Accra

Patrick Bond pbond at SPAMwn.apc.org
Mon May 21 23:25:11 MDT 2001


> Date:          Tue, 22 May 2001 01:07:25 -0400
> From:          Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky <gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar>
> Dear Patrick, sometimes the individuals at stake are not what should
> be considered in the first place. This is why I am trying to generate
> a thread on the issue of the "national movement" as a
> historic-political category.

Agreed, comrade Nestor. Here is what it felt like in Accra last
week, as wise activists emerged out from under what Jerry Rawlings
tried to steal from Kwame Nkrumah...

                 Ghana's hydro-class struggles

ACCRA -- Notwithstanding the horrific
soccer stadium disaster in which at least 165
people were killed in a police-incited
stampede on May 9, the past week offered
signs of genuine hope in Ghana.

I've been privileged to witness a careful
regrouping of the country's former
revolutionary student/community movement,
which is strengthening its political base by
addressing two key areas of economic and
social strife: the legacy of structural
adjustment and water privatisation.

As was the case recently in Bolivia, Ecuador
and South Africa, Ghana's capital city and
rural areas could witness rising protest in
coming months. The combination of
neoliberal economic policies and the
commodification of water could well drive
ordinary Ghanaians to the streets.

That would be bad news for a vociferous US
ideologue of neoliberalism, Thomas
Friedman of the New York Times, who
visited Accra in late April and declared that
Africans want free markets, penetration by
multinational corporations and the Clinton
Administration's African Growth and
Opportunity Act of 2000 (AGOA).

"While the protesters in Quebec were busy
denouncing globalization in the name of
Africans and the world's poor," wrote
Friedman on April 24, "Africans themselves
will tell you that their problem with
globalization is not that they are getting too
much of it, but too little."

Friedman cited just one Ghanaian, George
Apenteng of the Institute for Economic
Affairs, which is funded by transnational
corporations, including Kaiser Aluminum
and Unilever.

A far better informant would have been
Charles Abugre, director of ISODEC, the
Integrated Social Development Centre,
whose 68 staff do top-quality radical
analysis, publishing, development projects,
community organising, Africa-wide and
international networking, and unrelenting
advocacy. (http://www.isodec.org.gh will be
up soon)

"AGOA is not having a positive effect in
Ghana," says Abugre. "We see it merely as
an instrument for opening Ghana's markets
in the name of promoting US investments.
For Friedman to argue that AGOA will be
the means by which we can penetrate the US
market is a delusion. The main effect of
AGOA is to link aid to economic reform, by
which is meant the dismantling of state
regulatory environment. There are no
benefits, and the costs include clear
manifestations of deepening structural
adjustment and deregulation."

ISODEC and the African Trade Network are
campaigning to roll back AGOA. Abugre
calls for vigilance from US-based Africa
solidarity activists, many of whom backed
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr's alternative
(unsuccessful) "HOPE for Africa" bill last
year. Says Abugre, "We are protesting
AGOA in civil society groups across Africa
and are placing it on the agenda of the
Organisation of African Unity and UN
Economic Commission for Africa. AGOA is
simply another way of undermining Africa's
ability to mobilise domestic resources for
development, and of enforcing an anti-
developmental trade regime."

Two decades ago, Abugre and several of
ISODEC's other leaders were amongst those
responsible for giving Flight Lieutenant
Jerry Rawlings a social power base of
enormous importance--to their great regret.

For after taking control of the students' June
4 Movement and gaining state power in a
December 1981 coup, Rawlings did a
vicious political U-turn within months,
forcing the lead activists into exile, jailing
thousands, and killing hundreds.

The final straw was the young leftists' defeat
after a national debate in late 1982 over
whether Ghana should turn to the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a
structural adjustment loan programme.
Though public opinion was clearly with the
student movement, conservative opportunists
emerged and helped Rawlings turn right,
though he retained his nationalist
demagoguery.

