balance of costs and benefits, it has been a disaster for Africa both in human and material resources (ibid) The reasons for this are not far-fetched looking at the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 1996 (Ibid), which contains among other revelations the fact that:

twenty countries in Africa (today) have per capital income lower than 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the least Developed Countries (LDCs) are in Africa. A food -surplus continent twenty years ago, Africa is now food-deficit (UNDP-HDR 1996:2).

The striking points that emerge from the foregoing are that globalisation through its “heavy constraints” is changing the way in which major institutional actors think and operate across nations and within nations. Globalisation is changing the determinism of the state: its actions and inactions; what firms and people do; where they do it, how they see themselves (their identity) and what they want (their preferences). Moreover, its accompanying financial transactions’ increasing volume and their decreasing costs as well as reduction in public sector expenditure have put strong competitive pressures on the governments worldwide to reduce their role in the determination of who gets what, when, where, how, and why - particularly as it affects the delivery of public goods within the political system. This is especially disturbing in Africa which, according to Thorbecke (1997, 4) “is the only developing region where poverty is increasing”, considering the fact that:

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Last Modified: 29 April, 2002