African Democracy

July 10, 2008

Out of the fryingpan? The role of the IMF and World Bank in Africa

Filed under: Zimbabwe — africandemocrat @ 1:00 pm
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Sooner or later the political parties in Zimbabwe will have to get together a find a way forward for Zimbabwe.  The current jockeying for power will most likely be overtaken by the urgency of food shortages and the worthlessness of the Zimbabwe dollar.

So, what will happen to the economy when either a transitional government is formed, or the MDC gains effective control of Zimbabwe? 

The MDC has already indicated that they will engage the IMF and World Bank to help Zimbabwe out of the economic doldrums.  Britain, the US and the EU have all promised “massive” aid to Zimbabwe conditional on Mugabe and Zanu(PF) stepping down.

The question, “What strings are attached?” should be asked.  As soon as Mugabe retires, dies or is pushed out, there will be a rush of speculators wanting to make a quick buck in Zimbabwe.  In fact, Lonrho has already started a new fund based on buying commercial property in Zimbabwe.  Mining companies already have plans to expand their operations in Zimbabwe.

During the Cold War era, Africa was the playing ground of the Superpowers.  They jockeyed for influence and did deals with dictators who make Mugabe look like a Sunday School teacher.  After the 1970s oil crisis, the West was awash with cash, and huge loans were made to African countries with few questions asked.  In many cases, the money went directly to Swiss bank accounts belonging to the corrupt rulers of various Africa countries.

Eventually, the original despots, like Mobutu Sese Seko and Idi Amin were deposed, and the lenders came looking for repayment of their loans.  Even though the countries involved received little benefit from the loans, they have been forced to repay enormous amounts of interest.  Loans have been hugely inflated over the years by rollovers and interest on interest.  Some African countries spend up to 60% of their GDP servicing loans.  Since the 1980s, the IMF and World Bank have forced their “structural adjustment” programmes upon debtor nations, in the process further impoverishing Africa’s poor people.  Before these programmes were implemented, most African countries operated according to a form of benign socialism and their industries were mostly driven by import-replacement strategies.  The average African’s per-capita income was steadily increasing.  Since the structural adjustment programmes, the value of currencies has plummeted, per-capita income has dropped to pre-1960s levels and life expectancy has also been drastically reduced.

Of late, meetings of the G8 result in a great deal of hand-wringing over Africa’s woes, and promises of increased aid for African countries are made.  Of course, it’s one thing to make promises, and quite another to pay over the cash.  Only a tiny fraction of the promised aid ever reaches the poor nations of Africa.

The total amount of economic aid to Africa is only a fraction of the total amount of debt repayments that African nations are making to the IMF, World Bank, foreign governments and private companies for loans incurred decades ago by the likes of Idi Amin.  Rich nations seem to be blind to the hypocracy of bleeding poor nations to death (literally in many cases) by demanding repayment of loans that in fact have already been repayed many times over in real terms while making empty promises of “aid” to alleviate the human suffering that is directly caused by the debt repayments.

Whomever takes over from Mugabe and regardless of which political party or parties are tasked with ruling Zimbabwe, they should strenuously avoid accepting any loans that have onerous strings attached.  At this point, few Zimbabweans have anything to lose, and incurring debt that future generations will be forced to repay just perpetuates the injustices of colonialism.  Those who wish to assist Zimbabwe to rebuild itself as a democratic nation should be willing to give generously without imposing self-serving conditions to their donations.  Any loans that are arranged should be realistic and directly beneficial to Zimbabwe’s citizens.

The future rulers of Zimbabwe would be well advised to take no responsibility for any debt incurred by the Mugabe regime and to insist on starting with a clean slate.  They will be well advised to steer clear of World Bank and IMF advisors that try to force them to adopt Milton Friedman’s Big Business-friendly economic theories that have so clearly failed to lift any Third World country out of poverty.  Instead of co-opting the economic failures of the Western World, they should adopt a “Zimbabwe First” economic policy that leverages Zimbabwe’s rich natural resources to create wealth for Zimbabwe’s citizens, and no longer for the wealthy former colonial powers and particularly the corporate interests that are the de-facto governments of those former colonial powers.

All indications so far are that Morgan Tsvangirai is somewhat naive about matters of economics and somewhat ignorant of how the Global Village is run.  Hopefully this will be rectified if the MDC rises to power in Zimbabwe.

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