Abstract: Globalisation with its resultant trade agreements and other global conventions have not benefited nor liberalised nor even improved the situation of people and women in particular, in the Sub-Saharan Africa. At best even the Governments who are ratifiers of these agreements and conventions are rendered powerless when it comes to negotiating favourable terms and conditions for the developing countries which would lead them to development and prosperity so that all people can live a good life. In spite of all the supposedly ‘good intentions’ for the economic growth of the world and the developing world in particular, the methods and systems of achieving these intentions have, however, worked to the detriment of the African people. These ‘good intentions’ have injured the dignity of the African people especially the women and children. FDI has indirectly brought with it hidden negative impacts on the lives of women and the girl children in Africa Women are viewed by foreign investors as a source of cheap labour which is docile and will not create problems and less likely to become trade union activists. They are also viewed as sex objects.
Keywords: Sub-Saharan African trade agreements , foreign investors, Bretton Woods institutions’ policies, developing countriesl, cheap labour
In many developing countries today, sovereignty has been systematically eroded reducing their power and capacity to make decisions, which are beneficial to the economic development and well-being of their nationals and citizens. The profit motive and supremacy of the market in the developed world overrides issues of human rights, inequality, environmental safety, health and food security which shout d be of a serious concern to the developing countries. The commodification of life and monopolisation of knowledge through patenting of intellectual properties, indigenous science, products and practices should also be a source of worry for developing countries.
It is important to note that Globalisation with its resultant trade agreements and other global conventions have neither benefited nor liberalised nor even improved the situation of people and women in particular, in the Sub-Saharan Africa. At best even the governments who are ratifiers of these agreements and conventions are rendered power less when it comes to negotiating favourable terms and conditions for the developing countries which would lead them to development and prosperity so that all people can live a good life.
All initiatives by the global economic institutions have at best ignored the female face of poverty. Gender analysis issues have never been taken as a benchmark to measure PRSPs, SAPs, HIPCs. This is made worse by the fact that even our own governments have not yet taken on board the domestic gender issues commitments that they have ratified but have never implemented. Our own continental initiative known as New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) which is widely accepted and acknowledged as a tool for Africa’s economic development, does not provide linkages between trade, economy, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, health, safe water and gender nor does it provide concrete solutions to tackle the issues. NEPAD does not even offer solution of the unfavourable agreement, the Trade Related Intellectual Properties (TRIPs), as it relates to human dignity.
The global trade matters have dodged the Africans for decades. In spite of all the supposedly ‘good intentions’ for the economic growth of the world and the developing world in particular, the methods and systems of achieving these intentions have, however, worked to the detriment of the African people. These ‘good intentions’ have injured the dignity of the African people that of especially the women and children. The old saying that ‘the road to hell was paved with good intentions’ is very appropriate in this case. It is also true that the devil is always in the details, which details the Africans are not part of, because of their weak negotiating positions. Therefore, the situation on the ground poses a profound moral challenge to us all.
As I reflect on the theme ‘more than fair trade’ I can’t help but agree that economic policies associated with globalisation have led to alarming degradation of human dignity with the ever widening gap between the rich north and the poor south and might I add also, the widening gap between men and women. These policies lack basic principles of fairness, participation and sustainability. Any plan or policy devoid of moral capital in terms of cultivating a feeling of empathy towards the deprived will never receive the highest poverty reduction priority solutions that it requires. Lack of moral capital translates into disregard and disrespect for the most vulnerable people in society, the women and children, in safeguarding their dignity. Such arrangements can only be considered to be unjust and unfair as the people who conceive them. The concept of free trade has denied poor women of their livelihood by completely undercutting their small businesses, which for years, have sustained them, their families and their communities.
The Bretton Woods institutions’ policies, in addition to bad trade rules and conditions, have further left the traditional household economic systems and mechanism, where men who used to be breadwinners unemployed and frustrated through retrenchments, privatisation, liberalisation. The alarming high rates of poverty that are prevalent in Africa have further eroded this ‘glitter of globalisation’, in Zambia poverty stands at 85% of the population. The poverty related rights and responsibilities of national governments to ensure affordable access to clean water, health care, education, energy, transport and many other rights which need safeguarding and enforcement are watered down by the dictates of the international trade agreements.
It is important to recognise that trade policies are crucial cornerstones of economic decision making anywhere in the world and their implementation have significant implications on gender equality, poverty eradication and social and human development. Therefore all trade agreements at whatever level should integrate comprehensive gender perspectives into all its activities and it should facilitate the appointment of substantial number of women, committed to gender issues, at very high level positions.
Our environment is being depleted and/or destroyed through the policies of free trade and liberalisation with the knowledge of our political leaders who faithfully ratify those agreements.
The African Experience
FDI has indirectly brought with it, hidden negative impacts on the lives of women and the girl children in Africa. Women are viewed by foreign investors as a source of cheap labour which is docile and will not create problems and who are less likely to become trade union activists. They are also viewed as sex objects. In Zambia, the working conditions of (mostly female) employees on farms are very poor. The salaries are low and housing is of very low quality. At worst in Zambia a February 2000 media report highlighted a case of a female agricultural employee on the Copperbelt where a foreign investor invited her to apply lotion on his body after a bath. The foreign investor also asked the female employee to apply the lotion to his genitals as well. She was so shocked that she reported the matter to the police. In another case a foreign investor searched all women employees on suspicion that they could be hiding some goods from his shop in their underwears. All these examples point toward gender violence perpetrated by free trade.
