How The IMF-World Bank and Structural Adjustment Program(SAP) Destroyed Africa.
Herbert Jauch , Labour Resource and Research Institute, Namibia
During the 1980s the Mozambiquen leadership tried to find a way of protecting social achievements when dealing with external financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank. This did not last long and a process of ‘recolonisation’ unfolded. Privatisation hit every sphere of the country’s social and economic life: banking, cotton industry, agriculture, health and education.Today Mozambique is dominated ” not by the agents of a colonial power, but by the technically sophisticated and politically disinterested economists of the IMF , the World Bank and of bilateral aid agencies whose prescriptions are determined by economic analysis” (Plank).
Other signs of structural adjustment policies are the government’s commitment to sweeping privatisation which is justified as a means of making state-run and state-owned companies more efficient. ‘Commercialisation’ is mentioned almost daily in the media and has become the ‘religion’ of economic policy. The Namibian government is also determined to reduce the size of the civil service and believes that economic development can only be achieved through foreign investments and export-led growth. These are definite signs that structural adjustment has arrived.
SAPs and Globalisation
Overall, SAPs have reversed some of the gains made by ‘developing’ countries in their attempt to find an autonomous development process that would suit local conditions. The rolled back some of the achievements made by African states in the post-colonial era (see Goncalves: 6-8). Countries like India, Mexico, Algeria and Brazil are now returning to their former dependency on and subordination to the industrialised world (see Toussaint and Comanne 1995: 17). Chipeta points out that this is no accident as ESAPs were not designed to promote genuine economic development. “Each policy is designed to fail so that the implementing country can enter into another programme”. In other words, an implementing country becomes permanently locked into ESAPs which are designed by the industrialised blocks to shape developing countries according to their needs (Chipeta: 11).
SAPs as a part of the broader process of globalisation have increased the manoeuvring space for Transnational Corporations to an unprecedented level. They could utilise the opportunities created through privatisation and the general economic liberalisation. However, it is important to point out that the political and economic elite of ‘developing’ countries has also played a crucial role in the adjustment process. These elites often used the initial loans for their own benefits. They continued a life in luxury while telling their people to tighten their belts. Even under structural adjustment they were hardly the ones who suffered and sometimes even benefited from SAPs. When public services deteriorate or disappear they can afford private schools and hospitals. They often benefited from privatisation by obtaining functioning enterprises at give-away prices and they benefit from low labour costs as a result of labour flexibility. Susan George has accurately summed up the results of SAPs and globalisation when she wrote about the global apartheid economy:
‘The Bretton Woods twins have become the managers of a global apartheid economy in which the transnational elite from both “North” and “South” plays the role of the “whites”; a shrinking and anxious middle class the role of the “coloureds”; and finally, at the bottom, the vast sea of wretchedness made up of “blacks”, whatever their literal skin colour’ (1995:23).
The failure of SAPs have often led to violent protests that were often repressed with great brutality. The IMF/WB have ignored all critics for years and even today continue to argue that the situation would have been worse without SAPs. In recent years, they tried to respond to public criticism by moving towards adjustment ‘with a human face’. They are now prepared to look at a very basic safety net and have allowed some countries (e.g. Egypt) to maintain some subsidies on essential food products. However, the basic philosophy and the believe in the unregulated free market have remained unchanged (see Bournay 1995: 52).
Although the relative share of the ‘developing’ countries’ debt in the world’s debt has declined, the people of those countries still have to suffer under structural adjustment programmes. They still have to pay a heavy price to ensure that the debt is paid. The same is now happening in the former countries of the Soviet bloc that are also forced to undergo structural adjustment. Debt is even becoming an issue in the rich industrialised countries as people there are now also experiencing austerity measures that are similar to structural adjustment. Industrial countries justify cuts in social spending as necessary to reduce the public debt. Toussaint and Commanne pointed out that: ‘While austerity measures imposed in the North do not have tragic consequences equal to those in the South and East, the results are nonetheless destructive’ (1995:18).