Globalization And Sustainable Development In Africa

Globalization And Sustainable Development In Africa




Human quest for sustainable development can be traced back to the very onset of human existence.  This explains why human history is replete with various attempts by man to better his conditions at various points in time.




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In our own time, this noble quest has assumed a more generic status in an attempt to transform the whole world into a global village, where humanity would share a common developmental experience.  This emerging global order, known as Globalization, is a continuous process and no one can claim to possess a full knowledge of its dimensions or even to exist outside its influence.

While its proponents have stressed the opportunities and benefits of this phenomenon, there is also increasing disillusionment towards it among many schools of thought in both developed and developing nations.  The rationale behind these changing perceptions and attitudes includes lack of tangible benefits to most developing countries especially those in Africa.

Hence, there are myriads of questions that challenge the philosophy of globalization and the authenticity of its numerous claims and promises.  This explains why a critical inquiry into the intricacies of the current globalization process is not only pertinent but also inevitable.


Expectedly, many scholars have pondered and are still pondering on the overall effects of globalization on the entire human race.  These studies are not only necessitated by the controversy hovering around the phenomenon, as explained above, but by the apparent marginalization and increasing impoverishment of its less privileged participants.

I, therefore, wish through an existential inquiry into the dynamics and the philosophical background of the current globalization process, to expose its contents. This would then enable us to extrapolate its possible implications to the quest for sustainable development in Africa.

As a philosophical inquiry, this study would try to analyze the raison d’etre of the current globalization process. My major contention is that sustainable development is all about human beings and business is about ethics.  Hence, the terminus ad quem of globalization should be the holistic development of humanity in ways that are sustainable for people of all races and for all generations.


I wish to employ both expository and evaluative approach to this study.  Thus, we shall delineate the philosophy of globalization vis-à-vis the existential status of Africa. These would serve as the premises for extrapolating the implications of globalization to African development.

In general, the work is made up of five chapters. Chapter one offers a synoptic view of the entire work as well as the views of various scholars on globalization. The second chapter exposes and examines the concept and nature of globalization as it pertains to this study. The notion of sustainable development and its current status in Africa is discussed in chapter three, while the fourth chapter carefully extrapolates the implications of globalization to sustainable development in Africa.  Then, as a finishing touch, the fifth chapter critically evaluates the whole intellectual exposure.

With genuine humility, I do not intend to undertake an exhaustive inquiry into this topic: globalization and African development. Therefore, my research will be in tandem with those already carried out by erudite scholars on the subject.


Globalization is certainly at the heart of the contemporary age as an indispensable factor in its developmental process.  Hence, our effort in this brief literature survey is to explore how some scholars conceive the globalization process vis-à-vis its implications to sustainable development in Africa.

Obviously, many scholars see globalization as a mere economic phenomenon, involving the increasing interaction or integration of national economic systems through the growth in international trade, foreign investments and trans-border capital flow.  However, one can also point to the rapid increase in cross-border socio-cultural and technological exchange as important and integral dimensions of globalization. In this light, Anthony Giddens, a renowned sociologist, simply defined globalization as the “decoupling of space and time.”[1]  He emphasized that through instantaneous communication, knowledge and culture can be shared around the world simultaneously.

This idea is more explicitly portrayed by Rund Lubbers, a Dutch political economist, who define                                                                                                                                    A process in which geographic distance becomes a factor of diminishing importance in the establishment and maintenance of cross-border economic, political and socio-cultural relations.[2]

In agreement with the afore-mentioned scholars, David Held and Anthony McGrew, in their entry for Oxford Companion to Politics, made a subtle attempt to characterize globalization and its effects on socio-cultural as well as on political structures. They conceived globalization as

                    A process (or set of processes), which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power.[3]

Observably, a common denominator here is the optimism of these scholars about globalization. For them, it is a universal process of transforming humanity into a single society or what Marshall McLuhan termed the global village.[4] This transformation, for Henry Alapiki, is usually accompanied by the intensification of universal social relations “which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”[5] In fact, Jan Scholte expressed this view more elaborately when he wrote that:

                    Globalization refers to processes whereby social relations acquire relatively distanceless and borderless qualities, so that human lives are increasingly played out in the world as a single place … Globalization is thus an on-going trend whereby the world has – in many respects and at a generally accelerating rate – become one relatively borderless social sphere.[6]

While these scholars view globalization from a “social relations” perspective, others emphasize a more specific economic dimension. The tendency here is to view globalization as a rapid increase in cross-border socio-economic exchange under the conditions of capitalism.  A typical representative of this school is Prof. Oyejide who states that:

