A few years ago, the Royal Bank of Canada published an issue in its Royal Bank letter entitled “Living in the global village.”1 In this article a distinction is made between two different aspects of globalisation. The first aspect is economic globalisation. Most of us, when thinking about the concept, have this aspect in mind. But there is a second aspect that the writer of the article calls “the globalisation of society.” According to the author, this globalisation of society, brought about in Canada especially through immigration, has had positive effects on their country in that many Canadians have actually come to appreciate the great diversity of people living there. In the process of assimilating people from many different backgrounds and belief systems, Canadians have, on the whole, become more tolerant. As a result “they have made their country one of the most agreeable places in the world.”
The social aspect of globalisation has affected life in Africa as well. But has it had the beneficial effects that Canadians have experienced? If not, why not? This is a question that we need to ask ourselves.
Opinions about the effects of the other aspect of globalisation, the globalisation of the market place, are divided. In general, however, many thinking people point to the apparent predominantly negative consequences of economic globalisation, especially on the poor and marginalized, as evidence that this global system is inherently evil. But, again, we need to ask ourselves the question: why does it have these consequences in our continent?
As will become evident from the articles that follow, the choices we make with respect to globalisation are determined principally by the values we bring to the table when making decisions on this issue, both personally and as a nation. Whether we speak of the globalisation of society or of economic globalisation, we do have choices to make. We cannot set the clock back, we are affected by globalisation whether we wish it or not.
Contrary to what many people believe, we do have a say in whether the effects of globalisation on our continent are favourable or not. Do we wish to follow world trends like sheep when it comes to deciding on policies which globalisation forces upon us? At present, the world is a very unequal place: some countries are very rich, others very poor. Our country is a microcosm of the world, some people are very rich, others desperately poor.
The choices we make will determine the kind of society we are building in Africa. Will it be a society where diversity is valued and where the contribution of everyone is appreciated? Or are we building a society based on class? If the latter, we can expect ever increasing violence by those who see themselves disadvantaged and by those who are trying to protect their privileges. If we choose the former, we need to make an option for the poor. This option will be hard and will not sit easy with those of us who value privileges. But we need to make it if we are ever to live not only in peace but also in dignity and in harmony with our neighbour.
I once read a story about hell. As expected, it was an awful place. The worst of it was that there was plenty of food but it could not be eaten because the spoons were so long that no one was able to get them into their mouths. However, one person came up with a solution. She started feeding someone else! Everyone followed suit and hell became heaven. Food for thought!
G. Wakuraya Wanjohi
1. Published by the Royal Bank Financial Group in January 2000 and available at www.royalbank.com/news.