Vol. XIII, Issue I (Winter 2006): Reflections on South Africa
Peter K. LeMaire
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concerning Africa Update
Elatiana Razafimandimbimanana provides us with important insights on the various challenges confronting African migrants. This analysis is all the more relevant in the light of the sustained urban riots in France in 2005. The author is a certified teacher with the French National Ministry of Education, and a co- writer of BSF, Bibliographie Sociolinguistique Francophone. She is currently affiliated with the Université de Haute Bretagne de Rennes .She works with a research team dedicated to the literary and linguistic diversity of French-speaking communities. The socio-linguistic analysis that follows emanates from her diverse scholarly endeavours. In the second article of our Spring issue, Dr. Victor Oguejiofor Okafor, Professor of African American Studies,
Eastern Michigan University briefly reflects on the agreement reached with the Paris Club by Nigeria with respect to debt relief. Dr. Okafor considers the alleged gift a dubious one.
We thank the contributors to this issue of Africa Update.
Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
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Université de Haute Bretagne de Rennes, France*
A remarkable aspect of the Malagasy population is its uniqueness: multilingual, with numerous dialects, yet homogeneous, with the mainstream Malagasy language spread nationwide. Also, the land stands as a host country welcoming migrants from Indonesia to Africa, while in turn providing an increasing number of recent settlements in Europe and North America. There also lays an economic discrepancy that protects the rich social classes from the needy ones, plunged in dire misery. In spite of these antagonistic features, the country has also managed to convey cohesive views of a common past regarding the colonial period.
School itself, was and still is, in lesser proportions- the ultimate symbol of luxury hence, books and uniforms were cherished like sacred ornaments. Generations of pupils obediently repeated the lessons inscribed in their schoolbooks without ever daring to question their teachers about the relativity of its contents. In fact, books represented a sacrificial object, obtained with much difficulty, and were highly respected. All pupils were subjected to their contents. These pedagogical bibles were therefore efficient instruments of mass communication, along with social unification. Thus, the French language was taught to Malagasy children along with French civilisation, both objects inculcated as if they were native values. That is how rows of native Malagasy school children recited their History lessons with academic fervour, chanting together “Our ancestors, the Gauls!”
Since then, the quest for the recognition of the Malagasy identity – or rather, Malagasy identities – has evolved and enabled a better recovery from post-colonial trauma. Nevertheless, how do those Malagasy school-children, who have grown up into adults and have chosen to migrate to France, reconciled their conflicting identities? Bereft from their native history and languages, how do they manage with their own children, educated in France today? Through a sociolinguistic approach, this article offers an original analysis of intergenerational issues concerning the Malagasy migrants living in France. Different themes will enable us to better understand the complexities confronting this embedded minority, in search of its determined social identity amongst migrant populations.
The Malagasy people resolutely suffer from their greatest quality, that of limitless diversity. Whether ethnically, physically, linguistically or religiously, the whole population varies depending on both geographical and diachronic factors. The most unsettling fact is the great variety of physical features portrayed by the different ethnicities in the country. Even though most of the migrant families descend from the dominant ethnic community, the Merinas, Malagasy people are rarely identified as such by their fellow citizens in their host countries. The matter is even more blatant in occidental societies where migrant communities are generalised to continent identity tags. Europeans are thus opposed to Africans, Asians or Americans. Though purposely vague and inclusive, even this first type of categorisation excludes any possible coherence for the automatic recognition of Malagasy individuals. The members of the Merina ethnic group will rather be linked to Asians, whereas other individuals will be tagged as Africans or Magrehbis. As a matter of fact, a recent survey published in the magazine Le Monde de l’Education, carried out by the National Board of Education on the academic profiles of migrant populations in France quoted facts, diagrams and figures related to pupils from the Mahgreb, south-east Asia, southern Europe and Turkey excluding those from Africa in general, and obviously from Madagascar. In this way, the simple reflex of visual identification and categorization is jeopardized when confronted with a Malagasy individual. Though somewhat intricate, the identification process seems less problematic to the occidental eye when it comes to the descendants of Indian or Chinese migrants in Madagascar. The latter are often assimilated to their original community even though they often consider themselves as multicultural carrying Malagasy, Indian and Chinese values. Coupled with its embedded status as a minority within the other ethnic minorities of its host countries, this heterogeneous characteristic renders the Malagasy population vulnerable and invisible to mainstream Western societies. They even remain somewhat unknown to the other migrant communities.
