Globalisation, Democratization, Exploitation and the State in Africa: The Final Conquest?  

Tatah Mentan 
Political Science, 
University of Yaounde II - SOA 

Globalization has been a feature of world history. And, to understand what globalization is all about, one may need to trace the development of capitalism in its three historic phases: mercantile, industrial and financial. 
The motive force of globalization during each phase has been private and corporate accumulation of capital. This accumulation is facilitated through the removal of all barriers to the movement of capital. The capital globalizes itself in order to sell its knowledge, intensive products and services, and to exploit cheaper resources of human labour (skilled and unskilled) and raw materials. 
It is through these phases that the state in Africa has been brought under the heel of international finance capital. And, as dependent states, functionally, they lubricate the export-import capitalist economy. And financially, they are heavily reliant on, and subordinate to, capital. 
Today, globalization has compelled the drive toward the democratization of the state in Africa as the best possible political shell for capitalism. The preference given to “democratic republics” in Africa is because they best disguise some of the more marked aspects of capitalist exploitation. 
What can be done to save the state in Africa and Africans from exploitation and suppression by capital in its final conquest of the continent? The answer to this question lies in the demand for the “new national democratic revolution” in Africa. In other words, who exploits whom and oppresses whom as the economic essence of globalisation must be identified and battled down. 

In English, the concept globalisation means the transition to a geo-finance system during the 1980s. Whereas, in French (as in all Latin languages) “globalisation ”relates essentially to the geographical dimension of the phenomenon. However, the phenomenon does not date from the 1980s. The origins lie in the history of the modern Western world since the 15th century the period when economic internationalization became the foundation of capitalist society. 
The end of the Cold War (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) triggered a marked shift in the dynamics of international politics with the geo-military factor ceding prominence to strategies for meeting the challenges of economic internationalisation or globalization. Caught once again at the crossroads of history, Africa’s predicament within the new delusive dictum of democratization and globalization raises questions as to its congeniality to a culture of democracy. That is to say, to what extent and with what consequences does the post-colonial experience political, economic, social, cultural and ideological manifestations and structures constitute a series of structural limitations to the momentum and ambitions of democratization in Africa? 
Given the history and nature of democratization in the 1990s, its class/ethnic and ideological content, how is the state in Africa to be characterized in the light of the current configuration of forces at global level? What have been the achievements and pitfalls? And, on the basis of such analysis, what is the future of the democratization for Africa in the face of globalization? Furthermore, is globalization the final conquest of Africa by international finance capital? 
These, indeed, are not idle questions. This paper is an attempt to explain why things are what they are in Africa today. And how, on the basis of the current configuration of domestic and global forces, may those interested begin to organize and plan for the way forward. 

Aborted Hopes and State Collapse 
Historically, globalization or the internationalization of finance capital with private and corporate accumulation of capital as its force motrice acquired a rapacious character in the 1880s. This was the period of maturation in the West of the institution of the joint stock company, of banking, of industrial capital, and of the development of deep mining technology. This was when globalization exploded the “scramble for Africa” licenced and sold to the West as the “white man’s burden” to civilize the “senile and savage” Africans. 
Globalization or the victory of socialism in the Soviet Union in 1917? Sovietism stood opposed to globalization by the North for some 70 Years. This Cold War period enabled Africa to acquire a measure of independence for itself. 
The struggle for independence in Africa, armed or unarmed, was not oblivious of the fact that private and corporate accumulation of capital, not the welfare of Africans through its distribution, was the motive force of globalization. This preoccupation explains why African nationalists proclaimed insistently, in Mugabe’s words, that: 
The first object of our armed struggle is the attainment of total and unfettered independence so we can rule ourselves as we deem fit and develop our country in the general interests of the (African) masses.(1)  

These pious hopes and grand designs of African nationalists were pitted against the historical conjuncture in which globalization was a serious factor in the determination of the course to be taken in the post-independence era. All nationalists, like Kwame Nkrumah, soon discovered the rapacious character of capital: 
The reality of neocolonialism quickly becomes obvious to a new African government which tries to act in economic matters and in the betterment of its own masses. For such a government immediately discovers that it inherited the power to make laws, to direct the civil service, to treat with foreign governments and so on, but it did not inherit effective power over economic development in its own country. Indeed, it often discovers that there is no such thing as a national economy(2). 

