Archive article from The Socialist Issue 398
Crisis in Africa
How imperialism condemns millions to poverty
THE RUN-UP to the G8 summit in Gleneagles has seen repeated attempts by Blair, and his would-be successor Brown, to jump onto the various "make poverty history" campaigns. They portray themselves as fighters against world poverty and dealing with climate change, while simultaneously trying to boost British capitalism's position in the continent vis-à-vis its rivals.
Robert Bechert, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
Of course Blair's anti-poverty campaign did not quite extend to himself. Last year he personally spent £3.6 million on buying a new London home and so far his wife has not donated to charity any of the £30,000 she "earned" for speaking in Washington on 6 June. But this has not stopped Blair once again seizing upon the plight of the African masses in order to give himself a "humanitarian" makeover after the invasion of Iraq.
Simultaneously the British government (which, in the words of Gordon Brown, says that it is time to "stop apologising" for seizing much of Africa and south Asia for the British Empire), wants to divert attention away from imperialism's responsibility for the poverty that affects hundreds of millions around the world.
The G8 leaders fear the impact of the continuing crisis in Africa both on their own immediate interests in the continent, the international effect of increased destabilisation, and in further strengthening the growing opposition they face at home to the super-exploitation of the African masses.
Earlier this year Blair's "Commission for Africa" published its report and argued that something needed to be done to help support pro-Western African leaders, especially those implementing 'neo-liberal' policies. The Commission warned that: "Inaction brings danger. Those new African leaders who are committed to change have put in place reforms - on the economy and on combating corruption - that have been politically difficult. Those leaders could be evicted from office if their people do not see returns."
Starting from the point of view of defending both capitalism and local rulers rather than the mass of the people, this Commission advocated concessions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, etc, to try to prevent more revolts from below.
Officially Africa owes $300 billion in debt but out of this.
These "structural adjustment programmes" or SAPs, were vicious neo-liberal austerity policies that cut living standards at the same time as increasing the debt burden. A Nigerian senator, Farouk Lawan, said earlier this year:
But, refusing to cancel the debt, the G7 finance ministers agreed a $40 billion debt deal, with strings, that actually translates only into an extra $1.2 billion a year for the 18 countries involved that can used for other things. The Commission for Africa argued that the whole of Africa needed an extra $25 billion a year.
Although this deal will cost the US up to $1.75 billion over the next decade, this is almost nothing in comparison with the cost of Bush and Blair's Iraq war. By the end of September 2005 the attack on and occupation of Iraq will have cost the US alone $207.5 billion.
Generally Blair's Commission's report is filled with meaningless phrases like "Africa, at last, looks set to deliver" and avoids making serious criticism of the major imperialist powers.
Thus, while criticising the fact that the imperialist countries spend almost $1 billion a day on "subsidising the unnecessary production of unwanted food," it makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that in 2004 worldwide military spending was far more, reaching $1,000 billion, nearly $3 billion a day.
Similarly, it avoids the issue of the SAPs making only the mildest, indirect, criticism and asks that the IMF "should avoid creating ill-judged limits on what countries can spend", a very minor slap on the wrist.
Often in the Western media there is an attempt to simply blame Africa and Africans as a whole for this crisis. Of course, each country and continent has its own history. However, Africa is not unique in facing wars and crisis, Europe's history is filled with wars and crises.
There are specifically African elements in the crisis such as the continuing legacy of the direct imperialist rule it suffered during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the indirect imperialist control that continues to this day. But the continent's crisis is also the result of poverty and local rulers seeking to enrich themselves through looting.
Neither of these two last factors are uniquely African. Corruption is rife throughout the capitalist world. George Bush has just appointed as his new ambassador in Rome, a banker who was also a university classmate and, more importantly, one of his election fundraisers. In fact, 20% of Bush's elite "pioneer" fundraisers from the 2000 and 2004 elections have been given presidential appointments.
The African elites' rampant corruption and looting is an illustration that the vast majority see no prospect of stable development taking place in their respective countries and have a 'take the money and run' mentality.
