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The Impact Of Globalization On Africa'S Social And Economic Conditions

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The Impact of Globalization on Africa's Social and Economic Conditions

In the twentieth century, the phenomenon of globalization rapidly swept across the world forcefully and powerfully. The very concept of globalization is difficult to exactly define, as it has vast meanings to a vast number of people. Globalization is a relatively new term used to describe a very old process. It is a historical course of action that began with our human ancestors moving out of Africa to spread all over the globe. In the millennia that have followed, the issue of distance has become obsolete and human-made barriers decreased or removed to facilitate the exchange of goods and ideas. Propelled by the desire to improve one's life and helped along by technology, both the interconnectedness and interdependence have grown. This increasing integration of the world or 'globalization' has enriched life but also created new problems. There are several aspects of globalization that are not debated. Globalization certainly has not affected all people equally. Additionally, one may convincingly argue that globalization is driven by capitalism, Western thought, and liberalism. The United Nations defines globalization as: "the growing interdependence of the worlds peoples . . . A process integrating not just the economy but culture, technology, and governance. People everywhere are becoming connected--affected by events in far corners of the world" (Kiggundu, 4).

Specialists on Africa, among others, have been drawn into the globalization paradigm, positing "globalization" as a challenge that Africa must meet or else as a construct through which to understand Africa's place in a world whose boundaries are apparently becoming more problematic. To the proponents of globalization, bringing capitalism and democracy to poor, developing countries is viewed as a gateway to increase quality of life economically and to create social equality. The critics of globalization claim that it ironically exacerbates the disparities that it hopes to eliminate or decrease. The imposition of austerity programs, the reduction of public services, the privatization of state-owned enterprises and resources, the erosion of democratic accountability, and a missionary belief in the absolute supremacy of "unregulated" markets, all are accompanying the ongoing spread of corporate globalization across the nations of the world. Although the transnational companies that help drive globalization are loyal to no nation, their interests are being well served by the policies of the United States.

While globalization's pervasiveness is unchallenged, the fundamental issue of its value remains. China and India, for example, have benefited greatly from the effects of market reform due to globalization. However, globalization has also generated significant international opposition over concerns that it has increased discrimination and environmental abuse (http://www1.worldbank.org/economicpolicy/globalization/). In Africa, the effects of globalization have been dismal at best. The thesis of this essay, then, is to defend the argument that globalization is not beneficial. Essentially, globalization has been the chief vehicle for the human rights violations, economic disparities, and general inequality in this region. The pressures to conform to universal codes of conduct has forced companies and enterprises to assimilate new values, which might be in conflict with traditional values or may be in direct opposition to community welfare. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have instilled policies that prevent developing countries from competing fairly on the global market and thus from attaining economic stability. Additionally, the unequal distribution of financial power to the elite ruling classes in many states works to fuel ethnic envy from the poor populations.

South Africa is a premier illustration of the effects of globalization. One distinctive feature of the South African case is that the globalization process was simultaneously accompanied by a political transition from apartheid to a democratic order. South Africa, under the ANC, has the dubious distinction in 2003 of having a larger income gap between the rich and poor than any other country in the world except Guatemala (www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Africa/SAfrica_WTO_Globalization.html, retrieved April 30, 2006). Although privatization schemes have been beneficial for a handful of countries, South Africa's poverty and disease levels continue to be unabated. Despite a multitude of reasons why these problems persist, many analysts believe that neoliberal policy that was adopted post-apartheid has exacerbated the problems that it set out to fix. Additionally, these analysts contend that the mechanisms for the neo-mercantilist policies responsible for this social organization were deeply entrenched before apartheid was abolished. Indeed, when the apartheid government was clearly ruined, faced with overwhelming international opposition and a fervent sanctions regime at the climax of the Cold War in 1989, the international financial institutions (IFIs) stepped in. In the early 1990s, the World Bank sent advisors to South Africa to advocate neo-liberal ideology and policies economic growth. In 1993, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted South Africa a $750 million loan conditioned on the adoption of neo-liberal policies (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Africa/SAfrica_WTO_Globalization.html, retrieved April 30, 2006).

Nelson Mandela and the new ANC establishment in South Africa adopted elements of the neo-mercantilist agenda enthusiastically in the first post-apartheid national economic program called the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). The RDP did retain some redistributive elements, but these were rapidly abandoned in favor of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) program in 1996, due to the growing influence of the neo-liberals in the ANC. Not surprisingly, GEAR was drawn up almost solely by 15 economists picked from the World Bank, neo-liberal think tanks, and various African development banks. The GEAR program emphasized commercializing and then privatizing all of South Africa's public companies and services. It drastically cut government spending and secondary taxes on corporate profits. It

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