Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2009
GIVING MACROECONOMIC REFORM A CHANCE
This chapter advocates more serious attention by human rights scholars to macro-economic reform. Macroeconomic reform in some poor countries, including the two on which this chapter focuses, has been necessary during the last twenty-five years for economic growth. In turn, economic growth is necessary, but not sufficient, for economic rights.
Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have undergone significant macroeconomic reform since the 1980s. Structural adjustment programs (SAPs) advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) led this reform. Typical characteristics of SAPs in Africa are fiscal austerity, trade liberalization, privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), abolition of state marketing boards, export-led agricultural reform, retrenchment of civil servants, and currency devaluation. There is widespread concern that SAPs have failed Africa (Ibhawoh 1999, 158–67). Aware of this concern, many human rights scholars have concluded that macroeconomic reform and SAPs are always detrimental to economic human rights, as specified in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, the economic rights most commonly referred to in criticism of macroeconomic reform are those to food, health, education, and access to clean water.
We suggest that blanket dismissal of macroeconomic reform as a path to economic human rights may be too hasty. Although macroeconomic reform is not necessarily beneficial to economic rights, it may in some cases contribute to their realization.
Macroeconomic reform can release blocked productive capacities. The release of productive capacities helps citizens to earn their own livelihood.