Corruption or economic apartheid? A rejoinder

Africa’s paradox for poverty is that while it is the second fastest growing region in the world in terms of economic development, this growth does not meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. Pick a country.

 

“Africa is the world’s second fastest growing region and yet 100 million more Africans live in extreme poverty today compared to the 1990s” writes my brother Jon Offei Ansah.

Indeed, in 1993 Africa’s population was estimated at 682 million. It is now estimated at 1.323 billion, which is almost double from almost two decades ago. Up to this point I’m in agreement with brother Ansah that Africa’s growth does not translate into uplifting it’s people from poverty. And so the questions: growth for whom; growth for what?

In this article I argue that Africa’s poverty is not due to corruption; indeed, both corruption and poverty are manifestations of a structural failure on the part of Africa.

Africa’s paradox for poverty is that while it is the second fastest growing region in the world in terms of economic development, this growth does not meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. Pick a country.

Africa’s most advanced economy is illustrative. South Africa, was built on exploitation and discrimination. It thrived on the exclusion of the majority of the population from the benefits of this economic growth.

Most remarkably, almost two and a half decades since majority rule was ushered in, the cadres of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) who integrated into the exploitative system appear to have renounced any attempts to transform meaningfully and profoundly the lives of their people – i.e. to reorient the economy away from the exploitation of the majority.

Indeed, political cost of a radical change in the economic reorganization of South Africa has been deemed too great.

While one cannot argue that the socioeconomic situation in South Africa has regressed from that of the apartheid era, it is also safe to say that it isn’t what most South Africans expected when they were fighting minority white rule. To make matters worse, it is unlikely that much will change in structural terms any time soon; at least not without a bold leadership.

Radical reforms in Southern Africa have become a no-go area in light of the aftermath of the Zimbabwean experience, which is now made to sound like a warning alarm to anyone elsewhere, especially in South Africa, who would attack the privileges of the country’s old white ruling class.

Nonetheless, the South African experience has something unique to it. It is not Zimbabwe that should be a warning for Africa; it is South Africa.

Beyond its racial dimension, South Africa offers a glaring picture of what Africa will look like in the years to come. An ultra-rich minority whose lifestyle will resemble that of the rich in the west – the west remaining the reference in the minds of our elites- and a large poor majority whose prospects will be limited, increasingly disappearing, or nonexistent.

South Africa’s elite not only integrated into the apartheid economic logic and helped to conceal that system by embracing capitalism. In other words, an economic system of exclusion and exploitation would have existed even without the superstructure of apartheid. Now, South Africa sits uncomfortably on both.

This represents double jeopardy from the perspective of the masses that thought that the anti-apartheid struggle was about freeing themselves from exploitation and exclusion by a greedy elite.

At the root of the neoliberal crisis is the crisis of capitalism that is characterized by unmitigated greed. Indeed, the rise of “populism” in Europe and America is an outcome of the failure of the global ruling elite to create political and economic systems that are inclusive and non-exploitative. Indeed, the inability to tame runaway greed is a key driver of the disillusionment.

Michael Lind, the co-founder of New America, has suggested that America was built on corruption. It’s lobbying expenditures in DC exceed the US congress budget,. Other like him have observed that officials different administrations leave office to get employment for the very industries they formed policy about, ‘a revolving door’ that feigns ignorance to conflict of interest concerns.

These observations can be extended to all the countries noted above regarding populism, greed, and corruption. The Suisse banks have done their fair share of facilitating money laundering of the world’s elite.

Whether it is in the West, China, India, Brazil, the lesson is that while ‘corruption can contribute to poor economic performance, poor economic performance cannot be reduced to corruption,’ as has been observed elsewhere.

That Africa has been exceptionalized as a den of corruption is not a surprise. Neither is it surprising that Africans have internalized this exception. While corruption remains a major problem, it is not a phenomenon peculiar to Africa.

However, what’s happening in South Africa – and elsewhere across the world- suggests that runaway corruption is only the manifestation of a lack of clarity around the kind of economic model that can be truly inclusive and non-exploitative, one that can be relied upon to transform people’s lives.

Corruption in Africa is much more pronounced than elsewhere not because other societies have better value systems; however, the economic effect will be far reaching depending on the size of the economy: when there’s little to steal what’s stolen will reverberate farther.

The money will either be stolen legally or illegally, as the elite pass laws to decriminalize their greed. Indeed, the idea that corruption in most advanced societies is more enlightened because those who steal reinvest in their societies is not supported by evidence. The tax havens that are used to circumvent this very investment is a testament to this.

For Africa, the toughest discovery will come from the realization that even it’s strongest anti-corruption crusades have not helped to the cause of the poor as long as the broader economic models around which such crusades operate are steeped in a logic that is designed to leave millions in poverty.

Africa being the fastest growing economy will only mean a deeper integration of its elite into the corrupt global capitalist network; it will have little to show in the lives of the vast majority.

The fear for Africa is not to turn into a Zimbawe; it’s to turn into a South Africa.

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