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The rules, institutions and operations of global markets, unchanged since the end of formal colonialism, are among the greatest obstacles to the development of individual African countries.
Global market rules are either in favour of, or are frequently bent to benefit industrial countries.

Often, different, more restrictive market rules are applied to African countries, while industrial countries are accorded more leeway to implement rules in ways that will benefit their companies, labour forces and economies.
Industrial countries have more power to determine the rules of the market than African or developing countries.

Many industrial countries nationalised failing banks after the 2007-2008 global and eurozone financial crises but if African countries do so, they face market, global media and financial outflows.

Many industrial countries, for example, can come up with monetary policies to ostensibly improve their export competitiveness, such as artificially keeping the value of their currencies and interest rates low.
The US, the EU and Japan have been doing this for years.

In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global and Eurozone financial crises the US, because interest rates there were already close to zero, introduced quantitative easing, the strategy of injecting money directly into the country’s financial system. This is printing new money electronically and buying government bonds, which increases the circulation of money in the system, in order to boost consumer and business spending.

However, such a policy has undermined the competitiveness of African countries, by causing see-sawing capital flows, currency volatility and destabilisation of financial markets. Such actions by industrial countries destabilise African economies.
African countries do not have the economic power to introduce their own quantitative easing - and even if they did have, there would probably be market, investor and industrial country backlashes against them.

Industrial countries argue for free trade but most have high tariff barriers for manufactured and processed goods from Africa. However, industrial countries insist African countries open up their markets to their agricultural and manufactured goods.
Industrial countries frequently have non-tariff barriers, such as high quality, health and environmental standards for products coming from African countries. The latter do not have the freedom to enact similar non-tariff barriers for products coming from industrial countries.

Further, industrial countries heavily subsidise their own sensitive industries, such as agriculture. Yet, African countries are punished when they want to protect their infant or sensitive industries.
The US Africa Opportunity Act and the EU Economic Partnership Agreements, for example, allow the US and EU governments to subsidise their strategic industries but forbid African countries to do the same or they lose out on “benefits” from them.
Industrial countries insist that African countries allow their companies unfettered investment freedom in African economies. Again, if African countries do not allow the free entry of industrial country goods, they are likely to face market, investor and industrial country political backlashes.

The international currencies in which trade takes place are either the US dollar or other industrial country currencies, such as the euro, British pound or Japanese yen. The raw materials African countries export to industrial countries are usually traded in these currencies.

Fluctuations in them impact disproportionally on African economies, particularly because most of their economies are heavily reliant on the export of one commodity. The prices, exchanges and bourses of all African commodities are set in industrial countries. This means that African producers, even where they are the global dominant producers of a specific commodity, have no say in the price of it.

In the global market, labour from industrial countries can move freely to African countries, yet African labour movement to industrial countries is increasingly restricted.
The arguments for free markets ring hollow, without the free movement of labour.

Industrial countries also control the supporting structures of global markets - the credit rating agencies; transport and logistics; insurance agencies and banks and the global communication systems.
Industrial countries dominate the global transport, insurance and finance markets needed to export African products to them.
Major global credit ratings agencies are controlled by industrial countries and are often biased against, lack knowledge of or generalise about African economies on a one-size-fits-all basis.
Global markets are increasingly underpinned by communication technology, with trading, financing and business done digitally.

Industrial country companies dominate communications technology industries.

The global public institutions that support global markets are all controlled by industrial countries, their appointees and their dominant views. Some of these include the "public" global institutions, such as the US and EU-led World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and its private sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Trade Organisation.

African producers of commodities must attempt to set up co-ordinating agencies, like the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, for the commodities they produce, to ensure fair prices for these commodities.
African countries must diversify what they produce, and move away from overwhelmingly depending on commodity exports. They must also add value to their commodities by producing manufactured and processed products.

African countries must pool their markets and genuinely begin to trade with each other.

They must introduce industrial policies to diversify their markets away from industrial countries to other developing countries.

They must forge better coalitions to push for the improvement of the governance of global markets, and allow individual African countries with the same policy space to "govern" markets.
African countries must push for the global public institutions which support global markets such as the World Bank and IMF, to give them a greater say in decision-making.

But they must also pool their own resources to create, in partnership with other developing countries, alternative, fairer and more equitable global public institutions which underpin global markets, if the current ones remain dominated by industrial countries.

William Gumede is chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation. His most recent book is Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times

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