                    Globalization refers to the increased integration, across countries, of markets for goods, services and capital.  It implies in turn accelerated expansion of economic activities globally and sharp increases in the movement of tangible and intangible goods across national and regional boundaries.  With that movement, individual countries are becoming more closely integrated into the global economy. Their trade linkages and investment flows grow more complex, and cross-border financial movements are more volatile.  More importantly, globalization has been created, and continues to be maintained by liberalization of economic policies in several key areas.[7]

However, the anti-globalization schools view the phenomenon as a worldwide drive towards a universal economic domination by supranational institutions that are not accountable to democratic processes or national governments.  Thus, from the perspective of international “political economy,” Aja Akpuru- Aja and A.C. Emeribe argue that:

                    The engineering mechanism of globalization remains the revolution in science and technology, particularly as it affects transportation and electro-communication systems.  The net result is the creation of a global village, a single market system, a global factory and a global office.  One result of globalization is grotesque and dangerous polarization between peoples and countries benefiting from the system and those that are merely recipients and reactionaries of the effects.[8]

Against this backdrop, one can rightly adduce that globalization seems to transcend mere flow of trade or social relations to perpetrate some form of economic, political and socio-cultural imperialism. This may imply a sort of donor-recipient polarism.  In this case, globalization cannot be a benign force since it would certainly create a world of winners and losers.  This explains why its implications to developing countries, especially those in Africa, appear to be precarious.

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Yet, the pro-globalization thinkers maintain that:

                    There is mounting evidence that inequalities in global income and poverty are decreasing and that globalization has contributed immensely to this turn around … The gap between rich and poor is also shrinking with most nations in Asia and Latin America.  The countries that are getting poorer are those that are not open to world trade, notably many nations in Africa.[9]

The basic logic here is that poor countries that have lowered their tariff barriers have gained increases in employment and national income.

Sequel to this, the World Trade Organization argues that “trade liberalization helps poor countries to catch up with rich ones and that this faster economic growth helps alleviate poverty.”[10] Succinctly put, Professor Ron Duncan of the Australian National University argued point blank that:

                    Although globalization may increase inequality in some countries, this can be remedied with structural responses.  A rise in poverty among the poorest countries results from their not taking part in globalization.[11]

But are we really to blame the poverty in Africa and other under-developed countries on their abstinence from globalization?  Certainly this is not the view of some thinkers, who maintain that globalization is even responsible for the increasing impoverishment and marginalization of the so-called “Third World.” The most frequently used data are those from the UNDP 1999 Development Report. This report shows that the past decade, the decade of the most intense globalization, has shown increasing concentration of income, resources and wealth among people, corporations and countries.[12]

Situating these findings to the African setting, Yash Tandon, a Ugandan political scientist, argued that:

                Anybody with any degree of intellectual integrity would see that the globalization of Africa or the integration of Africa into the global economy from the days of slavery to the contemporary period of capital-led integration has on balance of costs and benefits been a disaster for Africa, both in human terms and in terms of the damage to Africa’s natural environment… it is also a measure of their (World Bank/IMF officials) intellectual dishonesty or ideological brainwashing that they cannot see the connection between globalization and Africa’s poverty.[13]

This judgment is in indeed harsh, but it seems to represent the views of many thinkers. For instance, Obiora F. Ike, a theologian and social philosopher, affirms the veracity of this judgment when he questioned and answered thus: “Is globalization good for Africa’s future? Not at all.  I would argue that its present form has been exaggerating the gap between Africa and the so-called developed world.”[14]

Thus, Mbaya Kankwenda, a Congolese scholar, concludes that:

                Globalization has a strong dogmatic and doctrinal dimension.  In this respect it concerns the globalization of market fundamentalism and its paradigm, which in reality is nothing but the keeping in step of developing countries, hence Africa, taking the continent as an object rather than a subject and partner. [15]

This is why he considers the globalization of Africa as a forced insertion into the global community through developmental aid conditionalities, resulting in harsh economic and political reforms in Africa.

Surely, the Church is not passive to the dialectics of globalization since it sees humanity as a single family.  Thus, in Centesimus Annus the church opines that:

                It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies, which leave so many countries on the margins of development and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions, which will enable them to share in development. (Centesimus Annus, no. 35).[16]

This view was expressed in the caveat by Pope Benedict XVI (while a cardinal), that: “The economic inequality between the northern and southern hemispheres of the globe is becoming more and more an inner threat to the cohesion of the human family.”[17] The danger of this threat is already portrayed in the new forms of terrorism in the international arena, which paradoxically are the products of, as well as a problem to globalization.