(The story of Ghana's revolutionary moment
and its squashing is well told by Zaya Yeebo
in his book, Ghana: The Struggle for
Popular Power, published in 1991 by New
Beacon Books of London.)

During the 1980s-90s the IMF and World
Bank ran roughshod over Ghana, helping
open the country's doors to Western
governments whose aid schemes nearly
invariably failed. US administrations became
friendlier, capped by a visit from Bill
Clinton in 1998. Formal democracy was
finally restored in 1992 (Rawlings was then
elected twice amidst a mediocre field and
boycotts by opposition parties due to blatant
vote-rigging).

Amidst the chaos and underdevelopment,
Ghana was officially considered amongst
Africa's star neoliberal pupils, boasting an
average of 4.4% economic growth a year
from the mid-1980s to 2000.

Yet last December, after two decades in
which the average annual income of the
country's 18 million people never rose above
$400, disgruntled voters replaced the ruling
National Democratic Congress with the New
Patriotic Party, led by John Kufuor.

A gullible neoliberal in practice, Kufuor at
least concedes the obvious when pressed. On
May 7, ISODEC hosted a conference on the
effects of two decades of World Bank
policies. Kufuor sent a message with this
frank admission: "After 20 long years of
implementing structural adjustment
programmes, our economy has remained
weak and vulnerable and not sufficiently
transformed to sustain accelerated growth
and development. Poverty has become rather
widespread, unemployment very high,
manufacturing and agriculture in decline and
our external and domestic debts much too
heavy a burden to bear."

The local World Bank resident
representative, Peter Harrold, confessed that
Kufuor was right. Agreeing that the Bank
had ignored Ghanaian social priorities, he
pledged more support to loan programmes
specifically aimed at uplifting the poor.
Water system "restructuring" was one
example, given the failure of Ghana's state
company to provide affordable clean water
to about 60% of urban residents.

But a few days later, on May 17, Harrold
was lambasted in front of several hundred
more civil society delegates at an ISODEC
public forum on water. In his defense,
Harrold bragged not only of coordinating a
rural water investment scheme to supply
communal taps to villages under certain
conditions. He also actively promotes the
leasing, over 10-25 years, of two large
urban water systems to supply several
million residents. Five multinational
corporations have already bid for the
contracts.

Replying to Harrold, development
practitioner Danumin Subiniman--who
coordinates numerous rural northern
Ghanaian water schemes paid for by a 1999
Bank loan--complained that "full cost
recovery, the demand driven approach and
World Bank conditionality of 5% upfront
payment are fully enforced." Yet "these cost
too much," and are responsible for
numerous rural system failures. A deadly
epidemic of Guinea worm, a debilitating
waterborn parasite, has broken out.

Nor is water quality testing provided in poor
areas, says Subiniman. And because the
Bank and state insist on full cost-recovery
from poor people, "huge sums of their
income are being spent on capital and
maintenance."

The forum also unveiled that the Bank and
state's full cost-recovery strategy assumes
water can be stripped of "public goods" (or
what economists term merit goods, or
externalities). Reduced to the status of
commodity, water should be bought and sold
in the marketplace.

Thus, according to the 1999 Bank water loan
documentation cosigned by Harrold, "It is
assumed that the health benefits known to
users are captured in their willingness to pay
for good quality water."

Abugre objects that the Bank's "willingness
to pay" surveys are ludicrous. Instead, in a
context of terribly low levels of "ability to
pay," in rural areas that basically survive
without cash incomes, the benefits that flow
from disease abatement, gender equity and
economic spin-offs justify much greater
water subsidies. But moreover, says Abugre,
"Water is a human right. Without it, there
can be no life. We cannot let it become a
mere commodity."

Harrold may have failed the rural poor with
his dogmatic refusal to subsidise operating
and maintenance expenses. But his
contribution to the privatisation debate is
more complex.

