Today marks Africa Liberation Day. It has been 60 years since the Organisation of African Unity declared May 25th Africa Liberation Day with a commitment to ending colonisation. Political colonisation may have ended, but a far more insidious and not always visible version thrives – economic and psychological colonisation. And our struggles for true liberation continue.
As we mark Africa Liberation Day 2023 we must cast our eyes, our struggles, and our work towards efforts to fight for Africa’s true liberation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the so-called ‘inequality virus’ exposed the nature of our world - how people and the planet are mortgaged for profit. And nowhere more than on the African continent. But still we rise!
The pandemic supercharged inequality, creating new billionaires and millionaires from COVID-19 profiteering. The economic fallout continues to unfold as some roll in the profit derived from the pandemic and the majority endure biting austerity and climate catastrophes. We see global price rises and a cost of living crisis that has hit the poorest hardest, squeezing households across the continent even further. It is in this context that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are coming to Africa for their October 2023 Annual Meetings in Marrakech, Morocco. What are they bringing to us? These institutions continue to offer the same disastrous package of economic advice to African and other countries in the Global South and promise economic recovery. We are not fooled. They have not delivered.
It is clear that real, systemic change to tackle the structural causes of inequality will only come from a concerted people powered movement. It is our voices not just the elites that must be heard to influence the narratives that drive policies, and the balance of power. Time is up for a broken economic system that is harming people and the planet. We want to remake our own economic destiny, without the recipe for disaster dished out by the IMF and the World Bank that only serves to keep our countries locked in a stranglehold of debt and austerity. They are not welcome on the African continent - their outdated policies are the last thing that Africa needs to overcome the economic and climate crises impacting millions. We reject neoliberalism. We reject the IMF and World Bank!
The economic policy advice and programs proffered by the international financial institutions (IFIs) is firmly rooted in an imperialist, extractivist, racist, and oppressive economic model that is doggedly focused on debt and domination.
No one expects the October meetings of the IFIs to offer new ideas or a fresh approach. Institutions and governments are still forging ahead with same old economic thinking and policies such as privatisation, gutting social security, prioritising profit over people and the planet and causing untold harm to citizens across Africa and the world. The devastating impacts of inequality can be seen everywhere from underfunded public services to crippling debt repayments and the attendant austerity measures.
It is not that Africa and the Global South are being “left behind”, we are being “pushed” behind. There is a design to the madness. The debt systems works as it is designed – it does not deliver for borrowing countries, it efficiently extracts resources - both human and material. It extracts dignified jobs and livelihoods, it extracts economic sovereignty, stability, and ability of countries, debt extracts and extracts and extracts. Debt dictates spending choices, determines priorities, drives decisions which ultimately are about who thrives, who withers, and even who dies. Governments are hamstrung about how they best serve their peoples. For instance, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, over 60 countries were spending more on debt payments than on healthcare. Debt burdens are a clear & present danger to people and the planet.
We must ask different and better questions – what is the real question in the midst of economic crisis, devastating floods, massive loss of life in Malawi or Haiti or Pakistan when the answer is “more loans, more debt”? What are the real questions when countries cannot educate women and girls, provide adequate health care or safe drinking water and the answer is privatisation, more austerity measures? What is the question when the answer is pain, suffering, death for millions? What is the real question given the climate crisis when the answer is “Carbon trading”? Why do the IFIs continue to prescribe policies that deliver obscene wealth and create more millionaires and billionaires in an ‘economic pandemic’?
We know that investing in universal, quality public services – health, education, provision of safe water & sanitation, housing, etc – defending workers’ rights and livelihoods, protecting the planet would be a good start to fighting inequality. As would be taxing the rich and recognizing, redistributing and reducing women’s unpaid care burden. We must look for and work at proposals that seek to eliminate inequality in all it innumerable manifestations to heal the planet and all her peoples.
We must measure economic wellbeing better and differently, not by the number of new millionaires and their luxury yachts or corporate profits. We must measure economic wellbeing by the number of children who go to bed hungry every night; the number of women who die in childbirth; the number of species who go extinct every year; the number of unimmunized children; the number of kilometers women walk each day to fetch water; the number of homeless people; the number of women without land; the number of children who are not in school; the number of women who cannot read and write – in Africa and around the world.
Then perhaps we could make real progress and next year mark an African Liberation Day where everyone thrives. Together we must fight for this. Sign the Call to Action – Let’s Remake our Broken Economies here.
Njoki Njoroge Njehû
Coordinator, Fight Inequality Alliance Pan-Africa