In his first television interview since his arrest in New York City, former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) described his encounter with the African maid from Guinea as a “moral failing.” It was a consensual act, DSK insisted; there was no “violence, constraint or aggression” involved, and she had “lied” in her accusations against him.
DSK’s acceptance of “moral failings” towards an immigrant African maid correlates strongly with the relationship that has been in existence between the institution he only recently headed, and countries of sub-Saharan Africa. When in the 1980s the IMF imposed the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) on vulnerable, ill-advised, gullible sub-Saharan African countries, the institution insisted that it was “consensual,” “an agreement,” it was called.
For close to two decades, IMF forced African countries to cut their minuscule public spending on education, health and food subsidies. As a result, millions of Africans died who could not afford even the most basic healthcare. Millions dropped out of school who could no longer afford the exorbitant school fees. Education became a luxury item, accessible only to the very rich. Brain drain became imperative for the highly qualified, research oriented professors. Their less qualified, money minded counterparts were retained. For indeed, there was money to be made from students in the form of bribes and sale of “materials.” Food subsidies were cut, and pictures of starving African children became the acceptable poster for global poverty. Interest rates were hiked and access to credit facilities frozen. African countries were mandated to throw open their borders and allow toothpicks, chewing gum, cotton wool, sand, or just about anything to flow in, unencumbered. Central Banks were directed to reduce barriers to trade such as tariffs and import duties, and to devalue their currencies in order to attract foreign direct investment.
Years later, the effects of SAP in Africa are all too glaring. In a rare collaborative effort, the World Bank, national governments and civil society, funded a three year study on the effect of SAP on several countries. The Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network (SAPRIN) report was released in April 2002. It states categorically that SAPs have been “expanding poverty, inequality...increasing tensions among different social strata, fuelling extremist movements and delegitimizing democratic political systems. Their effects, particularly on the poor are so profound and pervasive that no amount of targeted social investment can begin to address the social crisis that they have engendered.”
Again, just as DSK accepted that he had sex with someone he hardly knew her name, IMF intimately permeated sub-Saharan African economies with little or no knowledge of the dynamics and specific challenges of the continent. Consultants were flown in from mostly the United States who had never read an article written by an African or about Africa. This was not considered necessary to the IMF officials, the Economics textbooks the consultants flew in with was deemed sufficient. African culture and social realities did not count; the distinct historical experiences of the continent did not feature. The indigenous social, political and economic systems of African countries were deemed irrelevant. One size fits all, from America to Africa - undiluted - with love. Years later, Africa, like Nafissatou Diallo the Manhattan Maid, is nursing wounds, very serious wounds from that intimate encounter.
Very similar to Nafissatou’s actions after the sexual encounter with DSK, also, quite a number of African intellectuals and informed citizens have protested against the injustices of the IMF imposed conditionalities on Africa. In books, journal articles, opinion editorials, documentaries, and other legitimate means, concerned individuals have voiced their strong thoughts about the destructive effects of the SAP. Comparable with Nafissatou’s experience, however, these calls have been dismissed by the white owned mainstream media and intellectual platforms. Like Nafissatou, Africa has been branded an unreliable glutton who is searching for who to leech on to solve her numerous troubles.
Very much like DSK, who at first would not as much as acknowledge that he ever met Naffisatou, the IMF initially denied the crippling effect of SAP on sub-Saharan Africa.
“Adjustment is Working” the institution said in a report released in 1994. As evidence exponentially mounted, humility set in. DSK acknowledged his “moral failings,” and IMF began to note that “development is a complex phenomenon...nobody has all the answers... we keep learning from experience... there are rapidly changing realities.” All these said without formal apologies or restitution; not from DSK to Nafissatou, and not from IMF to sub-Saharan Africa.
Nafissattou, like sub-Saharan Africa remains violated and sore. Wounded, poor, but not helpless. Nafisattou has applied for civil hearings, legitimately taking justice in her own hands, refusing to be intimidated. So also, Africa must take the reconstruction of her economy in her own hands.
Latin America and Asia realized this long ago, and breaking away from Western manipulation, have been able to build up their economies to what it is today. Africans must learn from the past experiences of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. The past should remain in the past, yes, but the past could re-appear uninvited in the present if lessons are not learnt and carefully noted.
African development lies squarely on the shoulders of Africans. African development will only thrive on a solid foundation of indigenous knowledge and African consciousness. Late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere addressing the South African Parliament on 16 October, 1997 puts is so succinctly, “we have to depend upon ourselves, both at national level and at the collective level.
Each of our countries will have to rely upon its own human resources and natural material resources for development.” Indeed, the time has come for African countries working together, to take up responsibility for their own development. Salvation for Africa can never come from the West nor from the East, but from within.