Book Review: Neoliberal Imperialism and Pan-African Resistance

Title: Neoliberal, Imperialism and Pan-African Resistance
Author: Niels S. C. Hahn
Length: 36 pages:
Published on the  Journal of World-Systems Research, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in 2008.
Reviewed by: Fetsum Berhane

The author, Dr Niels Stephan Cato Hahn has worked with foreign aid programmes in Tanzania, and got many years of experience from war zones, in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia/Ogaden, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan/Darfur, where he coordinated humanitarian programmes for Médecins Sans Frontiers.

Based on his practical experience, Niels has developed a special interest in Western military intervention strategies and how modern war propaganda shapes journalism and academia. His main research is focused on Liberia and the West African region.

The study focuses on the Pan-African resistance to the imposition of neo-liberalism by the western imperial powers and begins it’s narrative by describing neo-liberalism in a fashion which clearly shows the author is not a fan of the ideology and his intention to make that clear. The author defines neo-liberalism as:

“The grand political and economic project of our time that since the early 1980s has had a tremendous effect on most people around the world. It penetrates private homes through the dominant media, shapes working environments in form of fierce competition and anti-labor legislation, increases the gap between rich and poor and determines the architectural design of public and private spaces in form of gated communities and increased surveillance systems.”

The author traces the roots of the neo-liberalism agenda to the Davos World Economic forum meetings that were the launch pads of the policy known as “The Washington Consensus”, which was the result of convergence of policies of western financial and monetary institutions. The author names the U.S. treasury and European Central bank as the architects’ o this “Consensus” in addition to the usual suspects, the WB, IMF and the WTO showing the bigger picture of neo-liberalism as part of a western hegemonic project, “which concentrates power and wealth in local and trans-national elite groups around the world by transferring state owned assets to private people and Trans-National Corporations”.

The author aims “to analyze from a historical perspective, the neoliberal project in order to understand the ideology and powers behind it” which it says remain obscure and largely unknown outside the academic environment and the business community.

The main argument of the study is that this trans-atlantic agenda which dominated developing countries for the past three decades “has more to do with Western economic and political interests, than with a real intention to reduce poverty and ensure a sustainable development.”

The study is organized into three chapters that illustrate the historical context of neoliberalism, “the international development agenda” and “neoliberal imperialism and resistance in practice”. With ten diverse topics, the author tries to show every angle and tactics of neo-liberalism under interesting topics such as new institutions and democracy, new imperialism, coercive imposition of neoliberal practice… and an empirical analysis of Liberia’s struggle in “Liberia-challenging US imperialism”.

I leave you with notable extracts, a recommendation to read the study and a off-course a download link at the bottom.

On the fact that neo-liberalism is a neocolonial project, the author cites Nkrumah’s solution for a successful Pan-African resistance.

Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah (1965), who was overthrown in a coup in 1966, endorsed by the US (US State Dep. 2006), stated that neo-colonialism is the worst form of imperialism, because those who exercise it have little or no responsibility. In extreme cases the imperial powers will intervene directly with their own military, but most commonly neo-colonialism is exercised through economic and monetary means, establishing control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power (Nkrumah 1965).

For Nkrumah, African Unity was considered to be the first requisite for destroying neo-colonialism (Nkrumah 1973), a goal also reflected in the charter of the Organization of African Unity, which states that the OAU members are:
“Determined to safeguard and consolidate the hard-won independence as well as the sovereignty and territorial integrity…and to fight against neo-colonialism in all its forms (Charter of OAU 1963: Preamble).”

In giving an illustrative account of imposition of neoliberalism the author takes us to Ivory Coast and Liberia

The depiction of African conflicts as being rooted in local barbarianism, greed, ethnicity and religion are being promoted by influential scholars such as Kaplan (1994) and Huntington (1993) and may in the West, depoliticize the conflicts and displace the notions of imperialism, neo-colonialism and proxy wars.

In 2003 the Government of Ivory Coast started to take control of the water, electricity, telecoms, marine and air transport, and established closer ties to China. This threatened French interests and ownership, and France deployed military troops in Abidjan in 2003. French control of the economic capital was resisted by pan-African pro-government movements who took the streets in anti-French demonstrations.

Liberia has for more than a century been ruled by a small elite of Americo-Liberians with close ties to the US. In 1972 the President Tolbert challenged US long term hegemony in Liberia by establishing diplomatic relations with the USSR,… supporting the independence war in Rhodesia and denying US to use Liberia for a military rapid deployment unit. Subsequently, Tolbert and 13 ministers were murdered in a military coup in 1980 lead by Samuel Doe and supported covertly by US.

The US officially supported the Doe regime but half a decade later the relationship between President Doe and the US declines. In 1985 Charles Taylor ‘escaped’ from a maximum security prison in Boston, and at the end of 1989 Taylor’s NPFL invaded Liberia, in close coordination with the US embassy in Monrovia.

Liberia is as an attractive area for oil exploration.. The U.S. corporation Halliburton was denied off shore oil drilling concessions by President Taylor, who publicly stated that “Liberia is not for sale” because the contract was not favorable for Liberia. The tensions between the government of Liberia and the US were reflected in a statement from the US ambassador: “Taylor has to go”.

Taylor broke with the US in the early 1990s. …the relationship between the US and the government of Liberia deteriorated further, and after early 1999 the US indirectly supported the rebel group LURD by supplying arms and military training to Guinea, which hosted the rebels.

In debunking the neo-liberal myth “state is inefficient and corrupt and private corporations are efficient and less corrupt”

The decades of state-led development provided the fastest economic growth in modern history from 1960 to 1980. In these decades the state protected infant industries and local markets through regulations, subsidies and import/export tariffs, and redistributed resources through taxes.

…Without substantial historical evidence, the mantra-like claim of neoliberalism is continually repeated: that the state is inefficient and corrupt and that private corporations are efficient and less corrupt . Neoliberal policies range from fiscal austerity, privatization and liberalization to decentralization, deregulation and anti-labor legislation, and are naturalized through the mantra of globalization as ‘the only game in town”, known as the “Washington Consensus”.

The author postulates neoliberal policy impositions as deliberately “Kicking the ladder” on weak states

Insisting that weaker states adopt policies that are opposite to those, which according to historical evidence lead to industrial development, does not make sense at all. The only explanation, as Chang (2003) argues, is that the strong states are deliberately ‘kicking away the ladder’ or as List puts it:

“it is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others the means of climbing up after him.”


Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.

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