Monday, January 31, 2011

Africa and Vietnam in a Changed World Economy: Building Relations for the Transformation in the 21st Century*

*This was the lecture I delivered at the 3rd Annual Stakeholders' Forum of the Nigeria-Vietnam Chamber of Commerce in Lagos, Nigeria. January 6, 2011.

Global politics, economy, and cultures have been undergoing profound changes that demand a new epistemological and ontological approach to the relations among peoples and between human beings and planet earth. In the emerging global order, there is an unprecedented shift in the locus and configuration of economic power from Western Europe and the Atlantic powers that have dominated the international political system since the 18th century. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise to prominence of societies in Asia and Latin America, where countries labeled as emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia, India, and China are fast changing the power configuration of the international system. Besides these countries, there are other societies that have made tremendous strides in confronting the imperial tendencies of Western powers and are in the process of transforming their societies. One of such countries is Vietnam.

The peoples of Vietnam have embarked on an impressive program of reconstruction and transformation and the forecasters of the changed international system have remarked that by 2025, Vietnam will be among the top twenty economies in the World. According to a forecast of bodies as diverse as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and investment firms such as Goldman-Sachs, Vietnamese economy will become the 17th largest in the world with a nominal GDP of $ 436 billion and nominal GDP per capita of $ 4,357 by 2025. These same forecasters envisage China to become the largest economy by 2025, when Nigeria will be the 19th largest economy.

Vietnam, like Brazil, Russia, India and China (called BRIC economies), has understood the significance of Africa in the changing international political economy, and has sought to build relations with the continent in order to be able to access the rich and rare earth elements that are abundant in Africa. One of the many challenges will be whether the access to Africa’s natural resources and energy resources and energy resources will follow the path of plunder and brutality that emerged from Western colonial domination. Like Africa, Vietnam has been through periods of brutal imperial domination and wars, and therefore shares the aspirations of moving to new forms of relations. The Vietnamese aspiration for alternative social relationships within the context of socialist transformation has been formalized in Vietnam by the constitution that stressed the importance of “Independence, Freedom, and Happiness.” Under the political leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam, it was recognized that independence, freedom and happiness had to be defended so that the defense of the sovereignty of Vietnam is now recognized as one of the major epic struggles of the 20th century. Vietnam came out of this history of struggle to transform its society in the late 20th century. The thesis of this paper is that transformation, not depoliticized development, should be the goal of Vietnam-Africa relations in the 21st century.

What lessons can Africa learn from the Vietnamese experience and what can Vietnam learn from Africa, especially since the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted from Asia to Africa after 1975? How can Vietnam and Africa take advantage of the changing international system to deepen their own transformation; and what are the ideological and political changes required to advance people’s rights and freedom beyond the freedom of capital? The three changes in the international system that we will focus on in this paper are: 1) the rapid decline of unilateralism with the debasement of the Breton Woods Institutions and the imminent end of the US dollar as the world reserve currency, 2) the end of US and Western military/cultural hegemony, and 3) the opportunities for energy transformation orchestrated by the other changes in the international system. Read More