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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003) 205-218

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Globalization and African Identity

V. Y. Mudimbe
Duke University


THE QUESTION OF AFRICAN IDENTITIES GENERALLY IMPOSES ITSELF ASOBVIOUS and rarely interrogates its two components, "Africa" and "identity." What do they mean and since when, exactly? Moreover, and more importantly, there is always, implicit, another question: Who's speaking, and from which intellectual background, and in order to produce what and communicate a knowledge to whom? Finally, by conceiving, in the title of this intervention, Africa as an autonomous entity that we should bring into contact with globalization, or more exactly by situating it in a logical relationship of conjunction with globalization, could we posit also, at the same level, the possibility of debates on, say, the United States or Europe and globalization? Note, however, that specialized meetings have been organized around the theme of Latin America and globalization, the Middle East and globalization, Russia and globalization. I would like to suggest that in their apparent innocence, these facts invite a clearer reflection on our subject matter and demand a certain number of observations.

In order to apprehend some of these issues, let us begin by looking at concrete African case studies witnessing to globalization; secondly, focus on [End Page 205] the very concept of globalization; and finally, bring its polysemy and implicit economies of power—in terms of international organization of production—into contact with the problematic of African identities.

The Findings of the World Bank, published by the Knowledge Management and Learning Center, Africa Region 1 will serve us as an authoritative guide to the de facto progressive integration of the continent into a global international structure. Let us summarize certain signs by distinguishing two types of reports: general ones concerning the whole continent and particularized ones apropos individual countries. Thus, for instance, in terms of general evaluations:

  • African Development Indicators 1997 studies 53 countries and comments on such specifics as the population in mid-1996, land area, Atlas method dollars, average annual percentage growth, life expectancy at birth, primary and secondary school enrollment. The indicators allowing such syntheses are deduced from empirical data organized in 15 chapters. "Background data, national accounts, prices and exchange rates, money and banking, the external sector, external debt and related flows, government finance, agriculture, power/communication and transportation, labor force and employment, public enterprises, aid flows, social indicators, environmental indicators, and household welfare indicators" (Findings, May 1998).
  • Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR). Initiated in the mid-1980s, the SPAAR, based in the World Bank headquarters, includes 23 financial donors or benevolent institutions. The program was implemented in Mali and Tanzania (pilot regions) and extended to Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda. Between 1990 and 1994, it developed subregional sectors for the actualization of its objectives in agricultural research, planning, and activity. Among other themes, the master planning emphasized: a priority-setting mechanism in national and regional agricultural systems, a critical management of the technical know-how, the downsizing and consolidation of national systems, the promotion of incentives along with norms for services, and, indeed, accountability in research and financial administration (Findings64, June 1996). [End Page 206]
  • Reforming State-Dominated Banking Systems in Africa. The subtitle of this one-page issue on best practices presented as an "infobrief" reads: "Financial Adjustment and Technical Assistance Programs." Its stated objective is the improvement of "the capacity of financial institutions to serve the needs of economic agents and the population at large." One can easily note the scale of evaluations. One: the failure of Tanzania in the late 1980s to restructure its "socialist" banking system because of "fiscal disequilibria," "lack of political commitment," "lack of clarity" apropos "the appropriate strategy" to carry out the policy of privatization. Second step: a promising reconversion—that of the Benin banking system, which not so long ago was dominated by a Marxist ideology: "11 state-owned commercial banks were liquidated in the late 1980s, leading the way to the emergence of a strong network of private banks." Finally, in terms of restructuration, the success stories are represented by the reform...