Bankrupt Africa

12 March 2004 by Patrick Bond


At least four components of capital accumulation and class formation—trade, finance, direct investment and compradorism—remain central to Africa’s combined and uneven development, as political economists continue to document. There is little prospect that mild-mannered global-scale reforms being promoted in these areas—’debt relief’, or making trade ‘fair’, or promoting slightly better access to anti-retroviral medicines, or the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), for example—will change matters. Invoking the problem of ‘global apartheid,’ as South African president Thabo Mbeki has done, mainly serves to distract attention from African elite acquiescence in the structures of power that keep Africa impoverished. New strategies and tactics, summed up in the terms ‘deglobalisation’ and ‘decommodification,’ will be necessary for Africa to break from systemic underdevelopment.

This article reviews the explicitly financial stranglehold that Northern governments, multilateral agencies, international banks and corporations maintain on Africa. The debt trap is augmented by trade, investment and capital flight trends that are also worth reviewing at the outset. Most importantly, we will conclude, the home-grown nature of neoliberalism, corresponding to the formation of a transnational neoliberal managerial elite and compliant African politicians, requires a rethink about the very nature of solidarity politics. There are many ways to demonstrate the two main points: that global capitalism does not offer the scope for Africa to develop, and hence that strategies aimed at increasing integration will be counterproductive. The key categories are financial accounts (including debt, portfolio finance, aid and capital flight), trade, investment and compradorism. By way of introduction, consider the main trends in each category.

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Patrick Bond

Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the Wits University School of Governance in Johannesburg and co-editor of BRICS: An anti-capitalist critique (published by Haymarket, Pluto, Jacana and Aakar).

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