A first explanation to the minute diffusion of information concerning the cultural aspects of the Malagasy community, notwithstanding the weak numeric factor, can be sought through the historical characteristics of Malagasy migration trends. It is true that the first waves of migration were basically linked to favourable social conditions or solid professional opportunities. Leaving Madagascar was not a plausible idea for most of the population, it was rather an option reserved to the very few, who could afford it. Also, the first migrations were massively destined to France for linguistic, administrative and political reasons. The historical portrait of the Malagasy migrants were then that of aristocratic young adults, sent abroad by their prosperous families to acquire prestigious diplomas, who would then go back to their native country to honour both family and nation. Their presence in their host countries was therefore controlled and doomed to end, hence their discreetness in the occidental societies. With such little time to properly integrate, and therefore exchange, these migrants could leave but little traces of their passages. As for those who left Madagascar for professional reasons, they were more inclined to stay in their new countries for a longer period but they too, were generally linked to wealthy social classes. Considering their extreme sparseness though, they were more likely to be completely assimilated by the mainstream community than to ensure a resistant cultural affirmation of their differences. Hence, the phenomenon of acculturation can be observed amongst the first generations of children born from these migrations. The popularity of occidental first names and the absence of Malagasy languages are the most frequent traces of this break-off regarding native cultural aspects. When the migrations were destined to other African countries, the process of cultural assimilation was generally less disruptive. In Kenya, for example, where both Malagasy and French migrants are minorities cohabiting with a dominant British community, the Malagasy can find almost all the ingredients used in various traditional cooking. Also, Madagascar takes part in the African Games and therefore enjoys a better recognition on the African continent than elsewhere. They are not really regarded as awkward strangers and can easily integrate the host country without completely rejecting its initial values. The inclusively diverse perspective of African and Anglo-Saxon politics, regarding multiculturalism, equally helps to understand this form of intercultural conciliation. In France though, where the largest Malagasy migrant community undoubtedly resides, the reactions are quite different.
Since the traumatic episode of 1947’s insurrection, some Malagasy people carry bitter feelings regarding the French. War crimes, irregular arrests and excessive penal servitudes have scarred those who were neither ideologically or practically, close to the French aristocracy in power during the colonisation. Most of all, the absence of mass information regarding these crimes today enhances the rejection of France and the French language amongst the witnesses and survivors of war atrocities. Stories of people, vaguely suspected of rebellion, thrown from helicopters or wagons of people set on fire are related orally. In silence, these Malagasy profiles are hopefully waiting for France to recognise its mistakes. A recent documentary on forgotten prisoners, abandoned on parcels of islands to complete their sentences, has evoked the absurd plot set by ancient politics. Stuck between their urge to share their painful pasts and their rational needs to remain politically friendly with the ex-coloniser, most of these Malagasy people remain frustratingly discreet. Small groups reunite to remember the old times, making sure their children take notice of the wrong that was done upon their nation. At the same time, obvious advantages from the colonial period cannot be denied. Numerous partnerships have been developed thanks to the close relationship ensured with France, which also implies economical pros. The use of the French language, though equally controversial, was decisive for the presence of Madagascar on the international level. The self-identification of these first Malagasy migrants is subtly paradoxical indeed. The French culture the have inherited is strongly valorised within the community for it represents a certain social standing, at the same time, it is perceived as a form of betrayal regarding ancestral values. Torn between both feelings of pride and shame, many Malagasy migrants living in France carry the symptoms of conflicting multicultural identity. The definition of their own identity is often variable, depending on the contexts of communication but also, evolving depending on the generations considered. Nevertheless, France represents both endearing and painful emotions, triggering a complex form of alienation for the Malagasy migrants and their descendants.
Moreover, like all other migrants, sharing several cultural references, they are bicultural but also cultureless and belong to a sort of “no man’s land”. Devoid of real anchoring within a given community, they are strangers in both their host and native countries. Back home, Malagasy tourists visiting relatives are qualified as Whites and are often designated with the same vernacular name tag vazaha ‘Caucasian foreigner’. Even when given affectionately, with the adjunction of the adjective vazaha kely ‘little Caucasian foreigner’ (comparable to the expression ‘little Whitey’), the qualification expresses the phenomenon of alienation. On top of visible differences noted upon these Malagasy tourists on their native land, such as occidental clothing, the language they speak has often evolved differently compared to the mainstream one used around town. Hence, even if an individual makes the effort to adapt himself to the local habits, there is always a subtle linguistic nuance that ends up betraying the occidental choice of residence. Equally telling, visiting Malagasy families are more straightforward in their behaviours, being less accustomed to local social conventions and innuendoes. Altogether, these different factors reinforce a feeling of identity insecurity for those who have left their homeland. Likewise, in France, as mentioned earlier, the community is still in search of widespread recognition. The Malagasy migrants are part of the “visible minorities” and are therefore obviously stigmatised as “aliens” in France. In spite of an overall success in both professional and social insertions, for the community is often issued from qualified categories, the Malagasy migrant population in France is clearly “invisible” as a sociocultural community in its own right. In France, several Malagasy Associations now commemorate historical tragedies and organize cultural events, reinforcing the insertion of Malagasy identities. Traditional music, food, clothing and customs are celebrated, enabling the younger generations to become familiar with native values. The risk of punctual or eventful valorizations of the Malagasy culture though is that of a limited range, rendering the traditional cultural elements more folkloric than realistic. Thus, the power of attraction is restricted to precise dates of the calendar and contexts of social life. These links can therefore make younger generations, less exposed to Malagasy cultures and somewhat less attached to them, conceive these elements as inappropriate for their personal fulfilment and social integration within the mainstream French society. Intergenerational conflicts are impending threats to the cohesion of the Malagasy community living abroad indeed.
