Reflection: Social Justice – Africa Taken For A Ride

Despite the disastrous experiences of neoliberal polices, especially in Latin American and African countries, the international institutions are still imposing these policies on the developing countries. Few lessons have been learned from the past.

The fastest growing African economies are today found in Ethiopia, Ghana, Angola and Ivory Coast, taking the lead with more than 7% annual economic growth. Other strong economies are Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Algeria. In fact, according to International Monetary Fund, seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are found in Africa.

The economic evaluation of these countries are largely measured by Gross Domestic Product. A series of policies, which liberalise the markets, encourage privatisation of government sectors and social services, free trade, deregulation and stringent measures on government spending. Such neoliberal measures are meant to create a favourable environment for international trade and foreign investments.

Hence, key sectors that tend to be expanded and made more efficient include banks, construction of mega projects, such as railroads, hydro-electric projects, housing schemes, toll highways that connect major cities. Surprisingly enough, at the bottom of the list figure schools, hospitals, fresh water supply, and employment creation.

The neo-liberal economy ignores the common good of reducing poverty and creating better living standards for poorer populations. At the same time, the system erodes the middle class and sanitises economic systems that are not founded on the basic principles of social justice. This monolithic understanding of economy ignores also the multi-dimensional processes of socio-economic development, as well as the cultural and political embedment required to make any economic system successful.

The accumulative evidence demonstrates that there is a weak link between imposed neo-liberal economic models and conditions of life of the majority of these populations. In fact, most families have become poorer.

Contrary to the globalisation promises of poverty reduction and development, globally, “the number of people living in poverty has actually increased by about 100 million. This occurred at the same time that the total world income increased by an average of 2.5% annually” (Joseph Stiglitz, Globalisation and Its Discontents, New York: Norton, 2002).

Most mining and investment contracts with multinational companies have largely favoured foreign investors. Worse still, little or no structures have been established to address the increasing number of the marginalised among the marginalised.
The international neo-liberal systems of economy tend to hit hard at countries emerging out of conflict and struggling to rebuild their societies. In addressing the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction, global politics tend to favour a liberal peace approach that puts emphasis on liberalisation of economic systems, democracy, human rights advocacy and the rule of law.

However, without an integrated transitional justice system that takes into account citizen participation in addressing past human rights violations, and attempts to bring about national healing and reconciliation, post conflict reconstruction could expose weaker nations to further global injustices, dictated by marketization of the African populations.

Benedict XVI stated: “I ask all the members of the Church to work and speak out in favour of an economy that cares for the poor and is resolutely opposed to an unjust order, which, under the pretext of reducing poverty, has often helped to aggravate it” (Africae Munus, 79).

The future of development in Africa will largely depend on re-conceptualisation of an economic system that favours the needs of the poor, creates employment especially for the youth, improves citizen participation in governance through fair democratic systems, and respects human rights.

Fr. Elias 0. Opongo, SJ

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