The absence of  “national economy” assigns a strange role to the post-colonial state. Could the state pursue the developmentalist objectives of independence in response to the popular aspirations and expectation of the masses? Could it counter the economic and political weight (full and direct) of international finance capital as it continued to exploit the human and material resources in the neocolonial situation? No. And, why? 
Herein lies the contradictory character of the post-colonial state. It is at the best of times a state split in two: a schizophrenic state, a state torn apart between on the one hand the democratic forces of the people, and on the other hand the imperialist forces of the international financial oligarchy. This split is in evidence right through all the police, the court system, the parliament and even the government itself (including the cabinet), and we might add, even the political parties. Indeed, even individual political leaders sometimes display schizophrenic tendencies when they feel impelled on the one hand to respond to the democratic demands of the people, and on the other hand, feel the pressure of international capital on them which impels them to suppress those very demands they would want to respond to but cannot.(3) 

This existential situation undermined the political independence of African states that sought to delink from the capitalist world system. This is why, as Nyerere stated, it is impossible to explain Africa’s current predicament without acknowledging international finance capital as its basic cause. The reason is that: 
The gap between African poverty and the wealth of the developed nations gets larger. African nations get further into debt and have less and less ability even to sustain such economic progress as they had earlier made. Then, when the natural disasters of drought or flood strike, the quid pro quo for temporary relief is liable to be facilities for military or communication units of a Great Power, or the forced adoption of their economic policies. And if an African nation is not sufficiently cooperative, then the lessons of Angola and of Libya are there to see, to say nothing of the more subtle and camouflaged interventions in our political systems which are frequent. (4) 

This does not mean that each African government is always a lone-goer. From time to time, African governments have indeed shown remarkable unity. In 1979, they agreed on a common long-term economic plan of action for Africa, called the Lagos Plan of Action. Unfortunately, no sooner the ink was dry than one by one of these governments compromised to the domestic demands of the moment and pressure from the donor community. The pressure was for them to abandon the Plan and get down to their old ways of doing bilateral things with donors and the World Bank. 
The impact of globalization’s aggression on the state in Africa was enormous. First, governments, by the 1980s had lost their ability even to protect national interests against further encroachments on their sovereignty. Second, the state bore the hallmarks of a predatory one. That is, the pillars of the state were expropriation, extortion, the inflation of taxes, and corruption. And, of course, the predatory state was obviously inconsistent with economic development because it discouraged productivity and led inexorably to misallocation of resources, culminating generally in its collapse as a rogue state. 
The collapsed state was not one that failed to do the right things, but one that failed to do much of anything effectively – even maintaining repressive order. Three broad and overlapping pathologies of state collapse could easily be identified: 
a) States that lost (or failed to establish) legitimacy in the eyes of most of the population, nationally unable to exercise that authority like Moi’s Kenya. 
b) States that were run into the ground by leaders and officials who were corrupt, negligent, incompetent, or all three like Cameroon; 
c) States that were fragmented in civil war, and in which no party was capable of re-establishing central authority like Angola. 