When it comes to convincing young migrants about the interest and importance of traditional customs, the task is rather difficult for parents eager to transpose their personal convictions onto their children. The matter is rather a question of seduction, especially with young teenagers, in search of valuable social images ensuring them a stable and enviable place amongst their peers. Technological broadcastings of traditional cultural events ensure an efficient means of seduction regarding the younger generations. The place of Malagasy innovations amongst performing arts had set models of references for many children. This increasing form of presence in the French showcase offers an alternative, closer to the youngsters’ everyday life, to folkloric arts and artisan crafts. Upon a careful analysis of these recent representations of young Malagasy trends, the various forms of expression reflect intercultural interferences rather than the reproduction of a single culture’s values. This phenomenon of biculturalism within the young population of migrants is intricately linked with mass cultural trends. Being more commonly associated to African populations, one of the most popular sociocultural groups amongst the Malagasy youngsters are the Black Americans. Hence, rap music, Hip Hop and R&B, along with loose, sportive clothing boasting the same brands and designs as Black American artists are very popular. The national success of the R&B group Tragédie ‘tragedy’, including a young Malagasy singer, clearly personifies the power of attraction beheld by this type of ethnic music for Malagasy youth. The presence of this group on the French music charts is a first for a Malagasy artist on the musical scene of varieties and popular music. Likewise, the activities associated to the ethnic success of the Black Americans are reproduced in the cultural clubs held by the Malagasy youth. Basketball, for example, is a rising springboard that ensures social as well as sexual recognition for Malagasy teenage boys. Other forms of intercultural manifestations can be noted, blending mainstream occidental habits with Malagasy interpretations. Young Malagasy girls can participate in their own Beauty Pageants indeed, young musicians can organize their own concerts with the presence of community backing. A whole network of alienating identity processes takes place when considering the younger generations of Malagasy migrants living in France.
First, on what we can call an “inter-national” level, underlining the interactions between different nations, their host country itself if under the influence of exterior instances, namely the Anglo-Saxon and American way of life. Fast food, for example, is a common target for journalistic polemics regarding the changes operated by the French youth. Exposed to the same environment, young Malagasy migrants are equally submitted to such evolutions where hamburgers and coca-cola are commonly consumed. Though such aliments may represent everyday meals, most of the migrant families continue to perpetuate traditional culinary habits. The national vary, ‘rice’, and is still their standard diet, along with simmered meats and vegetables that are now easily found in French cities. Then, on a micro social scope, Malagasy youth undergoes other influences fundamentally linked to intergenerational differences, interethnic relations and interpersonal exchanges including peer pressure. All these factors combine into a complex network of influences acting upon young Malagasy migrants as illustrated in the diagram below: [insert Model 1.doc here] “Network of influences acting upon young Malagasy migrants”.
These different entities all conduct to multiple identity alienations, where each influence exhorts a form of pressure upon the Malagasy youth. As a result, a whole set of varied habits and lifestyles are combined by each child, in search of the most appropriate model of reference for them at a given moment and place. The emerging forms of Malagasy identities are therefore conditioned by such interferences reflecting several types of cross-cultural exchanges. The traces of alien cultures within the migrant youth’s identity are not necessarily proofs of disruptions or rejections regarding native values. On the contrary, they can also be perceived as a spontaneous reaction of multicultural adaptation, opting for a dynamic model of identity that varies depending on the context. The notion of identity therefore appears as an active and productive entity, a variable that changes reflecting the personal and interpersonal choices of its bearers. Cross-cultural interferences can thereby be described as an efficient form of intercultural adaptation. When it comes to language practises though, matters are less flexible, habits more blatant and the issue, constantly controversial.
