Global pressures and popular energies
Prof. Fantu Cheru, who currently teaches African and development studies at American University in Washington, DC, is the author of two books on African political and development issues, The Silent Revolution in Africa, published in 1990, and African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization, published this year. He spoke with Africa Recovery in March, during the African Development Forum in Addis Ababa.
AR: Where does the impetus for regional integration come from in Africa?
Cheru: There are two pressures on African governments. On one hand, they want to get engaged with regional integration to deal with poverty. So there is a demand from below, coming from society. On the other hand, there's pressure from above, from global forces.
The pressure from outside, from the globalization of trade, may not be complementary to the kind of integration which emphasizes production, as opposed to exchange. We need to be able to produce. That means a lot of functional integration, in transport, in communications, to induce productivity. Not integration that simply induces expanded trade, selling goods produced in other countries. The global forces are more about exchange. Before you exchange, before you integrate with global markets, you have to create conditions for the private sector, for farmers, to become much more productive. This requires a lot more investment-oriented strategies, in research and development, in transport.
So African governments are really sandwiched between this pressure from below to do something about endemic poverty, and the dictates coming from global forces, which will be very, very difficult to deal with. So much is off the table. Neo-liberal constitutionalism is now the norm. Within that, what kind of space do you have? Very few countries have the option to find out. Most pay more attention to those outside demands than to internal demands.
AR: And the domestic constraints on integration?
Cheru: Integration has always been an intergovernmental affair. It consequently left out the people who produce and who exchange. First, that raises a question whether governments really had any interest in development in Africa. Second, none of the initiatives in the past were ever integrated with national plans, with budgeted appropriations. Third, you can't achieve important issues in an environment in which, for about 30-35 years, we had nothing but dictatorships across the continent.
The indigenous private sector has always been excluded, harassed. The role of the state has been to control rather than facilitate. So there is a great deal of suspicion on the part of society in general. The question now is: What does it mean to move into the African Union? Are you serious?
AR: You're pessimistic about the role of governments. What about the private sector?
Cheru: The private sector is still weak. Its capacity to respond is dependent on the kind of human capital available to it, on the kind of research and development that informs product quality. Right now you have human resource development, but the connection to the production chain is absent. The private sector lacks many, many capacities. But it can be dynamic if other elements complement innovations within it.
Really, there is a need for integration even within national economies. How does industrial strategy complement agricultural production, and vice versa? If you look at the East Asian countries, that's how they started. Before they went into export niches in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they created much more dynamic and productive agricultural and industrial sectors, which complemented each other. The demand from each sector generated innovations. And then they moved on to develop export niches.
Here, we are producing Barbie dolls, while farmers need something else. We require a very selective industrial strategy. How do the different pieces of the puzzle fit? That kind of thinking has to go on. Instead, we tend to plan like the old weatherman, just stick our finger in the air.
There is a very unrealistic assumption that once you sign agreements, the rest will kick start on its own. We have to be more pragmatic, in a way that shows results to people, something that's very tangible in people's lives. People spend hours at customs posts. Just removing those does not require financial cost. A lot of these activities really would not require money. It is simply dealing with the regulatory environment, making public institutions much more accountable. There are areas that will require money, infrastructure, etc. But a lot of it is: How do you provide people with the information that they need, on time? How do you release the energies of the people?