By Adejumobi, Said
New African , No. 524
EVERYTHING IN LIFE, THE ADAGE goes, has its time and season; so is the life of nations and peoples. Civilisations come and go; nations rise and decay. This is the natural cycle for all social creatures and human formations. Egypt and the old Roman Empire were once the sites of global power and influence, yet, they are both countries struggling to find their feet in political and economic terms, in the first half of the 21st century.
In the past four decades, the cycle of history has unfolded in remarkable, yet unexpected ways. Africa in the last two decades of the 20th century was the symbol of hopelessness, what Joseph Conrad calls the "heart of darkness". In a twist of history, Europe today is the epicentre of global economic trepidation. Africa tends to be recovering, Europe seems to be in dire straits! Nature seems to be vegetating its cycle.
To recount the cycle of history, in the 1980s and 1990s, many Sub-Saharan African countries were steeped in a deep economic crisis. Africa--a continent, where the people largely produce what they do not consume, and consume what they do not produce, courtesy of a distorted history, vulnerability to economic crisis was an enduring threat. In the early 198os, this threat manifested. Cash-strapped, many African countries had to go cap in hand in search of financial saviours. Their journey took them to Europe and America.
Like a young deviant child in default, Africans were tutored in the ABC of economic management, how to play the rules of the economic game, and how to live within their means! Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was the solution rammed down the throat of many African countries by Western institutions and countries.
Just as Africa did not have an escape route with colonial incursion, there was little room for political manoeuvring by many African countries, on the verge of financial bankruptcy and serious debt overhang. They therefore reluctantly acquiesced to the policy reforms of SAP. Those who were to pay the piper insisted that they must dictate the tune of the dance! SAP emphasised the diminution of the state and its capacity. SAP created a binary opposition between the state and the market, alleging that the state is the criminal culprit in the economic crisis in Africa. The state was regarded as being over-bloated, its bureaucracy inefficient and wasteful, its working-class over-pampered and over-paid, its currency over-valued through administrative controls, public expenditure inflated and leakages in the economy, too excessive.
The solution advocated was for African countries to adopt strict austerity measures in drastically cutting state budgets, trimming their workforces, selling off many government enterprises and corporations through privatisation and liberalisation, allowing exchange rates to respond to the forces of demand and supply, disbanding a wage legislation regime, and giving unfettered reign to the forces of the market to control the economy.
SAP was a painful political pill for many African countries to swallow. For countries with limited or underdeveloped private sectors, disengaging the state from the economy, social welfare and the employment/ wage regime was a difficult task. But with little choice, they grudgingly pushed on with the reform process.
SAP produced many casualties and much collateral damage. Funding of educational institutions suffered, with the quality and standard of schools deteriorating significantly, public health plummeted, many civil servants lost their jobs, and there was social discomfort and dislocation in many countries.
The good news about SAP was that in it lay the seeds of political change in Africa. The clamour for democratisation in Sub-Saharan Africa was largely prompted by the pains of SAP. Many Africans voted with their legs in public demonstrations, and violent outbursts agitating not only against SAP but also authoritarian and corrupt leadership, which could not prevent the inevitability of the SAP measures. …