Regarding the linguistic trends, recent studies reveal that the use and practise of the Malagasy language is receding amongst the younger generations of migrant families in France. The case must be similar in other host countries such as Canada, where an increasing number of Malagasy populations are gathered. Once again, the absence of Malagasy in widespread cultural products offers an obvious explanation to the latent aspect of the language amongst migrant children, especially for those born abroad. Also, the overwhelming power of attraction exerted by dominant local languages upon young migrants can encourage them to exclusively concentrate on the official tongues of the country. In France, this tendency is coupled with a commonly unpopular perception of multilingualism. The Jacobin way of thinking is part of widespread French convictions, rendering the affirmation of regional identity and use of regional languages quite polemic. France has always been wary about the necessity of preserving linguistic diversity within its territory. Precocious bilingualism is still considered as dangerous by some, who think children will develop spelling or grammatical difficulties and confusions if simultaneously taught several languages at an early age. Such fears are closely related to the central politics that have long worked against the assertion of regional particularities. Thus, in the western region of Brittany, local memories still carry the wounds of cultural depreciation and humiliation by recalling the school posters that used to mention Interdit de cracher par terre et de parler Breton, i.e.: ‘It is forbidden to spit on the floor and speak Breton’. Contemporary laws tend to reconsider regional languages. Progressively, the French government inserts them within public teaching programs indeed. Another recent trend concerns bilingual education, which is more and more perceived as an asset for future citizens on the international job market. In addition with scientific studies stating the efficiency of multilingualism, these recent changes in linguistic politics spread an image of regional and foreign languages. In work-related contexts, bilingualism is gaining the credit of an indisputable asset. As in most other consumer societies impregnated with profitable aims, pragmatic attitudes strongly condition the representations of foreign languages in France. Hence, the most frequent and most valorised form of bilingualism combines French and English. Malagasy migrants are therefore likely to become trilingual if they want to compete on the national and international market. The native language however, does not benefit of the same exposition as the two others. Moreover, Malagasy appears as a rather difficult language for young migrants who are not used to its sounds and syntax. In fact, the normalisation process of Malagasy is still in its initial phases, making its written and standard transmission quite complicated. Hostile stereotypes against multilingualism, pragmatic reasoning on linguistic skills, representations of Malagasy as a difficult language and the lack of authentic exposition to oral and written Malagasy all contribute to explain why the children tend to neglect their efforts to speak Malagasy. All these reasons present languages under its communicational facet, uniquely underlining its material functions. The cultural importance of linguistic practices as a real vector of identity and socialisation seems to be neglected. Yet, identification is clearly another fundamental aspect, inseparable from communication that defines the notion of languages. According to observations, children, do not often claim this sociocultural component of identity until late in their teens or even, till adulthood. Obviously, the degree of rejection regarding native identification depends on several contextual features including: the insertion of the family within a cohesive Malagasy migrant community, the state of intergenerational transmissions, the psychological links with native values, the personal capacity to assume differences, the sensitivity towards traditional factors, etc. Nonetheless, the actual environment portray amongst those who demonstrate linguistic skills in Malagasy, more ease and familiarity with the oral form. These characteristics gender specific language productions and reactions upon emerging Malagasy generations in France, hence, the dual context of diglossia drawn by the unequal combination of Malagasy and French.
French is therefore the dominant language used by young Malagasy migrants in their everyday lives. During domestic situations of communication, this relation’s proportions may vary but in all means, the use of Malagasy seems to be restricted to specific speeches. The expression of exclamatory interjections, whether praises or swears, for example, is part of the productions partly made in Malagasy when the co-speakers are likely to understand. Well-known terms such as mavita (an encouraging praise on accomplishments, comparable to ‘well done!’), maty! (an alternatively positive or negative swear word, literally referring to ‘death’, comparable to ‘deadly’), ‘andrahy’ (exclaims surprise, comparable to informal expression ‘no way, my gosh!’), are all easily reproduced by children indeed. Used to their contextual presence, it is even hard for younger Malagasy speakers to find appropriate translations for such expressions. This linguistic blocking regarding equivalent transpositions show how important the sociocultural dimension of languages is, even for beginners. These native productions are massively done amidst French-speaking speeches though, hence a sort of code-mixing phenomenon that takes place amongst Malagasy youth. Adults also refer to alternate languages during their conversations too. It is equally noted, for instance, that standard Malagasy frequently includes French productions, especially when stating numbers (mathematical operations, telling the date and time, etc.). However, this bilingual aspect of common Malagasy is motivated and can precisely be associated to the complexity of the Malagasy numeric system, mostly inherited from the Arabic one. In comparison, the French system clearly presents a more economic enunciation; where counting, telling the date and time can be accomplished with lesser words and shorter mental operations. The latter phenomenon comes from the historical close relations held between Madagascar and France that left mutual traces of linguistic exchanges. Though also producers of Malagasy-French interferences in their speeches, adults are more inclined to make sure each language system is coherently applied. Undoubtedly more vulnerable, their references tend to be more controlled regarding normative rules and therefore, less creative. On the other hand, younger speakers who generally tend to be less preoccupied by linguistic insecurity are more inclined to recur to both language systems indifferently. The sole prerequisite being to ensure inter-comprehension, they will freely operate to cross-cultural linguistic blends using what can be called Frangasy (neologism obtained from the combination of the French word Français and the common Malagasy term for Malagasy Gasy, designating the dialect obtained from the merging of both languages). Written occurrences are visible on Web sites created and destined to young Malagasy individuals living in France. The first language of communication is French indeed, carrying traces of Malagasy words that punctuate the messages, i.e.: le nouveau Mister bogosse, ‘the new Mister cutie/handsome’. The analysis of this production reveals imbedded traces of inter-culturality between French, English and Malagasy. Here, the English word “Mister” is actually a borrowing from common French jargon as used in speeches connoted as hype and urban in France. As for bogosse, the spelling is firstly from the Malagasy expression bogossy which in turn, is inherited from the French terms beau gosse, ‘cute kid’. Like in the mainstream French productions associated to the young, the presence of other English words seems to aim at a certain technological precision, therefore gendering positively trendy connotations, i.e.: envoyez un reply ‘send an answer’ These habits tend to highlight the complexity of linguistic environments in France for Malagasy migrants, the situation of diglossia seems to insufficient with the growing importance of English. On top of the usual international factors favouring the acquisition and practise of English, the attraction exerted by Black Americans upon young Malagasy groups – as evoked earlier on – really emphasize on the magnetising impact of English indeed. Within this tripartite environment, how does the Malagasy contemporary identity stand out?
