Part IV continues with the critical reflection on Ferguson’s Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order

Is Africa part of the convergence that is so-called globalism?

Although globalization is often presented as one-size fit all jacket that accommodates all countries in the world, Africa seems to resist this description of globalization. The continent does not fit into any of the compartments that define globalization. As Ferguson points out “it seems, when it comes to globalization, Africa just doesn’t fit the storyline. It is an inconvenient case” (26). He further notes that laws that anchor capitalism in the rest of the world are antithetical to African communal way of life as most of Africa define property and means of capital differently.  Following this conceptualization, some scholars have referred to Africa as a “global ghetto, wasted lives, the black hole of the information society” among other derogatory terms, without considering the particularity of countries in Africa. But as Ferguson argues, labels scholars imprint on Africa depend on individual scholars’ point of view and do not necessarily represent the totality of the experience of Africans.

Ferguson singles out three elements of globalization and discusses them in the context of Africa. They include: (1) Culture, (2) flows of capital, and (3) governance and the nation-state.  Like Walter Mignolo in Local History/Global Designs, he points out that what we consider as global is basically Euro-American local history imposed on the rest of the world. He explores a few definitions of modernity (a word he seems to use interchangeably with globalization) such as Arjun Appadurai’s notion of alternative modernity for Africa, which one might regard as obnoxious considering that modernity cannot be articulated without factoring colonial legacy. So, why will Arjun propose alternative modernity for a continent that has always been part of Euro-American modernity, albeit on the receiving end? Arjun’s concept of modernity is limited. If one examines modernity and the whole colonial project as two sides of the same coin, evidence will emerge that indeed Africa has always been an integral part of modernity.

Ferguson leans to this generally acceptable conceptualization of modernity that looks at Africa as a constitutive element of modernity. Of course, such an inclusive definition does not denote singularity of experience. On the contrary, it shows how Euro-America point of view of modernity is defined in positive terms while the African one points to everything that is wrong with the continent. Thus, the folly of one, enabled the other to succeed.

Many confuse the issue of “political-economic inequality” in Africa with the concept of development. They divorce inequality from its global consideration and discusses it at the nation-state level as “development” issue. This articulation is wrong as it ignores the historical contribution of Africa into what we now call modernity or globalization. Furthermore, scholars who look at global capital flows often ignore Africa. Obviously, to them, Africa is not part of the global capital equation. The few who look at global flows in Africa, constrain themselves to capital related to mineral-resource extraction. Ferguson points out that this capital does not indeed cover the globe, it moves from one point to another, that is, it bypasses national economies. Thus, does not benefit citizens. He says, “capital is globe-hopping, not globe-covering.”

In looking at governance and the nation-state, Ferguson points out that governments have become nongovernmental while civil society has now taken some functions of governments. He calls this concept “transnational governmentality” because some of these civil societies have international connections that breach boundaries of nation-states.

I like Ferguson’s critique that seeks to draw attention to flaws in Anthropological methodologies that lump Africa at per with western worlds, and then proceed to castigate it from a Eurocentric perspective.

Paradoxes of sovereignty and independence: “real” and “pseudo-” nation-states and the depoliticization of poverty

Our understanding of global inequality and cultural differences should be examined from a global social, economic, and political perspective as opposed to the localization of such.  In this chapter Ferguson describes development in Lesotho, a nation-state recognized all over the world as a sovereign country, and Transkei, a Bantustan region, one of the many the Apartheid government of South Africa created to lump Blacks into. The logic of creating and making “autonomous” regions such as Transkei was to have a pool of labor for White South Africa while at the same time purporting to have granted freedom and independence to Blacks. As bad as this looks, Transkei was economically better than Lesotho, which is a sovereign country. Its sovereignty is a sham as its economy was still dominated and controlled by South Africa. But being a nation-state, Lesotho was blamed for its poor economy. The issue was no longer economic inequality but rather “development.” Similarly, granting regions autonomy/independence, meant that the Apartheid government could spin the narrative of economic inequality as a development issue as opposed to a political issue.

As Ferguson argues, one cannot depoliticize poverty as it is constitutive of the political challenges facing African countries. Sovereignty in Africa is a mockery. “None of the impoverished nations of the world are truly “sovereign” or “independent,” and nowhere do we find a true “national economy.” All these underscore the fact that there can be no local culture that is divorced from the wider and encompassing sphere within which they are conceptualized and articulated. Therefore, Ferguson concludes that anthropologists should reconsider ideas of “the field” as a unique site of culture.

De-moralizing economies: African socialism, scientific capitalism, and the moral politics of structural adjustment

Production of wealth and social relations are intrinsically linked and have their foundation in what the society considers “moral.” Most post-independence African governments embraced socialism of some sort. Nyerere, Nkrumah, Kaunda, Toure, and Kenyatta among others, advanced this idea as organically evolving from practices of African societies. At its foundation, socialism has the society as its nucleus. Capitalism, on the other hand, supports individual ownership of property and means of production.

Fergusson talks about the World Bank and IMF policies imposed on African countries without any empirical support apart from the fact that they were different from socialism and termed right. Their success was pegged on their difference with African policies. As history shows, these economic policies multiplied poverty in Africa and widened economic inequality. The blame went to African governments and their leaders. Since they are considered nation-states, the issue was depoliticized, chopped off from Washington and discuss from an African point of view. But as Fergusson notes, institutions such as the World Bank or IMF cannot offer viable solutions to African economies.

Therefore, any institution serving Africa must focus on what Africans consider as morally appropriate. Some policies, regardless of their viability or potential for success, will be opposed on the grounds that they do not augur well with what Africans consider morally acceptable. For instance, policies that allow a few people to amass wealth more than others might be tolerated if they can guarantee the minimum acceptable quality of life to the rest of the population. Ferguson’s discussion of Zambian economy illustrates this point clearly. People in Zambia do not care so much about what policy the government is implementing – be it humanism or neoliberalism – if the government feeds them.

Positive SSL

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)