Africa and An Era of Globalization

The international community of the 21st Century is witnessing a structural change. Following the collapse of the Cold War order, the Gulf Wars, the aerial attack on Kosovo, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war on the Taliban, the Iraq war beginning in March 2003 and widespread acts of terrorism that followed, the impacts of globalization are far-reaching, affecting not only economy and society, but also politics and security. The international community is currently seeking ways to respond to these structural changes. In the midst of these changes in the international community, it appears that the African nations are still looking for ways to respond to the new era. Looking at the modern history of Africa, it can be surmised that the continent has always been at the mercy of changing global systems, regarded as an "object" of great power politics or even as a "pawn." Africa has been historically beset by the trends of the international community, as seen in the slave trade and colonization by the European superpowers, whose legacy lingered long after their independence in the form of artificial borders drawn by the imperial powers. Rough fortune continued after the independence, as they experienced strategic involvement by Cold War superpowers and the withdrawal of financial support following the end of the Cold War. The 1990s saw diminished interest in Africa within the international community, and their political and economic marginalization led to the intensification of civil unrest and regional conflicts, including ethnic wars and power struggles. "Marginalization of Africa" used to be a common issue, recognized within the international community framework amidst the vortex of the post-Cold War structural reform. However, the development of globalization in recent years has brought about changes to that end.

From marginalization to globalization

The situation has changed. The independence and autonomy of Africa, long regarded as a passive player in the international community, is now being called upon more strongly than ever. Africa has responded with the formulation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the development of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU). "Africa" has emerged as a top priority on the international agenda as African issues become increasingly global in nature. That is to say, Africa has emerged as an actor in its own right, on the very stage that had previously marginalized it. This implies that Africa has resurfaced on the radar in the international community and has come to attract the interest of more countries. Africa now stands at the frontline in a number of areas on the international agenda, including security, resources, migration, economic cooperation and epidemics. On the other hand, Africa is also becoming a stage for competition among major powers in the search to secure resources. It seems as if a "Scramble for Africa" is unfolding in the age of globalization.

Africa not reaping the benefits of globalization

Globalization is nothing more than the expansion of economic links through the borderless transfer of goods, services, people, information, labor power, technology and capital. Vitalization and expansion of free trade as theorized in the Washington consensus and market-first principles bring about a rigid demarcation between winners and losers. However, while Africa is at the forefront of important issues of the international agenda, it appears as if it is benefiting the least from the wave of globalization. Indeed Africa’s share (Sub-Saharan African countries) of the global economy is little more than 2.5%, and with the exception of oil-producing countries profiting from the recent price hikes and countries rich in mineral resources such as rare metals, few countries are enjoying the benefits of globalization. In order for the countries of Africa to achieve a historical resurgence, they must become substantive actors in globalization. African countries are not by any means poor. They possess abundant wealth in terms of primary commodities, including natural resources. However, these products have so far failed to create jobs and prosperity in Africa. This is because many African countries depend on one type of primary commodity and have focused on producing that single commodity without coupling them with processing industries. Consequently, they are vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices of primary commodities, while the worst affected have been exporters of mainly agricultural products, due to the slump in cacao and coffee prices since the beginning of the 1990s.

What must be done

For the African countries to capitalize on the opportunities presented by globalization, the challenge will be to face the significant barrier of protectionism by the developed countries. African countries need access to markets of the developed countries, which must be ensured while maintaining existing trade agreements with developed countries, including advantages and MFN treatment they have acquired, and special exceptions concerning the liberalization of markets. Major economic powers like the US, EU and Japan, as benefactors of globalization, extend enormous subsidies to protect their own farmers, which affect the global price of primary commodities. The most prominent example of this practice is the cotton industry. An estimated 25,000 persons in the US engaged in the cotton industry receive more than US$4 billion in subsidies each year. Furthermore, the current tariff barriers that impose heavy tariffs on processed primary products must be revised. Globalization is progressing in an environment disadvantageous to Africans. This year the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) and the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit will be held in Japan. Perspective that is needed for African development is not simply a volume of aid. Rather, Japan should take the initiative in in creating a global debate on the establishment of rules for vulnerable Africa that would not harm it.

Sadaharu Kataoka

  • Professor and Director, Waseda Institute of International Strategy