After the traumatising episodes of 1947, the rejections of French identity facets were vehemently claimed. Today, although the emergence of confidently multicultural young adults seems to introduce a phase of appeasement overcoming past resentments, traces of guilt and ill forms of reconciliation are still present. It is quite telling in the biographies of famous Malagasy individual who acquired a notorious status in France or through the French language. Some speeches appear like personal confessions, beseeching fellow comprehension or indulgence regarding their French citizenship or their “Frenchness”. The late Malagasy economist and diplomatic, Jacques Rabemananjara defended his professional and personal choices by declaring ‘his will to claim himself as authentically Malagasy in his adaptation to the whole world through the acquisition of the French culture’, (la volonté de m'affirmer authentiquement malgache dans mon adaptation au monde moderne par l'acquisition de la culture française, 1948). The process of “Frenchisation” equally included a name change for him from Totoasidy to Jacques. In fact, carrying Malagasy names has never been an easy task for migrants. There are major cultural differences between Latin and Malagasy names where, for instance, the final “–a” is not gender-linked. The first name Tiana, literally meaning ‘love’ can therefore be born by both girls and boys. Such discrepancies between sexual, nominal connotations have sometimes brought to deep discomforts, making some migrants officially adopt new French names. This form of administrative assimilation is obviously applicable to Malagasy surnames, which are essentially long compared to most French names. Here, the options are either to translate family names (for they all have clear meanings) or to abbreviate them. Paradoxically, the separation from Malagasy family names is less frequently observed in spite its’ pragmatic advantages. The profound association linking individual and family background, as inscribed in surnames, can be the main reason to this form of attachment. Indeed, erasing or changing a family name implies a certain form of rejection or dissociation regarding the core identity of a whole family. Oppositely, the more personal aspect of a first name seems to free individuals from exterior responsibilities. The combination of French-sounding first names and Malagasy surnames is actually frequent, even without prior alterations. Like in several regions of France, phases of “Frenchisation” took place. In Madagascar, like in Brittany, children were therefore given French Christian names, then came phases of “Malgachisation”, claiming and defending local cultural identity. The difficulty of actually “naming” individuals really shows how ambiguous the dual identity of migrant Malagasy populations appears. Beyond the administrative dimension of acquiring conventional names, sociological implications are clearly in stake through the notion of integration. It therefore seems necessary for migrants to conceive new elements to their initial identity facets in order to build a multicultural profile, better adapted to their new environment. The issue is therefore to figure out how Malagasy migrants can become a whole part of the French society, be identified as so, without having the impression of dishonouring their ancestors who had to recite on their so-called Gallic origins. The ambiguous problematic leads to question how the increasing “Gasypora” can integrate France without either being excluded from their native society or excluding their native identity components.
If not yet the scientific solution to the valorised and recognised integration of Malagasy migrants within the French society, cross-cultural blending seems to be the attitude massively adopted by the younger generations. Producers of code-mixing speeches, actors on both Malagasy and French scenes, they evolve towards a resolutely heterogeneous composition of their identity. Controversy is therefore present in both mainstream French and Malagasy fields. The emergence of a multicultural generation can never really meet the expectations of either side. Linguistic rules are broken regarding both language systems, ethnic values are combined or inversed and cultural traditions are mixed. Indeed, their behaviour can but gender polemic denials, rarely gathering the approbation and encouragement they need to build their self-confidence. The same phenomenon can be observed in other societies where the younger generations are exposed to dilgossia or multilingualism, pushing them to position themselves linguistically, socially and culturally. In the city of Ottawa, for example, the young French-speaking pupils who attend Francophone schools are submitted to the opposite influences of both French and English-speaking communities. Eager to construct their own values, many claim to belong to both sides and defend a dialect mixing both systems, ‘franglais’ or ‘Frenglish’.