However, the Church appears to be very optimistic about the possibility and advantages of globalization, since its dangerous tendencies can be easily eschewed.  Thus, in his 2004 World Day of Peace Message, Pope John Paul II repeatedly stressed the fundamental but very simple principle that must guide all our reflections on globalization. According to him,

                Humanity, however much marred by sin, hatred and violence, is called by God to be a single family … this recognition can give the world as it is today – marked by the process of globalization – a soul, a meaning and a direction.[18]

He, therefore, expresses optimistically that: “Globalization, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity and solidarity.”[19] In this way, the Church addresses the question of globalization and its effects on the unity and sustainable development of humanity.

As can be deduced from the above expressions, the Church is especially concerned about inequalities as well as the alienation of individuals and communities from economic and social progress.  Indubitably, these seem to summarize the major predicament of Africa in the current globalization process.

To this extent, we have tried to highlight the views of various schools of thought on globalization vis-à-vis its impacts on Africa. Certainly they contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon.  Yet, it is obvious that more elucidations are still necessary for us to appreciate the existential implications of the current globalization process towards sustainable development in Africa.  This will be our pre-occupation in the subsequent chapters.




Globalization is certainly a prominent factor in the development of the contemporary world. As we can observe, it is at the heart of the contemporary world as the defining process and the determining factor of its developmental project. But, it is not a novel phenomenon since it is an integral project in the age-long human quest for development. Therefore, an understanding of its historical evolution is pertinent for appreciating and assessing its contemporary form.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to outline an exact history of globalization with regards to when, how and who initiated the idea of transforming the whole world into a single family. Yet, it remains an indubitable fact that “human-kind has always had within itself the innate and unquenchable desire, whether for good or evil, of unifying the world and creating one large human family.”[20]

The realization of such a desire was attempted in the past through violent means such as war and the annexation of conquered kingdoms to victorious ones. For instance, we recall the several attempts by past Egyptian Pharaohs to rule the whole world, the expansive military feats of the Chaldean warlords, the campaigns and military exploits of the Persian kings, the concerted efforts made by different Roman emperors to extend and consolidate the Roman empire and the two World Wars. All these were instigated and propelled by the quest to dominate the entire world by competing powerful nations.

But, the aim of globalization, as economic, political and socio-cultural integration of the whole world into a single family, became more lucid in 334 B.C. This was when the Macedonian warlord, Alexander the great (336-323 BC), initiated the grand project of unifying the whole world through the diffusion of Greek language, culture and philosophy among all nations.[21] This project known as Hellenization was greatly influenced by the idea that the Greek culture was superior to all others. Alexander inherited this idea from Aristotle, his teacher.[22


As a criterion for accommodating other races into this “global kingdom,” Alexander attempted to purify them. Thus, he compelled the Macedonians to intermarry with these races.  He even organized a “mass wedding”[23] in Susa, “in which he himself, his Chief Generals, and … ten thousand other Macedonians married Persian wives.”[24] Alexander also conquered many cities and empires on which he imposed the Greek culture and enforced the Koine Greek as their lingua franca.  Thus, E. Charpentier wrote that within a decade, Alexander:

                Had won victories during a match of 18,000 kilometers; he had founded more than 70 cities… many of whom were called Alexandria; he spread Greek culture with its art, its baths and its stadiums, and provided a common language as a means of unity.[25]

This imperial design was the first socio-cultural ideology historically recognized as truly global.  But, it is necessary for us to note that slavery was a global practice and an integrating factor in earlier periods of human history. This is because, as long as men have fought, they have also captured and kept slaves.[26]  This explains why some scholars view slavery as an ancient approach to global integration no less significant in the history of globalization than Hellenization.

Meanwhile, globalization in its current form can be said to share in the historical patrimony of capitalism. Thus, Henry Alapiki observes:

                The political and economic processes of the past centuries (such as industrial revolution in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the experience of colonialism; and neo-colonialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) created the Conditions for the emergence of a single modern world economy now referred to as globalization.[27]

The world order has drastically changed especially in the years after the Second World War.  This is more palpable when we take cognizance of the myriads of inventions and initiatives found in the socio-political and economic interaction among nations. These combine to lend more credence to the description of the modern world as a global village.

Hence, the primordial attempts to transform the whole world into one cosmic polity, which employed violence in the past, have adopted a more diplomatic philosophy in our own era. This philosophy is Globalization.


