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Namibia in global context at the 22 nd Independence Anniversary

By Paul T. Shipale
The liberation of Namibia and South Africa and the third wave of democratisation that swept through our continent in the early 90ths provided an opportunity to chart a different course for the continent.

The articulation that a different Africa is possible saw the transformation of our continental institutions of governance, the reduction of violent conflicts, and a renewed commitment to African development and integration. Unless the continent positions itself strategically, what is evidently appearing to be the advent of the African Century will become another century of missed and wasted opportunity.

Similarly, unless Namibia positions herself wisely in Africa, others will seek to define the future of the continent without us. I fully agree with our Foreign Affairs' Minister, the Honourable Utoni Nujoma, and I am quite impressed by the Statesmanship he displays and when he summoned the courage and foresight of the first generation of freedom fighters following in the proud and heroic tradition of men and women who articulated a view that Africa was an equal partner and important player in the global context and were critical of the colonial and imperialist narrative that sought to project everything African as backward and inferior.

Minister Utoni Nujoma is reported to have said 'Classical Capitalism is dead' and I could not agree more with him. For this reason, as a country, Namibia has to reposition herself in the global context and find out what opportunities and threats does this context present?

What are the long-term implications of the shift in global production and consumption away from the developed western countries to the developing world?

After 22 years of Independence, if we take an overview of our trajectory, as a country, Namibia started her political transition in the 90ths in the midst of a new era of globalisation. The changes in the global economy and social organisation also took place in the context of and were shaped by the hegemony of the ideological paradigm of neo-liberalism, in part a response to Keynesian economic thinking. Neo-liberalism proclaims a fundamentalist faith in the efficiency of markets. Therefore its policy prescripts are liberalisation, free trade and a limited role of the state and only what has efficiency has value, with the market and its 'laws' as the sole criteria for efficiency.

Neo-liberalism is therefore grounded on the radical rejection of all other alternatives. Thus states (especially in the developing world), according to this paradigm, have no alternatives but to play by 'global rules' determined by the powerful; their autonomy is restricted and their policy options limited.

Nevertheless, a recurrence of crisis in the global system and evidence from the Asian developmental states, as well as the rise of the so-called anti-globalisation movement and work by progressive intellectuals worldwide, have challenged this hegemony throughout the last two decades and now the world is experiencing profound and potentially seismic shifts.

Indeed, during the 19th and 20th centuries, capitalism was presented as the best and most efficient and rational way of organising society and ordering social and economic relations in line with changing human needs. The major advances in culture, science, technology and general improvement in standards of living have been attributed to the dynamic nature and 'civilizing mission' of capitalism. Any critique of the logic and limits of capitalism was countered with all arsenals and by all means necessary.

The collapse of 'existing socialism' and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s was hailed as the irreversible triumph of the capitalist system, as the optimum mode of social and economic organisation that held better prospects for human progress. However, the first decade of the 21st century represents a different reality.

Neo-liberal capitalism faces a new and deeper crisis. The triumphalism of the last two decades of the 20th century has faded and a new period of uncertainty and vulnerability has begun. At the start of its second century of existence, capitalism is going through multiple crises financial, economic, systemic, intellectual, ecological and moral. Capitalism faces a "civilizational crisis" of unprecedented proportions, a far cry from what was called a 'best' system.

Public debates about whether capitalism will survive the current crisis abound. The combined impact of the global financial crisis, the food and fuel crises, the effects of global warming, the increasing militarisation of UN interventions and simultaneous rise of extremist movements and demographic shifts has far-reaching implications for humanity and now human survival, progress and security stand at the crossroads. Thus there is an emerging consensus across the world about the need to return to notions such as 'shared growth' and 'regulated markets', which were obliterated by neo-liberalism and the chronic and unprecedented nature of the current global crisis is widely acknowledged.

There is a major shift in economic and political power towards emerging economies that have formed an economic bloc composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and, recently, South Africa (BRICS). The hegemony of the Bretton Woods prescriptive paradigm is therefore not as rock-solid as it was during the 90s. This has been in part as a result of evidence from Asia countries about the role of the developmental state in driving their economic miracles; in part because of the emergence of the anti-globalisation movement and expressed in the World Social Forum; and finally because of the worst global crisis since the Great Depression.

This has also seen the emergence of other concepts such as 'state capitalism' to describe alternatives to the dominant Western models of capitalism. Thus, we are therefore witnessing seismic shifts in global economic and political power relations and the transition to a world dominated by economies other than western industrialised countries is underway. The West can no longer unilaterally determine the global economic (and therefore also the political) agenda. The G8 has to large extent made way for the G20, contributing towards greater multipolarity.

We should however be careful about not overstating the potential impact of these economic shifts on global geopolitics. While economic power may be shifting, the US military strength is still greater than the next 10 powers combined. There will therefore continue to be strong elements of uni-polarity, even in the context of an unfolding multi-polarity.

