- Power, Powerlessness and Globalization: Contemporary Politics in the Global South by Opoku Agyeman
The pervasiveness of globalization among contemporary societies in the world is indisputable. It is, therefore, worthwhile that Opoku Agyeman’s Power, Powerlessness and Globalization aids our understanding of the nuances and nature of this phenomenon. The author employs the dialectical correlation between power and powerlessness to expatiate on the complexities of the globalization phenomenon. Agyeman argues that in the aftermath of the Cold War transnational or multinational companies have gone amok opening up markets and spreading their influence and operations around the world. He agrees with other scholars that international financial institutions and trade organizations have occasioned a power shift of stunning proportions that obliterated any semblance of real economic and political sovereignty inherent in national, state, local governments, and communities at the expense of democracy, fairness, and the natural world. Tracing this hegemonic ascendancy to fifteenth century European global exploration, Agyeman recounts a litany of consequent atrocities in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The monumental inequalities created as a result of this system go against the grain of a free, just global social order and the supposed incremental reforms in the structure of capitalism. According to Agyeman, the stark facts of the inevitable consequences of the dialectics of power and powerlessness reify moralistic pleas on behalf of the still less fortunate parts of the world.
The issue of Western duplicity underlying the general claim that globalization should be seen as an inevitable natural development proffering a positive-sum international economic transactions with mutually rewarding exchanges for all countries is presented. The realities of the capitalist world economy, as well as the operations of global economic institutions of governance, smacks of hypocrisy and double standards. Quoting authoritative sources, Agyeman asserts that Western countries have pushed poor countries to eliminate trade barriers while officiating a rigid barrier regime for the benefit of their economies; a kind of protectionism that among other things accounts for their wealth and power. The United States and European Union maintain domestic farm subsidies worth more than $300 billion annually, while IMF structural adjustment [End Page 291] program prescriptions insist on virtual elimination of social services spending and food subsidies in the underdeveloped world.
One of the book’s many strong points is the emphatic assertion that violence and exploitation may not so much be imperialism’s worst afflictions as is the consequential humiliation. To Agyeman international politics has shifted from conquer or be conquered to humiliate or be humiliated; a dynamic with a Victorian underpinning that sees victims as less than human. Suggesting a remedy, he opines that dignity or using his own word “dignification” is the most crucial ingredient in the complex of motivations that propel erstwhile weakling nations, nation states, and regional communities to shake off their affliction of powerlessness and vindicate the human honor of their peoples. Recovery and empowerment in the Americas, Africa, and Asia requires the pursuit of “dignitalist” political and economic values that emphasize robust and sustained productivity, appreciable rise in living standards and dignity of all members of their respective societies. Agyeman reiterates that it is a country’s or region’s powerfully developed as well as empowering developing capabilities, not its historic and continuing victimization or habitual dependency on charitable aid or other altruistic interventions from the international community that will determine the degree of success in escaping the scourge of powerlessness.
Expatiating on these views in the various chapters, Agyeman argues that some kind of bifurcated empowerment took place in Asia’s major economies through tutelary capitalism, on one hand, and on the other, a powerful intent to preserve sovereignty and independent will. In Latin America an unleashing of some degree of counter force or insurgence against the ideology and praxis emanating from the Washington consensus bestowed the region with some remarkable degree of power to decide on the pursuit of what was considered germane for its development. Africa’s powerful antique preeminence and primacy suffered dissipation after conquest, slavery, and colonialism at the hands of Europeans.
The post-independence African response amounts...