Joel Netshitenzhe - Presentation: Robben Island 'School on Leadership'

21 September 2002

21 September 2002

From liberation to integration: The role of NEPAD

I should start off by thanking the organisers for the opportunity to share ideas with part of the doyen of the leadership of our country and our region. In a sense, the colleagues and friends assembled here constitute one of the most appropriate fora to reflect on challenges of Africa's recovery.

It's in the nature of our history that "jailbirds" and their associates constitute the core of the leadership to drive programmes of change. What can "civilisation" do!

In examining the ideas that should underpin Africa's reconstruction and development, the critical questions that should engage our minds are: what is the methodological base that should inform our approach to the issue of the African Renaissance and NEPAD; what is the motivation behind the motivation for these programmes!

These questions are crucial because we face the danger of so immersing ourselves in technical detail and processes that we can lose sight of the historicism of the NEPAD intervention: its deep roots in the belly of Africa's and indeed South Africa's self-interest. Unfortunately, the obsession with form rather than content seems to inform most of the "left critique" of NEPAD peddled in the media.

We shall come back to a number of these questions later.

Defining the challenges

First, let us examine the main challenges that attach to the concept of the African Renaissance and the NEPAD programme.

In doing so we need to state the obvious: it is not an act of African patriotism nor is it a matter of choice that Africans should breath "African air", produce and consume African products and subsist on African soil. African neighbours will fight, migrate, love and hate one another, and compete. They shall also put on dashikis and other African attire.

But all these do not constitute the promotion of an African Renaissance, or the implementation of NEPAD.

In the same vein, everything that African governments do, individually and collectively, is African and not necessarily a special act of Renaissance.

It is important to assert this especially in South Africa, obvious as it may be, because a tendency does play itself out among us that, when we negotiate trade agreements, visit Africa countries or co-operate in monitoring the weather, we are tempted to declare, NEPAD is alive and well, long live the African Renaissance. Thus we miss a critical premise, which is that a special, conscious, extraordinary and systematic effort is required to attain, in the long term, a continental renaissance. This is what NEPAD sets out to do.

But why do we believe that the possibility exists for NEPAD to yield extraordinary results? What is it in the objective environment that gives us the confidence that Africa can blaze out along a new trail?

The starting point in all this is that what we are dealing with is pursuit of the ideals of the people of the continent. The programme for Africa's renewal is not a beauty contest on the catwalks of Paris, London or New York: it's about the interests of the ordinary African man, woman and child in Dakar, Abuja, Tshwane, Polokwane, Khartoum and Harare. Democracy, macro-economic stability and sustainable socio-economic programmes are in the profound self-interest of Africa's people. The location of these principles at the heart of NEPAD is not aimed at pleasing anyone else, but Africa's people themselves, first and foremost.

The second principle is that NEPAD proceeds from the premise that, for the continent to realise her potential, it must pool its sovereignty. To muster the power of such collective sovereignty will demand sacrifice of part of the sovereignty of individual African nations. The Peer Review Mechanism is an element of this: the willingness to be monitored, assessed and judged on political and economic governance by Africans other than one's own compatriots.

The third principle is that NEPAD requires a recognition that the centripetal (or uniting) tendencies will have to overwhelm the centrifugal (or dividing) tendencies that have characterised intra- and inter-state relations across the continent in the past decades.

The fourth principle is that, for NEPAD to succeed, there should be a deliberate effort on the part of the continent to identify its comparative advantages. In other words, we should clearly and unambiguously answer the question: what is it that Africa uniquely possesses; what is it that should influence an investor, for instance, to stay in Africa or to come to the continent instead of investing in China, Singapore or Chile!

In other words, while the history of colonialism, the sentiment for reparations and empathy are important driving forces, the cold reality that Africa's leaders and peoples create in global perceptions should be one in which Africa's superiority in certain niche areas is convincingly demonstrated.

