Magazine article New Internationalist

SAP (Structural Adjustment Programmes) Is Really Sapping Us: The World Bank Still Trumpets Claims That Its Economic Prescriptions for Africa Are Working: Ordinary People Right across the Continent Can Supply Them with Evidence to the Contrary

Magazine article New Internationalist

SAP (Structural Adjustment Programmes) Is Really Sapping Us: The World Bank Still Trumpets Claims That Its Economic Prescriptions for Africa Are Working: Ordinary People Right across the Continent Can Supply Them with Evidence to the Contrary

Article excerpt

THE women in Kauyan Kulle, a small village in northern Nigeria, used to have a savings club. Each would contribute a regular sum and in rotation someone would keep the pot to spend - on their businesses, on wedding ceremonies, on food or clothes for their children. About seven years ago they stopped and haven't been able to start again. 'We don't do it now because it causes trouble among friends,' says one of the women, Hajara. 'People can't afford the stake regularly any more and the savings group breaks down before everyone has had their turn to keep the pot.' The stake used to be one naira (about five cents) a week.

They've virtually stopped going to the clinic from Kauyan Kulle too. It isn't that they don't value health care. The Kauyan Kulle community association provided the materials and the labour and built a dispensary in the village. But the Government didn't fulfill its promise to provide a trained worker to run the dispensary and to supply basic medicines. And it's too hard to walk the 13 kilometres to the road with a sick child on your back, take a bus the rest of the way to the nearest clinic that is open - and then, after queuing for hours because the clinic is understaffed, find that even aspirins cannot be provided because of cutbacks on 'unproductive social services'. And after that you must still walk back home, child on back, and look after the family.

Both of these are consequences of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which Nigeria has been implementing at the behest of the IMF and the World Bank since 1986. The architects of SAP see the crisis in Africa as one of production. At its simplest, this thesis holds that African governments have been mismanaging their economies: not producing sufficient goods (whether of primary materials or industrial manufacture) to sell or export in order to pay for their expenditure on imports and social services (not to mention their debt repayments).

Thus put, the solution to the crisis is also simple: a SAP. This would cut government spending, especially on 'unproductive' social services; privatize public - sector enterprises; devalue currencies so that imports are expensive and exports are cheap, thus aiming to promote domestic investment and increase export earnings.

Everybody knew that this would be difficult. The World Bank explained that 'in many developing countries a period of painful macro - economic adjustment was unavoidable'. In order to make this solution more palatable, relatively low - interest loans were promised through the IMF and the World Bank to those countries agreeing to accept SAPs. Furthermore loans from other sources (from Northern governments or from private banks) have increasingly been made conditional upon the acceptance of SAPs. As a result SAPs have been accepted and implemented in practically every country in Africa.

Unfortunately the accuracy of the initial diagnosis is doubtful. The terms of trade for almost all primary products, like coffee or cocoa (on which most African countries are dependent as export commodities), have been deteriorating constantly. And it is this dependence on raw commodities which is the main problem, not the amount of goods produced or grown. This is an historical legacy which derives not from the mismanagement of present states, but rather from the deliberate policies of the colonial rulers of Africa. During the colonial period, much of Africa (South Africa apart) was actually de - industrialized and resources that might have been used as capital to industrialize were siphoned off to the colonizers' homeland.

Nonetheless it seemed at first as though SAPs might work. Naana, a small farmer in southern Ghana, found she was receiving higher prices for her cocoa when marketing boards and other restrictions were lifted and she was able to sell her crops directly. Consequently she increased production - as did many other cocoa farmers. However, since then there has been a glut and the price of cocoa has dropped on the world market. …

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