Last year, Harrold derailed the first attempt
to lease Accra's water system because of
bribery--allegedly worth $5 million, and
implicating Rawlings' wife--by an Enron
subsidiary. Other multinational water
companies had complained about the bribe
and non-competitive bid, and this incident
gave Harrold a chance to reverse the Bank's
local image for being soft on corruption.

The Bank remains desperate to claim an
anglofone West African privatisation success
story, and so Harrold is making the urban
water leases a precondition for access to
debt relief via the Highly Indebted Poor
Countries Initiative. (Some progressive
Washington groups, led by Rob Weissman
of Essential Action and Sara Grusky of
Globalization Challenge Initiative are trying
to make water-privatisation conditionality
illegal, following on their success last year
in a congressional campaign to stop
imposition of user fees via Bank
health/education loans.)

The Enron scandal and increasing
international outcries against water
privatisation made Abugre wary of both the
Bank's leasing scheme and the five large
multinational corporate joint ventures now
bidding for Ghana's water--
N.V.Nuon/Biwater, Compagnie Generale
des Eaux/Halliburton Brown Roots, Sauer
International/Skanska, Suez Lyonnaise des
Eaux and United Utilities/International
Water/Vector Morrison (critiques of these
and other for-profit water companies can be
found at http://www.psiru.org).

At the ISODEC forum, I was joined by
three South African comrades who pointed
out the many drawbacks to privatising water,
and the need for a public-people-partnership
alternative. Soweto activist Trevor Ngwane
told the story of the community/labour Anti-
Privatisation Forum in Johannesburg, while
Lance Veotte and Victor Mhlongo of the SA
Municipal Workers Union reported on
struggles to make South Africa's decrepid,
bureaucratic state water apparatus finally
accountable to low-income people (see
http://www.samwu.org.za/apf.htm).

In fact, remarked a commentator from the
floor, the appalling conditions that Accra
water consumers face directly reflect class
power and segregation. Virtually all upper-
income people have no problem accessing
clean tap water and water-borne sewerage in
Accra's bourgeois neighbourhoods; virtually
all low-income people have irregular or
nonformal access to water. Ghana's
neoliberal state works for the rich, not for
the poor.

But now clever Mr Harrold intervenes, with
a devious way of capitalising on resentment
against the Ghana Water Company, so as to
promote privatisation. The Bank has played
a triple trick on Ghanaian society since
Rawlings came to power:

     a) running down the state, so that
     privatisation appears as the only
     alternative to public service failure;

     b) exacerbating class inequality in
     society, so it is logical to argue that the
     existing system is biased toward the rich
     (and hence claim that privatisation will
     actually benefit the poor); and

     c) compelling the state to raise water
     tariffs (prices) sharply before
     privatisation so that the chosen
     multinational corporation would be
     spared public anger.

Harrold could therefore claim to the
ISODEC forum that only a private supplier
can extend the system to the poor and fix the
leaks system responsible for half of Accra's
water never being charged for.

This triple gambit was first used to promote
water privatisation in the Bank's main pilot
project, Buenos Aires, as two of my
academic colleagues in the Municipal
Services Project have just shown in a new
study (http://www.queensu.ca/msp).

Here, then, is where internationalism is
evolving from solidarity into concrete
alliances with Ghana's poor and working
people. There are increasingly similar
institutional enemies in the hydro-class
struggles: the Bank and multinational water
companies.

Last year's famous water wars in
Cochabamba were based upon a "terrible
privatisation which we opposed, and refused
to fund because of corruption," claimed
Harrold. In reality, explicit Bank advice to
the Bolivian government had sent water
prices soaring to more than a quarter of a
typical household wage packet.

After the March-April 2000 street riots
which compelled the Bechtel Corp's rapid
flight from its Cochabamba contract, Bank
president James Wolfensohn was asked for
a comment at a press conference on April
12. "The biggest problem with water is the
wastage of water through lack of charging,"
he pronounced. "In the riots that you had in
Bolivia--which, I'm happy to say, are now
quieting down--it was about a new dam, a
new power, in which the Bank on this
occasion had nothing to do" (sic).

