Upping the ante

2012-01-04 00:00

THIS year could become a remarkable year for Africa and South Africa if leaders act more energetically to take up opportunities that lie ahead, and if citizens remain extra vigilant to hold leaders and institutions accountable.

By any account the year 2011 was a mixed bag of hope and despair for most Africans and the majority of South Africans alike. While economies have avoided the ripple effects of the global economic crisis, growth rates have not created jobs and have not reduced poverty levels.

The African Development Bank’s estimates for 2012 suggest that average growth in Africa will remain high because of new major infrastructure projects, including the many hydroelectric dams being built, and the relatively stable prices of primary commodities, that many African countries export. But this is likely to remain a jobless growth rate again unless bold decisions are taken on the economic policy front, partly to break with the neoliberal economic dogma discredited by the global economic crisis.

Of course, at about 3,5%, South Africa’s rates have remained below the African average and are likely to remain submerged in 2012, thus presenting a serious constraint on the urgent task of transforming lives for the better by lifting people out of poverty. This will put a damper on the governing party’s 100-year celebrations.

I must say that no political party is generating innovative ideas that challenge the ANC’s dominance of economic thinking in Parliament and ideas that could help us overcome this quagmire.

The ANC is hampered by indecision on the economic ideology to drive its policies, although its 2007 conference boldly decided to establish the Planning Commission, escalate land reform through expropriation and intensify black economic empowerment. Its general council also decided to investigate options in regard to the nationalisation of mines, but these may not succeed without a real change in economic policy.

The DA is remarkably status quo orientated in that it is committed to the failing neoliberal dogma economics. On specifics, it wants to preserve the unsatisfactory ANC status quo, but reverse radical elements such as affirmative action and state intervention.

The IFP, the NFP, the PAC and other parties do not give a strong message on what needs to be done to improve radically the socioeconomy. The UDM was innovative when in 2006 it called for an economic Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), but it has not gone beyond this and offered innovative ideas of its own.

The bigger challenge is that the main thinkers on economic policy within our society are what we call institutional economists and analysts employed by major financial institutions. Those who can think out of the box are not allowed to because their employers see them as part of messaging about preserving and advancing sectional interests as Professor Adam Habib­ has before warned. These institutions have benefited from the Codesa compromise, which preserved monopoly capitalism and the hegemony of financial institutions and protected private property rights in a country where a small racial minority control most property of value. So the analysts­ that the media likes will not innovate beyond the neo- liberal­ economic framework.

The whole of Africa lacks think-tanks dedicated to thinking creatively about how to transform the economy for the betterment of the lives of the majority of people.

On the continent, the dominant economic discourse comes from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on which many countries depend for loans and policy reforms. These institutions championed the economic dogma that sees the dictatorship of the financial markets as the only­ way to do economics, hence the asset bubbles and debt crisis currently being experienced in the West. They will not tell Africa to break away from failed ideas­ and rather innovate agricultural revival, intra-Africa commerce, education, including skills training, technology that works for Africa­, and exchange controls.

On the political front Africa has a challenge of advancing democratisation that began in the nineties beyond mere electioneering. This requires serious commitment on the part of leaders to social­ democracy as a political value, including acting against their peers who undermine Africa­’s march forward.

This includes those who refuse to accept credible electoral outcomes and constitutional term limits and those who harass alternative political­ institutions and activists.

The African Union has sufficient legitimacy to act tough in 2012 or it will lose its moral high ground in African politics.

South Africa should strongly provide support to collective actions that consolidate democracy and integration. This begins with the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom the Mail & Guardian describes as a star in Jacob Zuma’s cabinet, as the new chairperson of the AU Commission in late January, with a mandate to ensure that the AU leads in Africa’s progressive change on all fronts and builds strategic partnerships with significant others­.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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