Our water is being privatised, our land is being privatised and sold to ‘investors’, profits are being diverted to develop the already developed north leaving our continent prostituted and abandoned. All the while our environment is providing raw materials for the already rich north just as it has done for centuries since the colonial days.
Millions of women and children are bent over in our ‘investors’ farms breaking their backs, putting both their physical and emotional health at risk as they provide cheap labour to investors who, at the end of the day, export and externalise both the product and the profits and leave our continent poorer than they found it.
Women and children are breaking stones on the side of the roads which they sell cheaply to investors, facilitated by free trade, who are busy constructing elaborate structures for their dwelling and ventures from which they make huge profits for externalisation.
Women, with entrepreneurial skills are lined up, this very minute, along the roads everywhere on the continent trying, with little lack, to sell their goods which cannot compete with cheap imports brought in by either investors or middle persons.
In July there were WTO talks in Geneva and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMFSA) Secretary General who attended the talks reported that “the greatest challenge of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) was to live up to its promise in Doha to make it a truly development agenda. Unfortunately, Africa will continue to pay the price. Africa should continue to press for a fair and just world”. The Doha Round of Negotiations, which began in 2001 was supposed to be completed in four years but two and a half years down the line, little progress has been achieved in key areas of concern to Africa. This just goes to show that we need to find alternative ways of getting out of Africa’s predicament.
Wither Africa? My suggestion would be that we take a good look at ourselves — who are we, where did we come from, how did we get here and most importantly how can we get out of this mess we are in? My conclusion is that African problems can only be solved by African solutions conceptualised by Africans.
Last month when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came to Zambia to open the commercial and agricultural show in Lusaka he said, and I fully agreed with him, that Africa’s stagnation was blamed on bad policies. He said that the underdevelopment of African countries was as a result of policy mistakes embarked on after independence. He said no single African country had advanced in the past 47 years because of concepts that have no bearing on the survival of its citizens. He further said “what is the problem with Africa? If we look at countries coming out of war, they are backwards. Those that were at peace and under colonialism are also backwards. We should identify our problems and embark on concepts that work” (Sunday Mail 1st August, 2004).
This is a wake-up call to women of Africa. Men have led our continent for more than 47 years and we are still backward, it is time that women took the reigns of power and leadership if we are to see any development at all. This is a challenge that women should take up seriously.
- What choice do women have but to rise up, women at all levels and ‘tie our wrappers tightly around our waists’ for there is work to be done, issues to be resolved. Work that is different from our traditional roles assigned to us by socialisation. Women should march to the ‘battlefields’, in this case the international institutions empires and fight a war of words through aggressive negotiations. What Africa needs is serious transformation. It is important to note that in any situation, the people most affected have a primary right to participate in influencing policies and any other decisions that have a bearing on their lives, their families and their communities.
- Women need to declare moral ‘war’ against the rules and conditions of the trade and financial institutions through appropriate structures in their own countries. Therefore, women throughout the continent need to make deliberate but resolute efforts to sharpen their negotiation, advocacy and to lobbying skills. In addition, African women need to acquire as much knowledge and information as is needed to enable them to act. This trade war is complex and cannot be left to the wisdom of political decisions alone.
- We need to intensify economic literacy capacity and skills training as well as mobilising and organising those most affected in each country. Mobilising and building a firm resource foundation based on local material and human resource. Women in social society need genuine opportunities to learn about and to express their views and participate and influence the outcome of policies both international and domestic. It is absolutely essential that Africa should initiate and intensify home grown research and proper documentation of indigenous knowledge. It is critical that Africa continuously work at exposing all forms of injustices and violation of human rights to its people, in languages they can fully understand.
- The question is: how can we build a critical mass of women on our continent who can own the process which would ensure that there is full and fair participation in formulating rules that govern agreements and policies? I believe that women on the continent need to work flat out to sharpen their advocacy skills and knowledge base in order to influence policy makers towards fair trade policies both local, regional and international.
- It is critical to evaluate performance of our African delegations to many global meeting and conference. Whilst they are quick to ratify or sign the conventions, is it true that they are a part to the agreements and the decisions therein? The general sentiment is that participation of Africa has been limited by the lack of capacity to effectively negotiate and the ratification of the agreements, made implementation of the same agreements almost non-negotiable. The major trading countries impose the rules over the weakness of our negotiators.
- Whom shall we send, who will go for us? Any revolutionary transformation require good, strong, reliable leadership with invested moral capital. If women are to participate in decision making, they need leadership. Leadership which will strategically plan for women’s participation in fighting and/or negotiating for just and fair level ground so as to enable equitable participation of all concerned and one that can be sustained. In order for communities to be properly and strategically organised, for effective change, leadership is key. We need a leadership that will create a thirst, longing and desire for pro-activity amongst and between women.
Every dark cloud has a silver-lining. I was personally content when the Cancum meeting reached a deadlock when the Civil Society comprising of organisations thorn the south stood their ground end said they would not have it. That is one good example of what the South can do to assert themselves and brace for a transformation in the world. This action gives us hope and encourages us to plant ourselves where it matters i.e. on the table where decisions affecting us are being made; WTO, IMF, World Bank, politics and NGOs. If it means we speak in our own indigenous languages while thumping the tables, let us go for it, if that is what it takes.
SUZANNE MEMBE MATALE. Prolific writer based in Zambia. She is consultant for several development institutions in Africa. Has played an important role in women’s movement in Africa. She works with both government and non-government decision-making bodies concerning developmental issues of women.