Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Africa’s Struggling Left and the Greek Economic Crisis

By Takura Zhangazha*

Claimants to the African left had been excited over events in the European Union and its financially troubled member state, Greece.  The rise of the Syriza party (never mind its anti-immigration coalition partner) against the backdrop of popular resistance to tough economic austerity measures as given by the EU was obviously appealing to those of the global left.  Not just because of Greece but also the extensive euphoria that was (and perhaps still is) the rise of the left in Europe. Ditto Spain and Podemos.

It however appears, after the referendum that voted ‘no’ to austerity in Greece, the battlelines were not so much ideological in the global sense.  The fact that Greece still signed what the global media refers to as an equally bad if not worse austerity package means that the lessons to be drawn from these political events are not as positive as expected.

I am not sure if the Greeks, in their political actions were aware the extent to which the Global South may have been watching in order to learn from them. Or even if they cared.  The point of the matter is that, at their own government's admission, they cannot get out of austerity even if they wanted to. 

The refrain across their borders and continent would pessimistically probably be, ‘resistance is futile’.
Such a refrain would probably be less problematic for those in Latin America who find themselves in countries where there is a semblance of social and economic justice for their poor majorities. 

As for us in Africa, the examples of Greece make for depressing reading. Not least because we have been undergoing austerity since the turn of the cold war ala carte the Wold Bank and International Monetary Fund but also because alternative social democratic economic policy frameworks are not an agenda our governments or opposition political movements are organically keen on.

The reasons for this are essentially down to a lack of contextual, historical and organic application of learned or imported political and economic ideas by most of our leaders, teaching institutions and religious movements. This has led us to a conundrum where the more we do our politics, the less we reflect our ideals within the realm of our lived realities.

That is why we find that most African governments take to neo-liberal economic models when they should instead be embracing social democratic ones. We literally follow the money, only is so far as it suits the whim of those from whence it is coming from.  And our one time left leaning friends during our liberation struggles, the Chinese and the Russians, having made the shift to their own version of economic imperialism via state capitalism, no longer brook social democratic values as the raison d’être for their aid.  Hence the ease with which they introduce their own version of a world bank in the form of the BRICS Development Bank.

In light of this, every successor African government has steered clear of rocking the ‘free market’ boat. Even in the immediate aftermath of an independence struggle or a ‘velvet’ revolution as was the case in Tunisia.

Political capital, as in the case of Greece, counts for little in our circumstances.  It would almost appear as though resistance is futile.  But as always, we have to have a specific fortitude that transcends liberation struggle generations and begins to contextualize what were previously globally shared struggles for justice for all. 

In order to do this, Africa needs to be increasingly specific to its context and overcome given historical epistemology of what ‘economic progress’ may mean in European history.  We may still borrow ideas, economic models, but they must have a new historicity to them that understands that while we have had liberation struggles and  their all important legacies, our economic struggles require greater circumspection and imbuing with a value system that places the majority poor at their heart.  We may be ‘free markets’ in the lexicon of the Economist’s ‘Africa Rising’ neo-liberal narrative but we must not lose sight of our political capital, which remains the fact that the majority of Africans are struggling for a better life before they become profit figures for extractive governments and international corporations. 

So there might be some dry humour concerning how Greece was almost like Zimbabwe concerning the closure of its banks or inability to meet its debt requirements.  The predicament is however no laughing matter. Most African countries have suffered the bluntest of the effects of austerity for decades and are highly indebted. The reasons are many including generally inept political leadership and inorganic politics but also with the complicity of an exploitative neo-liberal global economic system. The differences with Europe may now reside in how we, as Africans, people position our political capital against such a system. The struggle, regardless of what has occurred in Greece, must continue.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blgospot.com)