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Globalisation when corporations govern. (2002 in Review).

"Globalisation is not a policy choice--it is a fact," said Bill Clinton. Today USAID boasts on its website to "integrate GM into local food systems". No wonder Africa still cannot find its way through the globalisation logjam.

Choice is to democracy what air is to humans, or is it? Not quite, when you read Private Planet--Corporate Plunder and the Fight Back, this veritable eye-opener by the British oceanographer, David Cromwell. His humanity and concern for the world's poor makes him the type of man a girl can take home to his mother. After you read him, you see dearly why Africa is groping in the minefield called the world economy. His well-referenced book covers the whole gamut of the current geopolitical order that has ensured that Africa (particularly) and other developing countries are at the eternal mercy of the big powers and their multinational corporations.

This is so, because, as David Edwards who wrote the preface says, "globalisation, in essence, involves the subordination of the well being of people and planet to maximised short-term corporate profit. To refine this further, we can say that it is a system intended to permit a small number of wealthy people to generate more wealth at the expense of the vast majority of poorer, powerless people now and far into the future."

Edwards names George Kennan, once head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, as his supporter. Kennan had brazenly pointed out in 1948 that the key post-War US foreign policy goal was to maintain the disparity in wealth between America and the rest of the world.

"Our real task in the coming period," Kennan had said, "is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.

"To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction... We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratisation."

Therefore, Edwards concludes, "the real 'domino effect' that terrified Western planners during the Cold War, was not the threat of Communist expansion, but the threat of independent nationalism. Were the poor to throw off the dictatorship of the West and better themselves in one part of the world, then people elsewhere might be inspired to follow this 'threat of a good example'."

As Cromwell points out: "The demonisation of enemies is useful, essential even, in justifying strategic geopolitical manoeuvring and the defence of corporate interests around the world, while mollifying home-based critics of such behaviour."

In recent decades, the foriegn policies of the powerful countries these have been implemented mainly through the back door--via NGOs and multinational corporations. As Richard Grossman, a British legal expert, says "When corporations govern, democracy flies out the door."

In reality, the politically and economically weak countries in Africa and elsewhere have little say and stake in globalisation. For example, the global banana market is dominated by just three American-owned transnational corporations--Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte. In 1992, this trio had 66% of banana sale in Europe.

In short, Africa's small banana producers cannot compete in the face of the dominance of the America Trio, a fact immortalised by Dr Caroline Lucas, the British Green member of the European parliament: "The expansion of these companies in the developing world," she said, "is destroying indigenous traders and manufacturers who find they can't gain the economies of scale the large companies can achieve." And this has been the plain truth in Africa.

Cromwell provides examples upon examples of how the dominance was achieved and how it is protected. He cites the secretive Bilderburg group where the high and mighty of (mostly the Western) world meet and "fix the rules of the game". And they have been meeting every year since they first met in a Dutch hotel, Bilderburg, in 1954.

"The Bilderberg talks, named after the hotel where the first meeting took place," reveals Cromwell, "provide conditions of exclusive luxury, vast armed security and secrecy for elite interests to get together. Tony Blair, when questioned in 1998 in the House of Commons, failed to disclose the attendance at the Bilderburg meeting in Athens in 1993," Cromwell says. "Attendees at the 1999 gathering in Sintra, Portugal, included the Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, billionaire oil and banking tycoon David Rockefeller, Monsanto chief Robert Shapiro, and the head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn.

"Although policy is not decided at such meetings, they are part of the consensus building which directs the thinking of the world's most powerful political and corporate figures.

"Gibby Zobel, a journalist at The Big Issue [in London] who obtained leaked documents of the 1999 gathering, reported that although 14 media chiefs and journalists from eight countries attended, none of them chose to tell their readers of the meeting. 'It would nor serve their interests to be car out of the elite loop', said Zobel."

Whereas the Bilderburg group is an informal arrangement, yet another business forum called the Trilareral Commission, is a more formal and focused affair. It brings together top business people, politicians and bankers from Japan, USA and the EU (note: no Africa). "Edicts from the Trilareral Commission," says Cromwell, "are taken seriously by governments, such as the following 'Europe must become more competitive by deregulating labour markets and streamlining burdensome welfare systems'."

Why Africa always gets a bad deal can be seen from the lack of African figures and voices at such important gatherings. Our of sight, out of mind. And so, when African leaders went to the G8 recently with their Nepad plan looking for $64 billion a year to develop Africa, they returned home with the promise of a paltry $1 billion a year for six years.

Cromwell compares that with what the big powers did during the 1997 Asian economic crisis that badly affected Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines.

