Criticism Waged From “Bamako”: Development in a Neoliberal World

For this module, one of the assigned readings was on the Zapatista movement in Mexico.  In this article, the movement is placed within a context of anti-globalization protests in the 1990s. As Mark Gelsomino cites in “The Zapatista Effect: Information Communication Technology Activism and Marginalized Communities”:

Anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle, Genoa and Quebec drew hundreds of thousands of protesters invested in resisting a neo-liberalist conception of globalization. Unfortunately, the “anti-globalization” tag is something of a misnomer. By large, these groups are not against globalization itself, but rather the version of globalization that is driven by unfettered commoditization (3).

This reminds me of a film little known to American audiences yet profound on its indictments on global financial institutions and neoliberal development policy: Bamako.  In this 2006 film, the “unfettered commoditization” of globalization is put on trial as a Malian backyard becomes a courtroom for the citizens of Bamako against the International Monetary Fund.  The central question of this film revolves around value and self-worth:  why is the fate of countries determined by how much they export? According to the citizens of Mali in this film, this statistic bears little relevance with what occurs within a country’s borders.

At one point in the film, a Malian declares the services they were forced to develop did not make them better off.  Instead of free healthcare they were forced to privatize the industry and charge fees for services.  They learned how to do business like in the West: “pay or die”.  A few minutes later, the character declares “we must civilise globalization.”  Unrestrained capitalism, or “unfettered commoditization” is the beast the actor argues must be tamed.

It is important when promoting development projects that we consider the specific lessons we are presenting to foreign countries.  We must not teach them “pay or die”, we must approach the world in a more humane capacity.  We must understand the culture of a target country and not deprive them of a critical service in the process of promoting our goals.  While “Bamako” takes a rather one-sided stance, it holds valuable advice for the Western audience.

The movie ends with a quote by Amié Césaire: “My ear to the ground, I hear tomorrow pass.” There is much need in the world, but let us not promote false hope or continue in our history of broken promises.  There is already too much of that for the world to bear, lest we find ourselves on trial next.

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One response to “Criticism Waged From “Bamako”: Development in a Neoliberal World

  • tanvishah1

    Very interesting blogpost! Where did you hear about this movie?

    Just a thought in my mind – I wonder how these countries would have developed after independence from colonization without any further interference from Western countries. On the one hand, it’s possible these countries would have found a new model of “progress” to suit their needs, but on the other hand, I find it unlikely that any sort of progress – defined by Western standards or not – would have occurred in a reasonable amount of time since the Western colonizers left these countries in such bad condition. I also wonder what sort of “globalization” would ensue after decolonization in this hypothetical scenario?

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