Elections don't bring changes

Current popular protests in African countries are directed not only against political leaders but also against the whole system affecting people’s social and economic lives, argues well-known French-Egyptian economist Samir Amin. At the CODESRIA general assembly in Dakar early in June he expressed concern that democracy has been reduced to elections only.

“Perhaps the people of Burundi and elsewhere are tired of so called presidents-for-life tampering with the constitution to cling to power. However, l am not convinced that fair and transparent elections involving other candidates would change many things for the people in general.”

Amin argues that elections have lost meaning when everything is decided by the market and its operatives. “What is the point of voting for this party or that if all of them are compelled to rule through the same policies dictated by the market?”

That is why Africa needs not structural adjustment but structural transformation aimed at strengthening capacity and transforming the continent into an active global player. This will eventually lead to changes in Western economies, which will have to abandon their dominant position.

Currently, the US and Western/Northern Europe exploit global power inequalities. “When a US president says that the American lifestyle is not negotiable, it really means that others have to accept that their resources are being plundered to maintain consumerism and wealth in the US,” Amin remarks.In Amin’s view, the world is capitalistic and imperialistic, with the centre dominating the periphery. States on the periphery have to adapt to the wishes of the powers in the centre. The current economic system offers nothing but permanent pauperisation of Africa’s peoples

“For example, DR Congo has to adjust in order to contribute to the consumers of the US. However, structural adjustments never work the other way around. The US or other central states never have to adjust to benefit the people in Congo,” Amin says.

Things may change, according to Amin. Recent political events in Greece and Spain suggest a shift, with people questioning the current system. However, it is still too early to say much about Africa.

“During the World Social Forum in Tunis, we tried to assess the Arab Spring. Of course, we can identify what has happened and what has not – but it is still an ongoing process. We will just have to wait and see,” Amin concludes. 

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