Globalization or “end of geography”? 
The emergent position(5) in international politics is that we live in a new era of “economic globalization”. This global system is driven by uncontrollable international financial market forces. It is dominated by large transnational companies that source, invest, produce and market wherever their economic advantage dictates. 
For example, 40% of world exports are controlled by just 100 undertakings. There are also sectoral arrangements between companies operating in the area leading to the emergence of global oligopolies. And statistics show that genuine integration in terms of trade and direct investments is taking place. Since 1990, world trade has increased by 6% per annum, as against under 4% per annum during the 1980s. In 1995 world trade in goods increased by 8% in volume terms, four times the growth in world GDP. 
These global market forces are beyond governance by states. This implies that African states have no effective role in macro-economic policy other than adjusting to the dictates of world markets. They cannot alter the rate of growth or the rate of employment by national manipulation of macro-economic aggregates. 
Globalization directly affects and constrains the social policy of a state. The argument is that welfare rights and benefits, tax levels, and labour market policies that deviate from the minimum level acceptable to international finance capital will render the society in question uncompetitive and lead to capital flight. Thus, public policy in any state should follow the needs of international capital rather than trying to alter the economic environment by changing the behaviour of economic actors. 
This demonstrates that states cannot singly or collectively govern world markets. The only roles remaining for them are to promote competitiveness of local economic actors and to make their territory as attractive as possible to inward investment by internationally mobile capital. Thus, the discourse of “international competitiveness” is the natural companion to that of globalization. (6) 
Globalization therefore signals the “end of geography.” (7) Its principal objective is to remove all barriers to the movement of capital and to “raise” standards of products that enter the international market. Private and corporate accumulation of capital, not the welfare of people through its distribution, is the motive force of globalization. 
This announces the death of any legacy of Keynes and the welfare state. National attempts at policies of social solidarity, equality, fairness and collective reinsurance against economic shocks are obsolete. That is, international capital will only accept a minimum safety net and the barest of intervention humanizing and civilizing capitalism. So, assuming that a market society without losers could be created and sustained is an illusion when self-interested corporate classes and global markets call the tune. 
Capital globalizes itself both to sell its knowledge intensive products and services, and to exploit cheaper resources human (skilled and unskilled) and raw materials. This globalization is intended to overcome the triple crises inherent in the capitalist system of production. 
One of the periodic paroxysms of crises is the permanent tension between the financial system (fictitious money capital) and its real, material “value” base leading to occasional adjustments when prices of stocks and shares tumble to bring some semblance of a relationship between fictitious and material capital. (8) 
The second crisis is the individualized appropriation of collectively generated surplus value. This surplus value has created the world’s 358 billionaires whose assets exceed the combined annual incomes of countries with 45% of mankind, especially where the poor starve and die in their thousands. (9) 
And the third crisis is the overproduction of commodities faced by the limitations of the market. An equitable distribution of incomes worldwide could theoretically create an effective market for these products. But this cannot happen. 
The UNDP in its Human Development Report, 1996 says: “The world has become more polarised and the gulf between the poor and the rich has widened even further. Of the US $23 trillion global GDP in 1993, $18 trillion is in the industrial countries; they have nearly 80% of the world’s people”(10) in terms of wealth, not numbers. 
In fact, international economic relations is now an obvious game of the powerful. And contemporary globalization ordains the rule that the strong can now extract what they will. The weak must surrender what they cannot protect. Thus, geographical walls now face the fate of the Berlin Wall. 

The State in Africa and Democratization: The Final Conquest? 
What is the nature of the state in Africa? How has this state fared with internationalized capital as well as production and marketing? The world economy is integrated such that national boundaries do not make economic sense any longer (“end of geography”), so what is the significance of democratizing the state in Africa? 
These questions can best be answered when we look at the phenomenon of the world capitalist system in its totality. That is, we must use the method of dialectical materialism, a science of studying and apprehending nature and society whose method is dialectical (the law of contradiction), and whose theory is materialist (the primacy of matter over mind). 
Marx and Engels saw the state as an organ: the political power of the oppressing class. And political power, according to the Communist Manifesto, is merely “the organized power of one class for oppressing another “(11) The implication here is that the state is a class category and that state (political power) always has a class character. 
Lenin’s instructive position on the question of the meaning of political independence is clear: “That political independence does not mean that finance capital is unable to continue dominating independent countries. “(12) In this case of Africa, political independence did not mean economic independence. Finance capital subordinated the economies of these “sovereign” states to the extent that the only change at independence was that the personnel of the state apparatus was now recruited from the local petty bourgeoisie. Indeed, independence meant a change in government, not the state: 
As the state arose from the need to hold class antagonism in check, but as it arose, at the same time, in the midst of conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful economically dominant class, which through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and this acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. (13) 