This extends right to the very top. Nigeria's current Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been widely praised in the international media for her drive to cut public spending and her public opposition to corruption but she only become a Minister on condition that she was paid in US dollars not in Nigerian naira. Now she 'earns' the modest sum of $247,000 a year.
Africa's huge resources
Blair's Commission correctly pointed out that one of the causes of Africa's crisis is the fact that raw materials have remained as its major exports and that it "simply does not produce enough goods to trade". However, it does not explain why this is the case.
Africa has huge resources in the talents of its people, its natural resources and its agriculture, but why are they not used in the interests of the African people?
The fundamental answer is because the world economy has long been dominated by the ruling classes of the rich countries and their companies. Currently, the 500 biggest international companies now control 70% of world trade, while the 50 largest banks and financial companies control 60% of all global capital. Today, just 300 multinationals and big banks account for 70% of all foreign direct investment.
This domination effectively blocks off the growth of independent rivals to these monopolies. Where new technologies or products develop, they are quickly dominated by the imperialist powers. Exceptions to this general rule, such as South Korea, were helped by the West to develop during the cold war for strategic reasons or, in the unique case of China, where the basic economic foundations of its recent growth were built by the state.
This modern day imperialist control and drive for profit distorts the world's entire development. Even the Blair Commission partially recognised this: "Developed nations... trade policies are skewed to benefit the rich without consideration for the poor". This is the key barrier that has to be overcome if world living standards are to be raised.
But, of course, Blair and Co. do not challenge capitalism at all. The Commission claimed that: "Economically, since growth is driven principally by the private sector, that requires governments to provide a climate in which ordinary people - whether they be small farmers or managers of larger firms - can get on with their daily tasks untroubled, and feel that it is worthwhile investing in their future".
Capitalism is not developing Africa. Indeed, the continent is going backwards. But even if one looks at European or US capitalism's history, it has never been one of uninterrupted progress. This needs to be remembered today when the basis of world economy's current growth is extremely fragile and there are growing fears of what the next economic crisis will bring.
But, despite its continual crises, there is another side to Africa; namely the repeated struggles, led by the working class and youth, to defend living standards and democratic rights. In Nigeria alone the Obasanjo government's policy of cutting fuel subsidies has faced seven general strikes or periods of mass protests since June 2000.
Again and again repressive regimes have been toppled, but because no break was made with capitalism and imperialism a fundamental and lasting change did not occur. Only when production for private profit is ended and resources are public owned and democratically controlled would it be possible to begin to plan their use to meet human needs.
The necessity of this break is part of the alternative that socialists in Africa (see article, right), are arguing for as they work to build fighting socialist organisations in Africa as part of a worldwide movement.
A socialist break with capitalism in an African country, particularly an important one, and an appeal for this example to be followed in other countries, could begin the real transformation of the planet.
Globalisation has shown how individual companies can plan production around the world. Imagine what would be possible if a democratic plan was able to utilise all of the world's resources, human and material, to meet humanity's needs while protecting the environment.
Africa is currently the weakest link in the chain of world capitalism. If the African working masses, poor and youth can begin to break capitalism's chains then they could start changing the whole globe.
A desperate continent in a world of plenty
ACCORDING TO Blair's Commission report, more than a 100 million Africans are "chronically poor" and today life expectancy is actually falling with the average now just 46 years.
The continent is ravaged by repeated wars which have killed millions, three million died in four years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Economically the last three decades have seen stagnation in African countries and a collapse in their share of world trade, which fell from around 6% in 1980 to 2% in 2002. On top of this there is the huge 'debt' mountain that the African masses carry, over $300 billion.
At the beginning of June the US investment bank Merrill Lynch's published the World Wealth Report 2005 showing that today a total of 8.3 million individuals worldwide personally have $30,800 billion worth of financial assets.
Yes, another world is possible, but how?
AS A journalist, Lanre Arogundade, (a member of the DSM, the Socialist Party's counterpart in Nigeria) attended both the West African and the African Social Forums in Guinea and Zambia respectively late in 2004.