Having asserted these basic principles, let us return to the question: why are we confident that the continent is at the confluence of circumstances that make NEPAD a necessary and attainable proposition!

Combination of circumstances for renewal

NEPAD stands no chance of succeeding if it is merely an ideal in the heads of an intelligent and discerning leadership. My submission is that this idea has the potential to become a material force - Presidents Mbeki, Obasanjo, Bouteflika and other are timely instruments of Africa's history - because a set of circumstances have emerged over the past decade which make for a continental shift in mindset and praxis.

The first of these conditions is the stage of development of the world economy. Just over 150 years ago, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, describing the capitalist mode of production and its international manifestation, said (in the Communist Manifesto):

"The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere".

"In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible... [This system] compels all nations, on the pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image."

This, many would argue, could be an apt description of the global economic system today. However, there a few qualitatively new elements in the system, which underline that it would be in the interest of the world to partner Africa in her new endeavours,

The first of these is the character of world economic relations, a system which Professor Manuel Castells describes as one that operates as a unit in real time on a planetary scale.

So, firstly, unlike before, information and communications technology and the nature of global public communication constrain unbridled colonialism and neo-colonialism. It is becoming obvious to all and sundry that dangerous diseases know no borders; TV brings into the world's living rooms patent inequality and poverty; economic meltdowns in one region of the globe impact on all economies. Societies everywhere are waking up to the fact that underdevelopment anywhere in the world threatens to pull everyone down. Thus, more than ever before, mass pressures on governments to act against poverty and underdevelopment are heavier than at any other time in history.

Secondly, unlike in 1848 when the Manifesto was published, we have entered a stage in the development of capitalist production in which productivity in developed countries outstrips consumption. This underpins the drive for export markets and for establishing enterprises outside the developed centres, i.e. for these enterprises to follow rather than just import cheap factor inputs.

Thirdly, a unique trait of the current period is the new politico-ideological environment occasioned by the end of the Cold War. If in the past, the dictates of geo-politics helped justify installation and sustenance of Mobutu-type regimes, this is less so today. Related to this is the fact that democracy and human rights (themselves gains of human civilisation), rather than some woolly concept of "western civilisation", constitute the foundation stone of acceptable global conduct, at least in the public domain. Attached to this is the emergence of new forms of civil organisation and expression, challenging the rapacious licence of the market.

These then are some of the critical elements of the global situation which contribute to the set of circumstances making African renewal both possible and necessary. Added to this are four important factors on the African continent itself.

The first of these is the liberation of South Africa which has not only released huge potential for African renewal; but also engendered on the continent the self-confidence of self-criticism. While a decade ago and before that, Africa correctly placed the attainment of political liberation in Southern Africa at the top of its agenda and often ignored some of its own weaknesses in a single-minded pursuit of this objective; today it is called upon to define itself in its own image rather than as against an immediate political enemy.

The second factor is the growing self-assertion of African peoples in pursuit of democracy and people-centred development. Though still fledgling, the political movements of African peoples are taking shape, with more and more states embracing democratic forms of government; and organs of civil society are starting to take shape.

The third factor is the possibility deriving ironically from Africa's underdevelopment, that the continent is one region of the globe with the potential for exponential growth. While the developed world is approaching near-saturation and can only have pedestrian rates of GDP growth, Africa is largely untapped. Its low teledensity, weak road, rail and other infrastructure and its abundant natural resources create possibilities for massive economic growth. This affords African governments and economies opportunities for partnership with the private sector, with the latter assured huge returns, and the former attaining development of industries and productive forces generally as well as employment and skills transfer.

Lastly and related to the above is the possibility for exponential growth of an Africa middle class: with profound intellectual capacity to enhance human civilisation in general, with skills that would improve productivity of enterprises set up by local and foreign investors, with enormous buying power and so on.

Critical areas of focus

If these are the basic prerequisites that make the beginnings of continental renewal possible, necessary and timely, what then should be the areas of focus in these early stages?

