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Africa: Unions, Scholars Meet
May 22, 2006 (060522)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Meeting in Cairo earlier this month, representatives of African
unions and African intellectuals met to share their critiques of
current development policies, targeting both international
financial institutions and African governments. African scholars
had documented the failures of structural adjustment decades ago,
noted political economist Adebayo Olukoshi. But with few exceptions
these policies are still being imposed.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a report by Patrick Bond,
director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal, on the Cairo consultation.
Links for organizations and documents mentioned in Bond's report
Centre for Civil Society (http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs)
Africa Trade Network (http://twnafrica.org/atn.asp)
African Alternative Framework and Arusha African Charter
African Social Forum
For a range of articles from the Codesria network on Africa's
current development prospects, see the Codesria Bulletin for 2005
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
African workers and scholars unite
By Patrick Bond
Centre for Civil Society, Durban, South Africa
At Workers University in Cairo, a mid-May gathering of 100 trade
union leaders and intellectuals from across Africa adopted
surprisingly common radical language, exhibiting a pent-up desire
to jointly fight global neoliberalism.
The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in
Africa (Codesria) has been an extraordinary network for 5000
members who are the continent's core of progressive academics.
From its head office in Dakar came the executive secretary,
political economist Adebayo Olukoshi, and Carlos Cardoso, one of
the leading scholars on the work of Amilcar Cabral from his native
Cohosting was Hassan Sunmonu, the charismatic Nigerian leader of
the 33-year old Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (Oatuu).
He noted his group's unusually open relations with social change
activists elsewhere in civil society: as a founding member of the
World Social Forum's Africa regional network and member of the WSF
International Council, and founding member of African Trade
Network with twenty NGOs, as well as networks on debt and economic
Each intervention attacked their double oppression, stemming first
from international economic pressure and second from local
accomplices in comprador-state regimes. Changing these governments
was a perpetual task, said Sunmonu: 'In our Arusha African Charter
for Popular Participation in 1990, we announced the need for a
people-empowered democracy. Those rulers elected by the African
people must be at their service, not in the service of
multinationals, donors or the World Trade Organisation,
International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Those leaders
unwilling to work on this basis must now go!'
For Sunmonu, this is a chance to unite with academics, to remind
all Africa's producers of the unfair conditions they labour under.
'France formally apologised to Africans this last week for
participating in slavery. We want to hear from Queen Elizabeth,
the Portuguese, the Spanish, Brussels, Washington and others
involved in the slave trade. You researchers have to document who
were the slave traders; how many have been put in slavery; how
many died; how many survived. We need reparations for millions of
Africans put into slavery, and for all the resources and artefacts
stolen from us since.'
The challenge of ending contemporary economic slavery is witnessed
in the reluctance of the IMF and World Bank to fully cancel
Africa's debt, charged Sunmonu: 'They imposed the crudest form of
neoliberalism on Africa! It has worked nowhere!'
One rare area where struggles to reform Bank policies achieved real
results was permission for states to fund education without dreaded
cost-recovery provisions, formerly a ubiquitous condition imposed
by Washington. User fees had drastically cut girl participation
rates in primary and secondary schooling.
Yet new problems soon arose, according to Wanyonyi Buteyo,
secretary general of the Kenyan Union of Post-Primary Teachers. A
20% increase in teaching staff is needed to provide quality
education for expanding enrolments following Kenya's
implementation of free education in 2002, he testified:
'Government is under outrageous pressure from the World Bank and
IMF not to employ extra teachers, much as it is known that we have
this urgent need. I believe that advice and conditionality should
be disregarded completely.'
Sunmonu explained, 'The debt is still the main way that the IMF and
Bank saddle our countries with orthodox structural adjustments
including conditionality. All the gains made after independence
were wiped out. As early as 1987, the first international trade
union conference on debt was held by OATUU, and called for total
Seven years earlier, the Lagos Plan of Action - a progressive,
regionalist economic platform had been adopted by African
leaders. It was countered the following year by the Bank's Elliott
Berg Report, codifying the 'Washington Consensus' formula for
Said Olukoshi, 'We have lived with this neoliberal experience since
Sierra Leone in 1978, with virtually every other economy in Africa
since. In 1983, the Codesria declaration on why structural
adjustment can't work spelled out ten reasons. This was very
influential on me. Years later, Joseph Stiglitz says much the same
thing. The wasted time! That's the basis for our frustration.'
Periodically, alternatives are suggested by progressive
intellectuals, trade unions and social movements. The African
Alternative Framework was produced at the UN Economic Commission
on Africa in 1989, with drafting support by this conference's
keynote speaker, economist Ali Abdel Gadir Ali. Now based at the
Arab Planning Institute, Ali provided a demolition job of the
Washington Consensus, claiming imminent victory in the ideological
wars, as greater attention to planning and genuine development
economics is emerging in the discipline.
Olukoshi expressed growing confidence in this critique: 'We're not
appealing any more to the Bank and Fund to listen. We will reserve
the right to go on a campaign against our leaders who sell out the
Two additional problems were recorded: the Pretoria/Johannesburg
subimperial axis, and labour's sometimes narrow self-interest.