Unlike the abundant and pioneering sociolinguistic studies on French-speaking minorities in Canada, those thoroughly analysing Malagasy minorities are still scarce.The numerous researches that have been conducted are mainly restricted to ethnologicalor linguistic approaches. Moreover, they predominantly concentrate on the endemic phenomena within the country itself. With the increasing number of Malagasy families that settle abroad, but especially with regards to the evolution of those living in host countries for several generations now, it seems highly necessary to encourage qualitative analyses of various “Gasypora”. Sociolinguistic works, allying society and languages within the same scope of manhood, will enable to offer empirical data from which significantly innovative descriptions can emerge. The results of such efforts will not only help Malagasy populations to better realise the important elements in stake behind trivial-looking decisions, but will also promote scientific knowledge of the community amongst others. Language politics and educational authorities will equally benefit from these researches in order to improve theoretical measures by better adapting to the societies they really imply. Finally, the quest of sociolinguistic studies is also to develop inter-comprehension between different cultures so that ignorance many no longer be a valuable excuse for rejections of sociocultural inheritance or intercultural indifference.
*The author is a doctoral candidate of this university.
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Desclée de Brouwer.
Victor Oguejiofor Okafor, Ph.D.
Professor of African American Studies,
Eastern Michigan University
On the surface, Nigeria’s recent agreement with the Paris Club over the much-talked about debt relief program for the West African country may seem like a cause for celebration. But a close look at this dubious gift gives one a real cause for concern and skepticism. A critical analysis of the “debt relief” shows that, on balance, Nigeria comes out as the big looser of a lop-sided game in which the odds were against Nigeria from the onset. The deal confirms what the literature of the international economic order has long argued: colonialism grafted Africa into an inclement international financial system, which is designed to benefit the wealthy Northern hemisphere at the expense of the Southern hemisphere. It vindicates dependency theorists’ contention that this inclement international economic order inevitably produces dependent development and creates structures of poverty in the post-colonial societies.
In sum, the Nigeria-Paris Club agreement provides that the club will “write off” 60% of the debt that Nigeria owes members of the club. Nigeria, on its part, will pay back the remaining 40% in two phases. As a news report puts it, “in real terms, the Paris Club will cancel $18 billion of Nigeria's debt, or about 60% per cent of the about $30 billion owed to the Club. But the Club will be paid `an amount of $12.4 billion.’”
It’s also reported that the Paris Club members “endorsed Nigeria's economic reform programme,” which, sometimes, is characterized as Nigeria’s poverty-reduction program-- a euphemism for IMF’s structural adjustment program that historically leaves a “reformed” country worse off economically than it was at the onset. It should be of interest to Nigerians, at home and abroad, that under this so-called poverty-reduction program, hundreds of employees of various federal parastals have been or are being relieved of their jobs by the federal government. What a way to reduce poverty!!! Indeed, it would appear that the parties responsible for the execution of this “poverty-reduction” program possess a diabolical sense of humor.
Let’s recall, at this juncture, that a few weeks ago, the New York Times called for the outright cancellation of the international debt owed by poor African countries. In making the call, the Times observes that: “Right now, African countries spend four times as much on paying back their debts than they do on health care. They are trapped into making ever-escalating interest payments that never touch the principal.” Citing Nigeria as a typical example, the New York Times recalls that: “Nigeria…borrowed $5 billion, has paid $16 billion and still owes $32 billion.” It then concludes that: “canceling these debts should wait no longer.” The New York Times could not be more correct. Its advocacy of debt cancellation, rather than debt relief, falls in line with similar calls by international NGOs. It also rhymes with the voices of debt cancellation that have emanated from various Nigerian media.
It’s also of significance to state, at this point, that the facts of the debt situation as stated in the foregoing by the New York Times, a well-respected newspaper of record, approximate a history of Nigeria’s troubling experience with the Paris Club, which Lanre Banjo reproduced with clarity in his July 2005 critic of Nigeria’s debt relief arrangement. In it, he recounts that Nigeria’s problematic international debt arose from credits that she borrowed from a group of 15 countries during the 1980s—countries that later established a cartel of creditors that called itself the Paris Club. The countries include the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany and others. Citing an economist of the Brookings institution in Washington, D.C., Banjo claims, in that article, that Nigeria’s high indebtedness was due more to “a flaw” in the Paris Club’s “debt restructuring process” than to “Nigeria’s inability or unwillingness to pay.” As he explains it, “what we have here is a case of non-performing creditors, and where the creditors refused to perform because of the military rulers the loans were given to.” “A prudent borrower ought to hold their feet to fire,” he adds.
Banjo continues with the following details of how an original Paris club loan to Nigeria of only $8 billion (the New York Times reported a lower original loan of $5 billion) later ballooned to $31 billion even though the additional $23 billion was not real money that ever touched the hands or shores of Nigeria or ever entered Nigeria’s treasury. “In 1985, Nigeria's external debt was $19 billion, of which $8 billion was owed to the Paris Club creditors, $2 billion to other creditor countries e.g., Bulgaria, $8 billion to commercial creditors, and $1 billion to multilateral agencies (mostly the World Bank and the African Development Bank). At the end of 2004, the Nigeria's external debt was $36 billion. Of this amount, $31 billion was owed to Paris Club creditors, almost nothing to other bilateral official creditors, $3 billion to multilateral agencies, and $2 billion to commercial creditors.”