In answering this question, we need to remind ourselves that we are dealing with a continent at the lowest rung of human development. The fundamental area of focus of NEPAD should therefore be the development of Africa's productive forces. This means rapid industrialisation; human resource preservation and development including education, health, information and communications technology; measures to stem the outflow of capital (dividends, disinvestments and capital export by Africans themselves, debt repayments and so on); ensuring access to markets including for agricultural goods; and concurrently enlarging Africa's aggregate demand through greater employment and the development of Africa's middle strata and entrepreneurial class.

Combined, these are the categories of issues that constitute NEPAD's socio-economic programme.

Their implementation however will demand requisite political and economic governance capacity. Industrial renewal and social development can hardly get off the ground, let alone be sustained, without an environment of political legitimacy, macroeconomic stability and jurisprudential certainty. In other words, Africa has to eliminate undue continental and country risks that inhibit productive investment by Africans and foreign investors alike. Above all, it is in the interest of Africa's peoples that these conditions should be attained.

Among the most urgent challenges with regard to governance, is the need to address the brittleness of the African state.

On the extreme end of the scale are states where contending forces have spectacularly attained their own common ruin, as in Somalia. There is currently the situation in Cote d'Vouire where 750 soldiers resisting demobilisation are now precipitating the collapse of a government and the state as such. Then there are instances such as Zimbabwe where unsustainable policies of anti-colonial change have resulted in a crisis of governance.

Another manifestation of the brittleness of the African state is the absence of some kind of "partially-revolving doors" that would guarantee a certain level of dignity and security to those who leave office. In Zambia for instance, there was the experience of President Kenneth Kaunda when he left office: where unwittingly, a message was transmitted that it was safer to cling to power if one were not to face harassment and hounding in retirement. Indeed, there may be real issues that need to be pursued with those who leave office if they have done wrong things, as the current Zambian government would argue is the case in respect of former President Chiluba. But in general terms, ensuring some dignity and security to former heads of state, where such is deserved, is a critical requirement to eliminate the brittleness of the African state.

Many an African state is also weakened by internal and cross-border conflict. The renewal of most of the continent is definitely conditional upon ending these conflicts. But to do so requires that the root causes are dispassionately identified and eliminated. And a common thread that emerges is that, whatever the precise forces behind them, these conflicts are a specific form of accumulation of wealth - means of economic plunder by formal and informal armies - in a state that lacks authority. This is one of the issues that require specific focus.

Eliminating the brittleness of the African state requires, above all, the consolidation of its legitimacy. This means ensuring popular participation, democracy and human rights and legitimate, inclusive institutions to which all can pay allegiance. Related to this is the organisation and mobilisation of Africa's people in legitimate political parties, organs of civil society, including trade unions, women's organisations, and an organised African intelligentsia and entrepreneurial class. In brief, a critical condition for the continent's renewal is the existence of an effective, confident and assertive legitimising identity.

Briefly and concretely, all these critical areas of focus are reflected in the structures attached to the African Union, mobilisation of African funders of NEPAD projects, the mobilisation of world resources through the UN (WSSD and Millennium Declaration), continuing engagement with the G8 and the Bretton Woods institutions, and the concrete partnerships being identified in projects pertaining to health, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, ICT and market access.

Critique of the NEPAD critique

Having said all this, a question will naturally arise as to whether there can be any real substance in these ideals given the logic of neo-liberal globalisation! What with the erosion of sovereignty of nation-states generally; the pummelling especially of small open economies irrespective of whether or not they meet minimum standards of good economic governance; latest manifestations, in a unipolar world, of unilateralism and gun-boat diplomacy of the pax Americana kind; arrogance of subsidies in the US and EU in spite of global protests…

The answer is: the objective and subjective issues raised above - on why Africa's renewal is possible and necessary - reflect a rational, optimistic and revolutionary approach that any genuine left methodology and agenda should pursue. The immediate outcome of these efforts may not reflect the ultimate objectives of some of the left forces, who may seek a socialist Africa!