These developments have opened greater space for progressive alternatives, but much of the global left have both abandoned left projects and ideas after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or have been slow to make use of the space and provide alternative visions. What is particularly baffling is that the European left has been losing elections more comprehensively than ever before in the midst of the global economic and financial crisis.

Rightwing parties have been the beneficiaries of the current crisis. The disarray in the left is a result of the intellectual and moral vacuum created by the absence of a robust and compelling alternative to neo-liberalism. The most vocal alternatives, if not entirely coherent, come from the counter-hegemonic, social and union movements.

These movements, although clear that they struggle against neo-liberal globalisation, in themselves are not clear whether it is a struggle against a form of capitalism or capitalism in general. What is further interesting about these global counter-hegemonic movements is that their theoretical foundation is based on the concept that there are always alternatives hence their positioning as counter-hegemonic.

What are the implications of the global balance of power for Namibia and what prospects are there for Africa's regeneration in the new century? At the beginning of the last century, African intellectuals and leaders articulated their own perspectives on the future of the African continent. Despite the spectre of colonial conquest, such perspectives were extremely and eternally optimistic.

On matters pertaining to international relations, the first generation of African freedom fighters, held a view that Africa has played an important role in the evolution of human civilization and progressive modernity. They had a shared belief and an optimistic view that Africa had something better to offer humanity. Of course, the past half century of neo-colonial plunder and political mismanagement has destroyed the dream of our forebears. By the time of our transition to democracy, the failure of the post-colonial state and the plunder of Africa's natural resources by political elites dominated the public discourse and narratives on Africa.

The pre-independence African dream of a new Africa that places humanity and people's interests at the centre was severely undermined by the incompetence, greed and corruption of the self-serving political and business elites. This contributed to the continued marginalisation of the continent and the dominant attitude about anything African.

However, there is now irrefutable evidence that Africa's prospects have changed positively over the past decade. What is even more exciting is that there are real indications and scientific data showing that the vision of Nkrumah seems more possible in the next three-to-five decades than in the previous century. These indications are directly related to the dynamics in the global economy. The following macro-trends are worth taking note of: After China and India, Africa is the next biggest investment frontier for American and European businesses trying to escape the pitfalls of government budget cuts, shrinking incomes, ageing populations and saturated markets. By 2032, Africa's population is likely to overtake that of China and India. By 2050, Africa could have a more youthful, skilled workforce than China and India, and thus become more attractive to even Chinese and Indian businesses; in addition to Anglo- American businesses. Africa's GDP has shown impressive growth in the past decade.

It is the third fastest growing region after Asia and the Middle East. Africa's 900 million people had a purchasing power of $860 billion in 2008, more than India's 1.2 billion people. Between 2007 and 2010, it was only the continents of Africa and Asia that had positive growth rates. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that 47 sub-Saharan countries experienced a growth rate of more than 5% in 2010 during the global recession, while Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola and Rwanda each rose by more than 10%.

?Africa's commodity boom, infrastructure development and agriculture are the key drivers of its growth. Retail, telecommunications, energy, financial services and food production are key sectors fuelling the African economy. What accounts for Africa's impressive growth rates are the following factors: population growth, urbanisation, improved macroeconomic management, relative political stability, growth in remittances and foreign investment, more effective foreign aid, and debt relief.

Over the past decade, the volume of trade between Africa and Asia has increased from 13% in 1990 to 28% in 2010, while trade between Africa and Europe has decreased from 51% to 28% in the same period. In the same period, 50% of Africa's trade is with Asia, Brazil and the Middle East as opposed to 28% in 1990.

Thus, as global economic power begins to shift from the west to the east, Africa's geopolitical position is assuming greater significance. The current economic crisis in the developed countries and the rise of China and India are two macro trends that work to Africa's advantage, given the continent's natural resource endowments and the demographic profile of its workforce.

The renewed geo-political interest in Africa, especially its natural resources and potential markets, is leading to fresh attempts by former colonial and other global powers to reclaim the ground we have gained in terms of African self-determination, as reflected in Cote d'Ivoire, Libya and elsewhere. This requires of the country and other progressive forces to ensure that we indeed have a deliberate and long term programme to build the core of progressive forces, and the widest range of unity to take forward the socioeconomic and political development of the continent. We need the courage and foresight of the first generation of freedom fighters to eliminate the legacy of neo-colonialism on our shores. In this regard, the African political and economic institutions need a new institutional firepower.

Democracy, good governance and putting the interests of the citizens first must receive the utmost attention of the political leadership and institutions. Building sound democratic institutions, investing in human development and promoting peaceful development across the entire continent will enhance development prospects.

Namibia must therefore contribute towards the building of new African progressive forces that will be equal to the task of the new century. The West has re-established its hegemony in parts of Africa.

Our task is to rebuild a purposeful unity among the old and new likeminded forces. Namibia has to wake to the reality that unless she positions herself wisely, others will seek to define the future of the continent without her. Happy 22nd Independence Anniversary Namibia, gaze into the horizon with an eagle eye and take your rightful place.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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