Like other Nigerian observers, Banjo wonders why Nigeria's Paris Club debt increased by $23 billion over a period of 20 years. He offers an eye-opening answer. “In brief, the Paris Club creditors stopped advancing new loans to Nigeria because they disliked the country's military dictatorship some of whom signed for the loans. The bulk of the $23 billion increase represents interest arrears, interest charged on these arrears, and penalties that accumulated after 1992 when the Paris Club creditors refused to negotiate a debt workout for political reasons, compounded by adverse exchange rate changes. It is instructive to mention that less than $400 million of the debt represents post-1985 borrowing.” Banjo also explains that “… Nigeria has received virtually no new loans from the Paris Club creditors after 1992. On the other hand, she has paid almost $8 billion to these creditors since then. Yet, she still owes them $14 billion more than she did in 1992. Moreover, instead of applying Nigeria's payments to post-1985 loans to make these performing loans, the creditors have applied the payments against arrears and penalties. Thus, the post-1985 loans continue to accrue their own interest and penalties without challenge from all the Ministers of Finance since 1985, including the World Bank agent, Okonjo-Iweala.”
It would appear that what Nigeria and other indebted poor countries of Africa deserve and should insist upon is an unconditional debt cancellation. While one salutes President Olusegun Obasanjo for all his dogged efforts to get Nigeria out of this morass of a debilitating foreign debt, the fact is that the debt relief program to which his administration has committed Nigeria drastically falls short of the debt cancellation that well-meaning citizens and institutions of the world, including the Times, have advocated. The so-called debt relief that the Paris Club has extended to poor Nigeria “writes off” a phantom sum of $18 billion that never came out of the pockets of the Paris Club members, a paperwork sum that accrued from interests, arrears and charges. Not a dollar of this “relief” represents real money. But alas, the unsuspecting tax-paying citizens of the member countries of the Paris Club might be misled into thinking or believing that their tax dollars have been used to relieve Nigeria of her international debt. On the other hand, Nigeria, with a huge population of over 136 million million (the bulk of whom are said by the United Nations to be living below the world poverty line despite Nigeria oil wealth), will have to dole out a hefty sum of $12.4 billion in real currency to a group of relatively wealthy banks and governments, which had already extracted a profit of $11 billion on an original loan of $5 billion that Nigeria received from them, going by the New York Times report that “Nigeria…borrowed $5 billion, [and] has paid $16 billion.”
This whole exploitative debt relief deal typifies the octopus-like nature of international capitalism, which apparently cares only about itself. International capitalism is a blood-sucking octopus that neither cares about the human beings located within the metropole nor about workers located in “external markets,” such as Nigeria. To international capital, Nigeria is simply another external market. Within the affluent countries themselves, the big exploitative multi-national corporations and banks are becoming even more exploitative as they extol the virtues of corporate globalization, which enables them, among other things, to make more profit by outsourcing jobs to places around the world where they can pay “employees” peanuts without health care, pension or gratuity benefits. These blood-sucking multinational corporations are cutting back on the wages of workers within the metropole; in addition, they are im-miserating millions of their own citizens by laying off thousands of workers. A recent and prime example involves the largest automobile parts manufacturer in the United States, Delphi Corporation. This corporation has announced plans to lay off more than five thousand of its eight thousand employees in order to remain competitive. It also wants to reduce the hourly wage of remaining workers from $26 an hour to $10. But, that’s not all. The company also plans to drop its employees’ dental and vision care plans.
What Nigerians need to understand is that this deal (or “exceptional treatment” as the Paris club self-servingly and deceptively calls it) that the compradors of Nigeria’s financial establishment have worked out with their international counterparts means a net transfer of wealth from Nigeria to the latter. Not a cent of the $12.4 billion dollars that Nigeria will be giving away (“giving back” is not an applicable term, for Nigeria never collected such money from the club) was spent on any aspect of Nigeria’s social development. This is a classic case where international capital created money for itself through sheer manipulative financial bookkeeping.
Earlier on, we saw Lanri Banjo’s description of Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Okonjo Iweala as a World Bank’s agent. Well, the mere fact that she held a top-ranking position in the World Bank does not, by itself, warrant the label put on her as an agent of the World Bank. What matters and what should determine whether she is operating as a Nigerian patriot or as an agent of the international financial system is the policy choices that she advocates and pursues in her capacity as Nigeria’s minister of finance. It remains to be seen whether the debt relief that she has championed for Nigeria will benefit Nigeria as much as it would benefit international capital. It is also rather puzzling that President Olusegun Obasanjo and Minister Iweala considered a debt relief appropriate for Nigeria even when an influential and respected Western newspaper believes that the country’s situation warrants outright debt cancellation.