But there are no short-cuts. In assessing the relevance or otherwise of NEPAD, a number of important issues need to be kept in mind.

For a start, we should reiterate that the logic of NEPAD is first and foremost about the pursuit of the interests of Africa's poor.

Secondly, history demonstrates that the starting point in fashioning any civilisation should be the development of productive forces, with due consideration to how this impacts on the aggregate human condition.

Further, it is my contention that reference to state-led development, as a universal principle applicable everywhere and at all times, can in fact be self-defeating in instances where the state is itself weak and commands no resources. As such, developing the state's capacity, in the first instance, to take charge of a nation-state and secondly to manage partnerships with those who have the capital to help develop productive forces, is the most critical challenge of the moment. In such partnerships, the relationship will be one of unity and struggle, co-operation and contestation.

In effect, the implementation of the objectives of NEPAD would set in motion the emergence of truly democratic and popular polities on the continent, premised on economic development that improves the human condition. In other words, NEPAD is a basis for a Continental Democratic Revolution, inasmuch as we argue in South Africa that the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) is a basis for the consummation of a National Democratic Revolution.

One would therefore argue that, while civil society should expect and demand consultation, while much in both the content and the form of NEPAD can and should be improved, the approach that the left adopts towards this programme should be to work for these on-going improvements while helping to create conditions for NEPAD's realisation.

This is the essence of the resolutions that have been adopted by the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and recent forums of the African intelligentsia. For, a critique that is dismissive and aimed practically at undermining NEPAD is in fact not only bad "left politics" but also plays into the hands of those who wish to perpetuate Africa's underdevelopment.

Let me conclude by addressing the critique that the focus on NEPAD on the part of South Africa's leaders is escapism (from South Africa's own problems). The central response here is that NEPAD is not merely a matter of African patriotism nor some ephemeral love for the continent, but it is impelled by profound South African self-interest. How so?

South Africa shall never be an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty. Even Europe and North America, distant as they may be from underdeveloped areas of the world, are unable to build dykes high enough to stop the waves of osmosis of all the negative things that attach to underdevelopment: uncontrolled migration, disease, cross-border criminality and lately manifestations of passionate hatred reflected in acts of terrorism.

Further, a growing aggregate demand in Africa is critical for South Africa's own industrial development. One instance in this regard is the observation by some of how, for instance, South Africa's capacity to produce agricultural implements has diminished with open trade, because of a small market and lack of economies of scale. If Africa were to develop its agriculture as envisaged in NEPAD, what implications would this have for such industries in South Africa and other parts of the continent - with division of labour and rational exploitation of comparative advantage across the continent? How would such an approach in other economic sectors help ensure that industrialisation is shared for the common good?

It should also be asserted that South Africa has its own medium- and long-term needs in respect of such resources as water and energy: and the potential presented by such marvels as a the Congo River Basin not only present opportunities for South Africa, but will help create mutual dependencies that are crucial for true integration.

Lastly, one can venture to assert that we shall never be able to build a truly South African nation outside of our African identity. South Africa needs the infusion of the experience, the cultural depth, the native African intellect that is in abundance on the continent or in the Diaspora, and many other attributes that will help us forge an African nation on the southern tip of the continent.

In summary, if as it reconstructs itself, South Africa does not contribute to the efforts of other Africans to pull themselves up into a new era of rapid development - if it does not help strengthen the positive forces on the continent - then the negative gravitational pull will prevail, drawing everyone down into the mire of conflict and growing poverty.

This then is the challenge for this leadership assembled on Robben Island for this educational workshop; it is a challenge for all of Africa's leaders, be they in the arts, politics, natural sciences, religion, sports and other areas of endeavour. That challenge is national, but the context of its expression and its success is regional, continental and global.

That is our mission as we start the journey - as we gear ourselves for the long haul!

Joel Netshitenzhe
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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