All components of his answer were
fallacious. The leader of the Cochabamba
protests, trade unionist Oscar Olivera, took
the opportunity last October, in the wake of
a new round of protest, to join Ngwane and
several other South Africans in a North
American activist film tour to support the
World Bank Bonds Boycott initiative
(http://www.worldbankboycott.org).

In Accra, as well, the Bank is distrusted.
Harrold immediately ran into difficulty when
a secret document revealed that "cherry-
picking"--i.e., avoiding poor areas--will be
built into the leases that will govern the
city's water.

The Bank and Ghanaian government's
"Information Memorandum"--tellingly
labeled on page i, "strictly confidential"--
was prepared by Stone and Webster
Consultants of Washington, DC. "Rather
than expansion" of the water supply to low-
income urban communities, the privatisers
are instructed by the document not to
"displace" the existing super-exploitative
private-sector watertankers who have
monopolised supply to low-income
communities.

In addition, environmentalists and public
health officials worry about worsening water
quality, both from the private watertankers
and the state pipes. The Stone and Webster
document insists that the successful
privatiser "will be allowed to request an
exemption for some... water quality
standards."

And labour is concerned because it appears
that the privatisers will dramatically reduce
water sector formal employment: from the
existing 3925 staff to 2150 ("The World
Bank has indicated willingness in making
severance payments should the negotiations
be concluded satisfactorily," says the
document).

Over several days, these kinds of horror
stories spilled out, and the possibilities for a
wide-ranging anti-privatisation alliance grew.
The slippery Mr Harrold failed to convince
the audience of the Bank's bona fides to
solve the problem with a market solution.
When he cried, "We tried but we failed to
reform the Ghana Water Company," in spite
of spending nearly $200 million during the
1990s, ISODEC activists weren't impressed.

"If he couldn't fix the state company, why
should we believe he will do any better
trying to serve the poor through
multinational water companies?," asked
Rudolf Amenga-Etego of ISODEC. Instead,
Amenga-Etego, other ISODEC leaders, and
the South African trade unionists began
designing a "public-community partnership"
as the popular alternative to privatisation.

One of the central sites of struggle is the
unserviced Nima ghetto neighbourhood of
Accra, which bussed in several dozen youth
to take part in the water workshop. To end
the story where we began, Amenga-Etego
and some Nima leaders provided a poignant
analysis of the soccer stadium tragedy.
Seventy local neighbourhood lads were
among those killed when the teargas was
shot directly at the panicky crowd at the end
of the game.

Soccer was the youth's only real distraction
from the misery of daily life. And so on
May 11, Nima erupted in fury at the police
for their callous crowd control, and at
stadium authorities for keeping exit gates
locked, resulting in the deadly crush of
bodies. The youth protested at the nearest
police station, and four more Nima residents
were killed when the police fired on them.

"How do we channel the righteous anger of
people, whose socio-economic conditions
breed hopelessness and desperation?" asked
one Nima organiser. "We need more of
these water workshops to reveal to us why
our dirty well water and open sewage
streams will not be fixed by this government
and its corporations. And then we need to
put pressure on the state to clean up its act."
A health official nodded, and said she
estimated that two-thirds of local illnesses
could be abated with clean water.

"This deepening of the movement is what we
failed to do twenty years ago," Amenga-
Etego acknowledged. "Our naivety and
overconfidence as young student activists led
us to believe that if we could catalyse a left-
wing coup, we could march into power and
reconstruct society from above. But as you
see from the state of our country, it ended in
disaster."

He smiled. "Now we know that building this
movement against structural adjustment and
water commodification from the bottom up--
from urban Nima to the rural villages--is the
only way to succeed. It may take a few more
years but we won't be deterred from this
path."





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