How realistic is the
expectation that debt relief will result in more resources going to
health, education and other sectors of economy? Mark Curtis’ (2005)
criticism of the G8 Gleneagles debt relief plan is skeptical of its
promise that “debt relief will free up resources for health and
education…” Explaining that in reality, the debt relief recipients will
have to “…sign up to World Bank/IMF economic policy conditions,” Curtis
writes: “Blair's assertion that aid will come with no conditions is
contradicted by Hilary Benn, his development secretary, who told a
parliamentary committee on July 19  that "around half" of World
Bank aid programmes have privatisation conditions.” Continuing, Curtis
observes that “Recent research by the NGO network Eurodad shows that
conditions attached to World Bank aid are rising. Benin, for example,
now has to meet 130 conditions to qualify for aid, compared with 58 in
the previous agreement. Eleven of 13 countries analysed have to promote
privatisation to receive World Bank loans, the two exceptions having
already undergone extensive privatisation programmes. Yet in the G8
press conference Blair refuted the suggestion that privatisation would
be a condition for aid.”
Drayton (2005) reminded us of a fact of history that Walter Rodney
(1972) documented elaborately in his classic How Europe
Underdeveloped Africa, a work in which Rodney demonstrates how the
super-profits that slaving companies reaped from their trafficking in
African captives (between the 15th and 19th
centuries) helped to enrich Western Europe but simultaneously undermined
African development. Drayton recalls it this way. “Africa not only
underpinned Europe's earlier development. Its palm oil, petroleum,
copper, chromium, platinum and in particular gold were and are crucial
to the later world economy. Only South America, at the zenith of its
silver mines, outranks Africa's contribution to the growth of the global
Without making light of its history of neocolonial manipulation, it’s no secret that some, if not most of Nigeria’s past governments have been guilty of mismanagement of Nigeria’s bountiful oil revenue. While one understands that in dealing with Nigeria’s international debt, the hands of the current Nigerian government were relatively tied by the existing disadvantageous international financial system, one cannot help pointing out that Nigeria has not been advanced by this debt relief package. It’s tempting to suggest that Nigeria could have tried to organize a debtors’ cartel. However, given the many ways by which Nigeria and other developing countries have deepened their integration into the global economic system—a system that clearly works to their disadvantage—one concedes that such a step is easier to contemplate than to implement. But change is possible—at least in the long run. Increasing intra-African trade, increasing African economic integration, increasing the productive capacity of African economies, and conversely, decreasing dependence on foreign capital, foreign technology, and foreign food are means by which Africa can begin to dismantle the exploitative international financial tentacles around its neck. But all this will require a visionary and nationalistic political leadership that is not beholden to international capital and its neocolonial apron strings.
It’s also no secret that bureaucratic corruption has been a bane of Nigeria’s development. Olusegun Obasanjo’s government appears determined to curb it, and the administration’s recent success in successfully prosecuting Nigeria’s ex-police chief, Tafa Balogun, for the embezzlement of government funds adds an aura of credibility to its declared effort to minimize the menace of public corruption in Nigeria. His sentence to a six-month imprisonment by a Nigerian federal court makes Balogun the first Nigerian senior official to be convicted under Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade. Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) can justifiably claim Balogun’s conviction as an achievement. The ex-police chief’s imprisonment serves to reassure concerned Nigerians of the commission’s seriousness of purpose, particularly those Nigerians who had been dismayed by prior news reports that Balogun might escape a jail term through a “plea bargain,” despite his embezzlement of staggering amounts of public funds.
On its part, the West has loudly decried official corruption in Africa in general, but it has also acted rather hypocritically (with the exception of France) by not endorsing the new United Nations convention against corruption—an instrument that could help stem the tide of corruption-induced transfer of wealth from the poverty-ridden Southern hemisphere to the relatively affluent northern hemisphere. The recent escape from Britain of a money-laundering-accused Nigerian governor also reinforces the cynicism of Africans who wonder whether the West really wants to be an ally in the war on public corruption on the continent.
Curtis, Mark. (2005, August 23). How the G8 lied to the world on aid: the truth about Gleneagles puts a cloud over the New York summit. USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1037. (http://www.utexas.edu/conferences/Africa).
Davidson, B. (1993). For a politics of restitution, In A. Adedeji (Ed.), Africa Within the World: Beyond Dispossession and Dependence (17-27). London: Zed Books.
Drayton, Richard. (2005, August 21). The wealth of the west was built on Africa’s exploitation. USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1027. (http://www.utexas.edu/conferences/Africa)
Drop the debt. (2005, September 24). Editorial, New York Times.
Rodney, Walter. (1972). How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.
Ige, Ise-Oluwa. (2005, October 17). Tafa Balogun opts for deal with EFCC to trade off assets for freedom. Vanguard online (http://www.vanguardngr.com).
Jimoh, Azimazi Momoh. (2005, October 19). Uproar in Senate over govt’s plan to sack 30, 000 workers. Guardian online (http://www.guardianngr.com).
Ubani, Ezinche. (2005, October 21). Nigeria, Paris club sign debt deal. This Day. (http//www.allAfrica.com).
Walsh, T., & Roberson, J. (2005, October 22). Unions Irate over Delphi’s new offer: electrical workers say they stand to lose 5,500 jobs. Detroit Free Press. (http://www.freep.com).
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