Africa must learn from uni­fi­ca­tion pit­falls

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Xhanti Payi

WE have watched with awe the de­vel­op­ments in Europe as oc­ca­sioned by Brexit. But we have hardly asked what that demo­cratic de­ci­sion means for our own po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment and out­look. If the same ques­tion put to the Bri­tish peo­ple were asked of Africans in terms of our own uni­fy­ing project, what would peo­ple say?

Brexit is a trou­bling de­vel­op­ment be­cause, in part, it raises ques­tions about the sus­tain­abil­ity of that par­tic­u­lar re­gional for­ma­tion and even the le­git­i­macy of the glob­al­i­sa­tion project. I wrote in this col­umn re­cently that at the heart of Brexit is a re­sent­ment of glob­al­i­sa­tion and its ef­fects on or­di­nary Bri­tish cit­i­zens. This ap­par­ent as­sault on in­te­gra­tion also rep­re­sents a de­fence against com­pe­ti­tion.

It seems that we for­got that while glob­al­i­sa­tion rep­re­sents free­dom, it also rep­re­sents com­pe­ti­tion. As global bor­ders have con­tin­ued to fade, com­pe­ti­tion has be­come more in­tense.

To many of us, it has been easy to see the ben­e­fits of glob­al­i­sa­tion. Our abil­ity to roam the world freely and ex­change goods and ser­vices with all of hu­man­ity has been a mar­vel.

It has meant that I could, from my USde­signed and Chi­nese-as­sem­bled com­puter, or­der a Nige­rian novel from a lo­cal on­line re­tailer and rea­son­ably ex­pect to re­ceive it by the week­end be­fore I board my flight on a Euro­pean-man­u­fac­tured air­craft, to read it on my Asian hol­i­day. This has been an in­cred­i­ble de­vel­op­ment in our world.

Yet this sort of thing has left many peo­ple be­hind. These amaz­ing ben­e­fits of glob­al­i­sa­tion are unimag­in­able to many, ex­cept when it af­fects their em­ploy­ment. The Amer­i­can worker har­bours bit­ter­ness that “his job” is now in China.

This is the same bit­ter­ness to which proBrexit politi­cians in the UK ap­pealed when pro­mot­ing their cause. US pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Don­ald Trump, as un­ac­cept­ably crass as he is, is play­ing to an im­por­tant and preva­lent so­cial mood about that part of glob­al­i­sa­tion that speaks to im­mi­gra­tion.

There­fore, if we in Africa are not iso­lated from the ef­fects of glob­al­i­sa­tion, in­te­gra­tion and global com­pe­ti­tion, what does our unify- ing project have in store? How can we learn and pre­pare our project dif­fer­ently?

In a piece pub­lished in 2013 un­der the ti­tle, The EU: Re­gion­al­i­sa­tion Trumps Sovereignty, The New Amer­i­can mag­a­zine char­ac­terised the Euro­pean project as what be­gan as a sim­ple “coal and steel com­mu­nity” be­tween six Euro­pean na­tions af­ter the Sec­ond World War to “the glob­al­ist-or­ches­trated at­tack on na­tional sovereignty that has es­sen­tially im­posed a transna­tional, un­elected, un­ac­count­able regime on the for­merly in­de­pen­dent peo­ples of Europe — with­out even a sem­blance of pub­lic con­sent”.

The AU has been lead­ing a bold ini­tia­tive of unit­ing and in­te­grat­ing Africa through open bor­ders, free trade and free move­ment of peo­ple.

But it is no se­cret that this imag­ined and planned or­der faces chal­lenges aris­ing from do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. It will mean much more com­pe­ti­tion for na­tional re­sources, and in­deed strong de­mands on na­tion states.

In SA to­day, we have very in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources among cit­i­zens. Not only is it an is­sue of ten­sions among South Africans re­lat­ing to in­equal­ity, but about ac­cess to ser­vices and op­por­tu­nity as it re­lates to im­mi­grants.

Glob­al­i­sa­tion has de­liv­ered enor­mous eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pros­per­ity in an un­prece­dented mat­ter. But we have to re­mem­ber that at the base of glob­al­i­sa­tion is com­pe­ti­tion, and com­pe­ti­tion works only when it is free, fair and demo­cratic.

Writ­ing in the Wall Street Jour­nal in an opin­ion piece en­ti­tled Henry Kissinger on the As­sem­bly of a New World Or­der, Kissinger, the for­mer US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, noted: “The in­ter­na­tional or­der thus faces a para­dox. Its pros­per­ity is de­pen­dent on the suc­cess of glob­al­i­sa­tion, but the process pro­duces a po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion that of­ten works counter to its as­pi­ra­tions …”

We are see­ing this quite clearly, as we see in­equal­ity be­tween and within na­tions, as well as demo­cratic pro­cesses.

Kissinger fur­ther noted in the es­say: “A con­tem­po­rary struc­ture of in­ter­na­tional rules and norms, if it is to prove rel­e­vant, can­not merely be af­firmed by joint dec­la­ra­tions; it must be fos­tered as a mat­ter of com­mon con­vic­tion.”

As we watch Brexit and as the de­bate over its ef­fect con­tin­ues, we have to ask what work is be­ing done to build com­mon con­vic­tion, and meth­ods to dis­trib­ute the gains and pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble with­out com­pro­mis­ing democ­racy and sovereignty.

The in­ter­na­tional or­der thus faces a para­dox. Its pros­per­ity is de­pen­dent on the suc­cess of glob­al­i­sa­tion, but the process pro­duces a po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion that of­ten works counter to its as­pi­ra­tions …

l Payi is an econ­o­mist and head of re­search at Nas­cence Ad­vi­sory and Re­search

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