16.11.2002 Feature Article

Does Western World's Prescription Cure Africa's Illness?

Does Western World's Prescription Cure Africa's Illness?
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One of those unconvinced about the benefits of globalization is Joseph Striglitz, a prominent economist with impressive credentials. He is a Nobel laureate for economics and was chair of the council of economic advisers to president Clinton, vice president and chief economist at the World Bank, and professor at Harvard and Columbia University. Obviously, such an august player on the world’s economic scene must be listened to and in his book Globalization and its Discontents he strongly suggests that globalization that is anchored in shared values, technological advances and economic redistribution of abundant resources is a reality for the advanced Western industrial world – and a nightmare for the exploited and degraded South. Furthermore, the idea of the “global village” has come to mean the imposition of a singular worldview underpinned by unfettered capitalist values of liberalization, privatization and supremacy of market forces. These are the bitter medicine prescribed by he world’s economic doctors, the IMF/World Bank and the Washington consensus or Western world. Stiglitz begs to differ, as he sees the devastation the IMF/World Bank solutions have wreaked on their patients. In Stiglitz’ view, the world is worse off than it was two decades ago; half of the world lives on two dollars a day and one third on one dollar a day. On the basis of empirical evidence, he shows that during the Asian economic meltdown of the 1990s in Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, those countries rejected IMF/World Bank solutions. They developed localized solutions to their problems and made a quick turnaround. Meanwhile, Thailand, which subscribed to IMF/World Bank solutions, has been slow to recover. In Eastern Europe the transition to market economics guided by the IMF/World Bank has failed when applied in the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. Localized solutions have succeeded in Poland and Hungary. The IMF/World Bank’s star pupil in Africa Ghana, after two decades of structural adjustment programmes is more impoverished than ever. What is the lesson here? African leaders like Presidents Mbeki, Wade, Obasanjo and Kufuor who propose a deepening integration of African economies to Western ones through NEPAD and the USA’s AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) should take time to reflect on the lessons and experiences of countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Stiglitz sees privatization, liberalization and market forces as inimical to the interests of a country like Ghana. In Ghana, liberalized trade has led to the dumping of cheap American rice and destroyed the local rice industry: this has forced the government to import $100 million worth of rice per year. Privatization has led to a fire sale of state industries to enrich a few local and foreign entrepreneurs, and to the laying off of thousands of workers. Stiglitz strongly suggests that the IMF/World Bank and Washington consensus have a hidden agenda: to use globalization to dominate the world. For those concerned about the future of Africa, there must be a retreat from globalization, at least in its present form. There must be alternative paths to development and Stiglitz’ book becomes imperative reading for leaders of the developing world.

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