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Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa



Africa Development, Volume 31, No 3, 2006

As the blurb on its back cover indicates, Globalization and Social Policy in Africa ‘examines the different areas of significant contact between globalization and the lives of ordinary people in Africa’ through the use of ‘empirical and historical studies.’ The book contains fifteen chapters divided into four different parts that specifically address the following: economic and regional trends; poverty and social services provision; globalization, women’s work and citizenship; and higher education and globalization. Published at a time when globalization has become the buzzword for international development, this book adds an important voice to the growing critiques of the whole project of neo-liberal economic models often deemed the panacea for socio-economic development in the global south. Contributors to this volume are aware of the failure of the ‘development’ project fifty years after it was introduced in Africa and other regions of the world.

The trouble with this kind of ‘development,’ as the authors note, is that it is simply another name for economic growth that is devoid of any consideration for the social. It has long been assumed that economic growth will get rid of poverty by creating wealth that in turn will be used to solve social problems. As contributors to the volume show, this has not been the case and the era of globalization (which has come to be associated with economic liberalism), has indeed hurt many African nations and communities. Globalization, for instance, has undermined the legitimacy and power of the state in Africa. Given that for a long time the state has been the primary provider of social services, this globalization agenda of trimming the state has had very negative effects on the lives of the vulnerable majority in Africa. A few examples from the book illustrate this phenomenon.

Analyzing globalization in the Maghreb, Hammouda highlights the tightrope that has to be walked between citizenship and religion where the former allows for a process of secularization that almost undermines the latter. With the push for democratization came the need for the state to relinquish some of its grip and monopoly on politics and a greater focus on individual freedoms that sought to free people from their communal obligations and relations. Thus, a specific Western economic thought has been mobilized as a universal human condition devoid of any historical particularities and shoved down the throats of a culture where religion is inseparable from the everyday. In a related case, Gimode argues that globalization has redefined the role of the state and allowed Islam (which has always sought to step in and redistribute wealth among the poor) to offer social services especially in arid and semiarid areas in Kenya where even government services are hard to deliver.

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