Here, he offers a socialist critique of the slogan - 'Another Africa is possible'.
FROM THE international theme, another world is possible, social movements and civil society organisations in Africa, its regions and countries have adopted the same slogan. They say: another Africa is possible; another West Africa is possible. Or another Nigeria is possible, another Zimbabwe is possible etc.
Of course, a quick revisit of the environment in which the forums took place reinforces the argument that another world is not only desirable but indeed should be made possible.
Guinea, which hosted the West African social forum, is suffering under the yoke of a military-turned-civilian dictatorship. Despite, its rich mineral resources such as bauxite, the coastal nation and her citizens are among the poorest in the world. The president has refused to either step down or call elections. Soon after the forum, he claimed that a coup had been planned against him and effectively used that to clamp down on the opposition including the press and trade unions.
Zambia, which soon after hosted the African social forum, does not fare better. The country's water resources could take care of the needs of the entire southern Africa, which means that it could effectively be a waterpower. But today most of her citizens lack potable water. The country is one of the worst hit by the HIV/AIDS scourge and majority of her citizens live in abject poverty.
Guinea and Zambia may represent the poorest African Nations but there isn't much to show in the so-called bigger and sometimes richer countries such as Nigeria and South Africa where the key-defining feature of existence is poverty amidst riches. For the likes of Sudan, the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea etc the only story that can be easily told is that of wars, genocide, famine, diseases and mass hunger.
Africa, therefore, in general presents the worst characteristics of modern day capitalist exploitation...
The debt issue was expectedly a big agenda at both forums. There was a majority vote for total debt cancellation as many argued that it is indeed the capitalist countries of Europe and America that should pay reparations for colonial exploitation and plunder and further neo-colonial exploitation through the Bretton Wood institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The Nigerian government says, for example, that to one of its creditors it has paid 43 billion Naira as interest on a debt of 13 billion Naira and still owes about 23 billion Naira...
Cancel the fictitious debts
Socialists support total cancellation of the usurious and mostly fictitious debts holding down development in the countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, etc. But the way it is posed at the social forums as the magical solution to Africa's problems is misleading.
For in addition to the debt burden other by-products of the exploitative capitalist system such as massive corruption, imperialist domination of the commanding heights of the economy, the millionaires' monopoly of land, farms and other natural resources, payment of poverty wages etc, are equally responsible for Africa's under-development. Not to mention years of military and civilian dictatorships as well as wars and genocide with the big undercurrent of ethnic and nationality agitation.
Moreover, it cannot be expected that the same beneficiaries of the exploitation of the working masses, who constitute the African Union (AU) and regional bodies like ECOWAS would be the champions of the debt cancellation campaign. It is thus futile putting such demands at the doorsteps of AU, NEPAD, and SADCC etc.
What happens next?
Then we need to ask: assuming that the debt is cancelled today, what happens next? What alternative would be put in place to avoid a return to the debt regime?
The point that socialists stress is that first and foremost it must be understood that Africa's myriad of problems are fundamentally caused by the system of the millionaires and landlords that has manifested through the years as direct colonization, indirect rule, dictatorships, neo-liberalism and what have you.
Second, that the alternative to this system is a socialist plan of production and society with the commanding heights of the economy not only nationalised and socialised, but also placed under the democratic control and management of the working class, farmers and peasants in order to check likely abuses...
...Africa and her countries are not new to mass social and revolutionary movements. Many examples buttress this point from the anti-slavery revolt to the independence struggles. From the Algerian to the South African revolutions and the working class movements in Ghana, Nigeria etc.
The chief task of making another Africa possible lies in re-arming the working class and youth movement with the correct perspectives and strategies based on the need to change the capitalist system.
Another Africa would be possible only when another revolution led and controlled by the working class and youth, the farmers, peasants and women is made to happen in each and every African country.
Extracts from Socialist Democracy, March 2005, the paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM; website www.socialistnigeria.org ) in Nigeria.
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