If Lenin could say the following in 1916, it is a hundred times true in Africa today: 
The enormous dimensions of finance capital concentrated in a few hands and creating an extraordinarily dense and widespread network of relationships and connections and which subordinates not only the small and medium, but also the very small capitalists and small masters, on the one hand, and the increasingly intense struggle waged against their national state groups of financiers for the division of the world and domination over other countries, on the other hand, cause the propertied classes to go over entirely to the side of imperialism. (14) 
Since the financial oligarchy is the economically dominant class, it also rules politically and is therefore the ruling class; the owners of capital are also the owners of the state, particularly the state in Africa. 
This leaves one with a question rarely raised in discussions of democratization of Africa: What part does the international financial oligarchy, never a neutral partner in African affairs, play? Capital facilitated, promoted even the import of foreign structures and institutions from all over the world as if pre-colonial Africa had no political, economic and social structures of their own. 
Capital propped up authoritarian regimes, considered to be its strategic allies, for decades, and then suddenly swerved to the defence of the “democratic cause”.(15) Reverend Jose Chipenda observed with regret that ‘Since 1990, African countries have spent over US# 1 billion on the formation and servicing of multiparty democracies, with hardly any country emerging with a stable and mature multiparty system of governance.” Yet, African countries have embarked on the road to democracy with varying degrees of enthusiasm and resistance. But questions are increasingly being asked about the validity of Western-style democracy for Africa. In fact, these questions become increasingly pointed as, here and there, the democracy movement suffers reverses and regression to autocracy. 
Of course, Africa is home to 32 of the 47 poorest countries in the world. And the World Bank as well as the IMF bait democratizing states with a structural adjustment programme whose objective is to perpetuate its monocultural economic system, its external dependence which renders it highly susceptible to external shocks. Thus, there is no room for pursuing the goal of diversifying and transforming the economy of any African state. 
The danger which belies this trend is the rejection of the will of the people as the basis of governmental authority. It is perhaps for this reason that UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan has warned that the mad rush toward globalization in the 21st century is an indication that countries, especially those in Africa, which do not define their democratic and developmental models before the third millennium will find themselves stuck in the “seething cauldron of chaos and confusion.“ (16) And the chaos and confusion” will only facilitate the final conquest of the state in Africa by finance capital. 

Which way Africa? 
The British historian, Basil Davidson, insists that “History’s conclusion is that Africa has tried to work the wrong models” (17) So what is the way out for Africa? First of all, the national economy remains a viable analytical category. And it is within this arena that choices are made. The democratizing state in Africa can strengthen its local community-based system of production and marketing. (18) This will enable the state to control local resources away from the hands of globalizing international corporations. Indeed, economic policy, in particular with regard to distribution, is not dictated by economic globalization but subject to political decisions at home. 
Secondly, the state can slow down its further integration into the world capitalist system. That is, the state should maintain its ability to protect national interests against further encroachments on its sovereignty implied in globalization’s aggression. 


(1) Mugable, Robert Gabriel, Our War of Liberation: Speeches, Articles, Interviews, 1976-1979 (Mambo Press, 1983), a lead quotation on the back cover of the book. 
(2) Kwame Nkrumah cited in Jonah, Kwesi, Imperialism, The Sate and the Indigenization of the Ghanaian Economy, 1957-84, Africa Development, Vol. X, N°. 3 1985, p. 64. 
(3) Tandon, Yash, The Post-colonial State, Social Change and Development, N°8, 1984 pp. 24. 
(4) Speech by Dr. Julius K. Nyerere at University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 7 June 1986. 
(5) Hirst, Paul Q and Thompson, Grahame F., "Globalization. Ten Frequently Asked Questions and Some Surprising Answers" soundings, N°4, Autumn 1996, pp. 47-66. 
(6) Thompson, G.F. "Some Observations on the ‘International Competitiveness Debate’ and International Economic Relations", in "Globalization and Industrial Transformation in Europe", Malaga, Spain: January 9-12, 1997. 
(7) O’Brien, R., Global Financial Integration: The End of Geography, London: Pinter/RIIA, 1992. 
(8) Tandon, Yash, "Globalization and the South: The Logic of Exploitation", in International Politics and Society, N°4, 1997, p.391. The author notes that the 1987 crisis was the latest manifestation of this when stock prices tumbled by some $200 billion within 24 hours. 
(10) UNDP, Human Development Report, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996, p.2. 
(11) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, selected works (MOSCOW: Progress Publishers, 1969), 3VD/S., p. 127. 
(12) Kievsky’s arguments and Lenin’s rebuttal are in V.I. Lenin, ‘A caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism", in collected Works, Vol. 23, pp. 50-62. 
(13) Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970 pp. 38-78. 
(14) Lenin, V.I, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Collected Works, Vol. 22, Moscow:  
Progress Publishers, 1976, pp. 10-45. 
(15) The Courier, N°138, March-April 1993, pp. 62-88. 
(16) See, George Ngwane, " Cameroon Nation at a Crossroads," in West Africa, N°. 4171, 1997, pp. 1678-1680. 
(17) Ibid, p. 1679. 
(18) Tandon, op. Cit., p. 397.

© The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.

© Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO. 

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