Globalization is one of the most significant and widely discussed ideologies in the contemporary world. Yet, it is one of the least clearly understood, and consequently, one of the most controversial concepts in scholarly discourses today.

The concept “globalization” is coined from the “globe,” which is a device used in cartography as a scale model of the earth.[28] Sometimes, the term is “used synonymously with world or earth.”[29] In this sense, a global phenomenon is one covering or affecting the whole world. Literally then, to globalize is to cover or affect the whole world. Hence, globalization “points to the whole effort towards making the world a global community.”[30]

In academic parlance, globalization refers to the increasing integration of the whole world through economic exchange, political configuration and socio-cultural influences.[31] Here, economic exchanges include cross-border trade, capital flow and financial investments. Political configurations are the renewed structures of the multinational organizations that enable them to wield more political power than many state governments. Cultural influences are obvious in the Westernization of many cultures especially those of the developing countries.[32]

As a world economic agenda, globalization is “meant to create a common and free market and thus open the whole world … to the possibilities of industrialization and economic developments.”[33] It aims at the extension of economic forces beyond national and continental precincts.


Some basic features characterize globalization. These include economic liberalism, political liberalism and socio-cultural hybridism.

  1. Economic Liberalism:

Economic liberalization, according to Martin Khor, involves “the breaking down of national economic barriers; the international spread of trade, financial and production activities and the growing power of transnational corporations and international financial institutions in these processes.”[34] This is not a novel process, since over the past centuries firms have increasingly extended their tentacles through trade and production activities to other firms. But nowadays, it is achieved more diplomatically by “breaking down national barriers to economic activities, resulting in greater openness and integration of countries in the world markets.”[35]

  1. Political Liberalism:

The current globalization process seems to possess as its most important and unique feature, what we can refer to as the liberalization of national policies and policy-making mechanisms.  Until recently, national policies especially in economic, socio-cultural and technological spheres were solely under the jurisdiction of the state. But nowadays, the increasing influence of international agencies on the state has eroded national sovereignty.[36]

Thus, the ability of governments and the people to make choices from options in economic, social and cultural policies has drastically depreciated. In fact, most developing countries have relinquished their right of independent policy-making. This is because they have little or no option than to adopt foreign policies that may, on balance, be to their own detriment.

Even in the developed countries, some large multinational corporations have also dominated their decision-making mechanism at the expense of state’s sovereignty. This erosion of national policy-making capacity is primarily necessitated by the liberalization of markets and financial investments. Surely, an effective economic liberalization requires a porous political structure.

iii. Cultural Hybridism: 

Culture is usually defined in blanket terms as the totality of a people’s way of life,[37] and globalization is principally meant to touch people’s way of life in all of its ramifications. Thus, we can hardly discuss the current globalization process without situating it within a cultural context.

Indeed, globalization by its very nature connects people and culture.  In most cases, this connectivity results in a kind of cultural hybridism. This is because

                The increasing traffic between cultures…suggests that the dissolution of the link between culture and place is accompanied by an intermingling of these disembodied cultural practices producing new complex hybrid forms of culture.[38] 

Cultural hybridization, therefore, occurs when a prevailing culture in a particular environment shares its territorial integrity with another. This results in a kind of syncretism to which both cultures surrender their identities.

However, cultural hybridization is not cultural development.  This is because cultural development involves a permanent improvement of the existing features of a particular culture, and the harmonious incorporation of borrowed aspects of other cultures. But cultural hybridization tends to forcefully displace some features of a particular culture by the staccato infusion of another.  This explains why many scholars posit cultural hybridization as part of the negative effects of globalization especially on the cultures of under-developed countries.


Some scholars have described the current globalization process as an old project with a new name.  This is not unconnected with the apparent similarities between the framework of the current globalization process and those of its antecedents such as slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Hence, we shall briefly examine the current framework of globalization under its ideological, economic and political dimensions.

  1. The Ideological Framework:

The current globalization process is, as can be deduced, an incarnation of neo-liberalism. This ideology, as the name implies, is an offshoot of the liberal political philosophy known as Liberalism. This philosophy holds that the justification of any political organization is based on its contributions to the interests of the individual, irrespective of the society. Hence, it rejects “both the view that cultures, communities and states are ends in themselves and the view that social and political organizations should aim to transform or perfect human nature.”[39]

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The Scottish economist Adam Smith, who arranged the ideas of economic liberalism into a distinct philosophical system, separated it from political liberalism in the twentieth century. This new system was called capitalism or free enterprise and was based on the classical principle of Laissez faire. However, the recent crisis in capitalism with its depreciating profit rates has inspired the corporate elites to revive economic liberalism. This makes it “neo-liberalism” or a new form of liberalism.