"In a corporate coup of staggering proportions," Cromwell says, "the IMF and the US Treasury devised a $120 billion 'rescue plan' for the free-falling Asian economies [note the difference between the $120 billion and the $1 billion Africa was promised by the G8]. This opened up Asian markets yet further to foreign capital, enabling corporations and investors in the US, Europe and Japan to buy Asian companies at rock-bottom prices.

"It is important," Cromwell continues, to note that when the IMP moves in to 'bail out an ailing economy', it does so with public money donated by contributor governments. Despite recent talk of reform, the IMF remains essentially an agent providing insurance cover for private investors at public expense. Iris a popular misconception, originated by elite interests and propagated by the mainstream media, that IMF bailouts are designed to help debtor countries. In fact, the bailouts help international investors: they are the ones who actually receive the money.

As the world economy has become increasingly "globalised", the international monetary system has become increasingly fragile. This is where Africa, again, has been extremely unlucky. With new and newer economic fads coming up each day, Africa has been called upon (in fact, dictated to) by the big powers to do this or that, irrespective of the local conditions.

As Dr Caroline Lucas points out: "East Asia's economy expanded at a time when they were allowed to protect their own industries--something which is now nor allowed under the WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules."

Not only that, economic dominance and military dominance are intimately linked, and so poor Africa finds itself in an untenable situation today.

In his book, The Ambiguities of Power, (which was based on a careful examination of the historical record), the historian Mark Curtis shows that "the primary aim of UK government foreign policy has been--and remains--to secure British profits and economic interests abroad, at the expense of human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability. Britain's post-War role in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and elsewhere--often as the adjutant to the US--is shameful".

Currently, "to secure these profits", GM food and technology are being pushed as a hot-potato issue in Africa. America's recent arms-twisting tactics in famine hit Southern Africa, where it has forced GM maize as "relief aid" on reluctant recipient-countries (instead of the preferred GM-free maize), is a salutary lesson of the shape of things to come.

As the British writer and environmentalist, George Monbiot, pointed out in a recent article in The Guardian (21 Nov 2002): "USAID...boasts on its website [that] 'the principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programmes has always been the United States. Close to 80% of USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms. Foreign assistance programmes have helped create major markets for agricultural goods, created new markets for American industrial exports and meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans'."

Monbiot continued: "The US is unique among major donors in that it gives its aid in kind, rather than in cash. The others pay the World Food Programme, which then buys supplies as locally as possible. This is cheaper and better for local economies.

"USAID, by contrast, insists on sending, where possible, only its own grain... America's food aid programme provides a massive hidden subsidy to its farmers. One of USAID's stated objectives is to 'integrate GM into local food systems'.

"Earlier this year, USAID launched a $100m programme for bringing biotechnology to developing countries. USAID's 'training' and 'awareness raising' programmes will, its website reveals, provide companies such as 'Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto' with opportunities for 'technology transfer' into the poor world. Monsanto, in turn, provides financial support for USAID."

And then comes the really scary "The famine [in Southern Africa, and now Ethiopia]," Monbiot reported, "will permit USAID to accelerate this strategy. It knows that some of the grain it exports to Southern Africa will be planted by farmers for next year's harvest. Once contamination is widespread, the governments of those nations will no longer be able to sustain a ban on the technology."

Although, thanks to public outcry, the "Terminator" technology, jointly patented by the US Department of Agriculture with Delta & Pine Land (later taken over in 1998 in a $4 billion buy-out by Monsanto), has been rejected in the West, the biotech companies involved (including Monsanto) have nor ruled out the development of other "gene protection" technologies in the future.

The "Terminator" technology, as its name implies, "genetically corrupts seeds, so that seed saved from a crop will nor germinate and cannot be used to produce the next crop, a system which literally goes against the grain of sustainable agriculture," says Cromwell. "The Terminator technology is perhaps the most invidious means by which US 'marker penetration' in the South could yet be achieved."

But, thanks to public pressure, Mosanto announced in October 1999 that "we are making a public commitment not to commercialise sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed Terminator". But Africa should not be fooled. "There are many examples to demonstrate that, as the St Louis Post Dispatch put it, where Monsanto seeks to sow, the US government clears the ground," Cromwell pointedly warns.

The boost by USAID on its website to "integrate GM into local food systems" must be taken seriously by Africa.

Though Bill Clinton says there is no "choice" when it comes to globalisation, and Richard Grossman warns that "when corporations govern, democracy flies out the door", Africa cannot just do nothing in the face of the dangers posed to its future food security.

(Private Planet--Corporate Plunder and the Fight Back, is published by Jon Carpenter. 242 pages, [pounds sterling]12.99)
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Author:Boateng, Osei
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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