'Who is the agent of the World Bank in Africa today?' asked David
Nkonjo, a leader of the Ugandan trade union movement. He answered:
'South Africa. They have spread their tentacles everywhere. They
come and protect capital. The agenda is continued exploitation,
looking for the soft ground. The minute you rise up - tear gas,
police. African leaders are working under the dictates of
Agreed Mahlomola Skhosana, general secretary of South Africa's
National Council of Trade Unions: 'We have no sentiments favouring
the New Partnership for Africa's Development [Mbeki's neoliberal
plan for Africa]. We have not been involved, it is not relevant to
To be sure, there are some in labour, including the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), who advocate ongoing
consultations and even work inside the World Bank. Early this month
they issued an insipid statement designed to show concern about
the Bank's privatisation advice and public service layoffs
But in the crucial case of Tanzania's water which was so badly
privatised by the Bank and British aid that last May the London
firm Biwater was booted out - the ICFTU document (quoting a local
official) revealed some of the power relations: 'The Tanzanian
labour movement did not play a direct role in advocating for the
de-privatization of the water company The primary group to work
against privatization was the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme
[along with] "the cries from the general public as water
'This does not mean that the union was a passive player, however.
Throughout the period of privatization, the union's key issues were
job security and better terms and working conditions. As a result
of the union's efforts, "we managed to ensure that there were no
retrenchments after privatization," and "no workers lost their
jobs during the era of the private operator." That is a triumph in
Such is the tradition of 'corporatist', self-interested union
politics that Oatuu's broader social change agenda aims to
transcend. Observed Ibrahim Asila from the Union of Senegalese
Workers, 'Trade unions should go beyond our classical scope, and
more should be done to bring on board all concerns.'
Meanwhile, the continent's leaders are getting their alternative
economics information from the likes of Jeffrey Sachs, at a mid-
2004 African Union summit. The Columbia University professor does
at least concede in his recent book, The End of Poverty, that
'Little surpasses the western world in the cruelty and
depredations that it has long imposed on Africa.' And at his Addis
Ababa hearing, he even advocated debt repudiation, with payments
redirected so as to improve health and education.
However, Sachs muddies the politics and economics by presuming that
the critique of corrupt African elites is a 'political story line'
of the 'right', instead of giving credence to progressive, organic
anti-corruption campaigning. From there, he rehearses accounts of
malaria, AIDS, landlocked countries and other forms of
geographically-determinist analysis. Sachs then reconciles these
explanations for African poverty with garden-variety policy advice:
adopting good governance plus 'implementing traditional market
reforms, especially regarding export promotion', revealing his
notorious love of sweatshops.
Complained Olukoshi, 'If Jeffrey Sachs can be given an hour to
speak to our leaders the Sachs who wrote privatisation
programmes for Eastern Europe and Latin America, yesterday's
neoliberal who is today's social democrat then at every summit
the African Union must give us a platform.'
But will the rulers listen, if instead they enjoy their own
revolving door relationships with Washington? Notable is Liberia's
new president, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, a former World Bank
Recounted TS Williams, secretary of the Liberian union federation:
'Just before I came here, government announced it is embarking on
major downsizing. At the same time, of course, people belonging to
her own political party are being brought in. We need a foreign
policy for unions because these ideas are coming from the World
Bank and IMF.'
Olukoshi cited the famous statement by the World Bank's chief
African economist, Deepak Lall, who in 1984 called for 'effective,
ruthless governments able to ride roughshod over public opinion.'
Added Egyptian scholar Shaheeda El-Baz, 'Most of our countries have
liberalised economics, but they have refused to liberalise
politics. There is a weak or nonexistent margin of democracy and
a monopoly on policy-making by a state elite, which resorts to
coercive measures. Globalisation has defeated democracy. The
majority of people are simply excluded.'
Continued Helmy Sharawi, director of the Arab-African Studies
Centre here, 'We must restore the responsibility and role of the
state but we are not for despotism or dictatorship.'
In the streets outside, Hosni Mubarak's half-hearted commitment to
democracy is degenerating into despotism. This week his regime
passed an emergency ban on demonstrations - 'any unauthorised
protest in Cairo shall be considered henceforth illegal'
directed at the rising democracy protests.
According to a local source who preferred to remain anonymous
because of potential reprisal, 'Something is cooking. Last Friday,
Mubarak's son Gamal made a secret visit to Washington as
discrete as can be - and fortunately, Al Jazeera reporters were
covering a different event: some generals meeting with Rumsfeld.
It was pure coincidence that they saw the Egyptian ambassador and
Mubarak junior going into the White House through a side door that
leads to Dick Cheney's office. They wanted to keep the whole
The US leaders were probably briefed about Gamal's desire to
succeed Hosni, a process that may get underway within the next few
months, in the wake of Washington's approval of similar
successions in Morocco and Jordan. Vast US aid investments keep
the powder keg from blowing, but a new popular democratic movement
- Kifaya ('Enough') - is pushing hard.
Next week, more protests are likely, in part because of state
harassment of two dissident judges in Cairo and Alexandria (they
questioned the legitimacy of the last election), and because the
World Economic Forum is moving its regional meeting here (usually
it is in Jordan). Activists will have an alternative critical
conference, at the least.
This terrain, combining neoliberalism and eroded rights, is
familiar to Africa's labour movement and intellectuals. As
Olukushi warned, 'There are powerful interests behind the status
quo, who are profiting and they are not going to leave the
terrain to us without a fight. They are powerful, transnational
and sometimes even have our own governments backing them.'
'Our strategy must be to make their policies illegitimate,
ungovernable. We have a very strong advantage. In spite of all the
promises of the neoliberal agenda, people in their daily lives
have felt the failures, which gives both working people and the
middle classes an appetite for an alternative. Our capacity to
connect to the groundswell of protest is the other advantage we
Olukoshi concluded, 'Together we can shake the foundations of the
neoliberal forces on the continent. Our decision to march together
and strike together represents one of the most significant
developments. We will also target like-minded social movements
across Africa, like the African Social Forum, leading to the World
Social Forum in Nairobi next January.'
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