Neo-liberalism, as an economic philosophy, posits global economic liberalization and free-trade ideology. In this sense, neo-liberalism is often used interchangeably with globalization. According to Obiora Ike, it

                is a kind of ‘economic fundamentalism’ that puts an absolute value on the operation of the market and subordinates people’s lives, the functions of society, the policies of government and the role of the state to this unrestricted free market.[40]

Thus, neo-liberalism projects economic growth as an end in itself. This explains why the current globalization process tends to strive after mere economic progress, which on balance may hamper the holistic and sustainable development of humanity.  This is evident in the seemingly religious character of this philosophy, as greed becomes a virtue, competition a commandment and profit a sign of salvation. Hence, neo-liberalism is not just economics: it is also a social and moral philosophy.

Around the world, powerful financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter- American Development Bank have imposed neo-liberalism on the world market. The overall effect of this is that the rich nations get richer while the poor ones get poorer.

  1. Economic Framework:

The economic structure of globalization can best be appreciated in the phenomena of capital flow and free trade.  From the features of globalization, it is obvious that prior to exchange of goods and services in international trade, cross-border monetary flow has been the most significant component of globalization.  This cross-border money usually moves faster than its owners. Hence, it is hardly controlled.

Secondly, we can see that due to technological advances in communication and transportation such as the Internet and Cargo planes, goods produced in one country move rapidly into other countries. In most cases, these movements disrupt traditional productive patterns in the recipient country.

Of course, trade relations among nations may be free, but whether or not they are “fair” depends so much on the power, skill, experience and size of these nations. These factors are very asymmetrically distributed and utilized in our contemporary world.

  • The Political Framework:

The post cold war era had witnessed significant changes in the old political structures shaped by the East/West conflict.  Today, the design for a new World Order has substituted the bi-polar world. But the political dimensions of this new order are themselves subject to the economic influence of available markets, accessible resources and technological arrangements.

Thus, it is not surprising that the ideological and economic frameworks of the current globalization process are more influential than its political framework. However, they can function best only within a political framework.  Hence, globalization adopts a kind of political diplomacy that allows nation states, especially the indebted ones, to possess a ceremonial sovereignty. This enables the multinational companies and other globalization agencies to exercise the real power in policy-making.

This goes on to buttress Ralph Chiaka’s observation that “the multinationals are potentially powerful political forces, which can act and at times do seek to shape the law…which have an impact on the political environment.”[41]


Many factors are very instrumental to the progress of globalization. Here, we shall briefly look at advanced information technology as a veritable instrument in the current globalization process.  For sake of precision, we shall focus more on the role of the Internet in this ongoing project.

The term the global village, as I mentioned earlier, was coined in the 1960s by a pioneering media thinker, Marshall McLuhan. Probably, this was to express his belief that electronic communication would unite the whole world.  Today, many scholars are of the opinion that the advent of the Internet over more than a decade has paralleled the emergence of globalization as a concept. However, the role of the Internet as an instrument of globalization is still very controversial.

Some scholars argue that many people within the developing countries see the internet as an opportunity to gain access to knowledge and services from around the world in ways that are previously unimaginable. Thus, they hold that the Internet may facilitate the opportunities for economic development.[42]  The major argument here is that the Internet and other advanced information technologies such as mobile telephony necessitate and as well facilitate the development of infrastructures.

On the other hand, scholars see the Internet as a mercenary employed by the West to dominate global information system. This is premised on the fact that the developed countries generate most of the contents on the Internet, and English is its principal language. Thus, they view the Internet as an instrument for cultural imperialism by the West.[43]

In addition to the Internet, there are other catalysts to the current globalization process. These include mobile telephony, improved system of transportation, Satellite Broadcast, international and intercontinental confederacies.


Here, we shall summarily outline the proponents as well as the critics of the current globalization process, with a brief highlight on their modus operandi.  We shall broadly outline them under the pro-globalization and anti-globalization schools.

  1. The Pro-Globalization School:

Here, we have multinational organizations such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).  These are international organizations that work in their different capacities to promote global integration through international cooperation on economic and socio-political issues.

There are also some businesses, which benefit directly or indirectly from free international markets.  These include the International Chambers of Commerce, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Inter-Regional Economic Network, Liberty Institute, Internet and Telecommunications industries.

The Anti-Globalization School:

The anti-globalization scholars include environmentalists such as Friends of the Earth and social development agencies such as the World Vision International.  Others include the World Social Forum and Marxist Organizations.


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