Below is the main article from a special edition of Socialist Democracy, newspaper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria), produced for sale at the World Social Forum which is presently being held in Bamako, Mali.
Africa - it is either socialism or deepening barbarism
Africa is ravaged by extreme poverty like a hurricane. It is the only continent that has grown poorer since 1980. Nearly half of its population lives on less than 1 dollar a day. Hunger has almost become pandemic. Millions have died for lack of food. The future even appears bleaker. UNDP/UNICEF reports say by year 2015, Africa will only be able to feed less than half of its population.
2015 is also the year that the leaders of the world’s powers have has set as the target to halve the level of poverty and hunger among other ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG). These goals also include reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. However the Africa Development Bank has said that Africa is the region least likely to meet MDG. The United Nations states that if the current social development indicators continue, Africa will not reach the MDG targets for another 150 years! Over three-quarters of AIDS deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa while 65% of people living with HIV/AIDS are on the continent. To make matters worse, the post-colonial history of Africa is replete with horrors of wars that have claimed millions of lives of the working masses.
The statistics above that are largely indicative of the underdevelopment of Africa are indeed horrendous. What has cast this awful blight on the continent in spite of its stupendous riches? Socialists argue that capitalism is the culprit. Lenin called capitalism, "horror without end". The iniquitous system obviously unleashes its horror much more on Africa (and other countries in Asia and Latin America) than elsewhere. In terms of natural resources, Africa is perhaps potentially the richest continent of the world. But capitalism in all its stages of development has despoiled the continent of its resources right from the trans-Atlantic slave trade through colonialism to the imperialist epoch. Today’s neo-liberal policies have only worsened the masses’ situation. The continent is robbed of the resources to finance its development and provide for the basic needs of its population. Governments rely on foreign capital mostly in form of loans whose exorbitant interest charges have become suffocating burdens.
At present, world imperialism employs the triad of the debt burden, its domination of international trade and corrupt African leaders as weapons to force Africa prostrate in the face of brazen robbery of its wealth through anti-poor neo-liberal policies.
Debt Burden and Neo-Liberalism
By October 2005, Africa had repaid $580 billion to the usurious creditors (the imperialist nations and institutions) for original debt put at $540 billion, yet it still owes $330 billion. While struggling to meet this crippling debt repayment, governments neglect provision of education, health, jobs, foods and other basic needs of the working people. The governments have taken the poison of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) or neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, trade liberalisation, cuts in public spending, etc., as conditions to gain possible relief from the pain of debts that are largely fictitious and odious.
Therefore, it is not accidental that Africa has the highest rate of AIDS. Africa Action reported that in 2003, African countries paid over $25 billion in debt services, even as 2.3 million Africans lost their lives to AIDS. In that very year, World Health Organisation reported that 4.1 million Africans living with AIDS were in immediate need of Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs), but only 50,000 could receive them.
Capitalism and its neo-liberal policies are the major cause of hunger in Africa. Craig Timberg of Washington Post reported that, rather than natural disaster like drought or climate change causing the famine ravaging Niger, it is largely the result of the unbridled embrace of free market economy by the Nigerian government. At the behest of the World Bank, Niger scrapped price controls and in consequence, prices of many foods rose sharply beyond the means of large layers of working people. It imposed taxes on staple foods, an action that led to two massive protests in March 2005 alone. All this is line with requirement of the World Bank/IMF’s ‘Highly Indebted Poor Countries’ (HIPC) initiatives that entail neo-liberal policies. This explains why other HIPC countries like Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Ethiopia and Mali are equally in the throes of hunger despite, along with Niger and nine other African countries, being recently granted cancellation of their foreign debts after years of unbroken submission to the dictates of IMF/World Bank.
Through unequal trade or exchange, Africa has been robbed of enormous resources. Between 1980 and now, Africa’s share of world trade has fallen by more than two-third, from 6% in 1980 to less than 2%. The price of its main exports has kept plummeting. A study reveals that between 1980 and 2001, the price of coffee plunged by 85%; cocoa 67%, palm oil 60%, copper 41%, and all other main exports from the continent except crude oil follow the same trend. The imperialist nations that preach free trade, removal of subsidies, etc impose artificial barriers to Africa goods and heavily subsidise their rich farmers. An estimate put what the developed countries spend on farm subsidies at £200 billion a year, £17 billion more than the entire African GDP. The World Bank says if North America, Japan and Europe dropped their trade barrier to African goods, Africa’s exports would jump by £1.5 billion a year.
But why is Africa in this situation? Fundamentally the 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 control 70% of world trade, while the fifty 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 and Malaysia, were helped by the West to develop during the cold war for strategic reasons. In the case of China, the basic economic foundations of its recent growth were built on the initial advances in infrastructure and education made possible by a planned, nationalised economy, despite the effects of the undemocratic rule of Maoist Stalinism.
Africa’s woe is compounded by the corruption of its leaders. It is instructive that corruption is not limited to Africa or developing countries. The collapse of Enron, the American giant energy company, for instance, shows that corruption is universal with capitalism. Most of the resources that are left in Africa after losing some to unfair trade and debt repayment are stolen by the pro-west corrupt leaders and stashed away in private foreign accounts in Europe and North America. This looting also shows that they have no confidence that Africa can develop on a capitalist basis. Capitalist neo-liberalism, the reigning philosophy of governance has given more leverage to Africa leaders to loot money since they are not committed to use the resources to provide basic needs of people. The initial gains of post independence that arose out of relative heavy investment of national governments in infrastructure, social services and public enterprises have been eroded by neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation and cuts in public spending.
War and National Oppression
The neo-liberal induced mass poverty, marginalisation of the vast majority of working people and unresolved national questions, mainly a legacy of colonialism, are in most cases at the root of wars ravaging the continent. Most African countries are artificial creations of colonial masters for their strategic and economic interests without regards to the different nations with different histories, traditions and languages they lumped together.
It is clear that African bourgeois elite is incapable of resolving the national question. It provides them troubled water to fish. The disgruntled sections of the ruling elite capitalise on the disenchantment of working people to sitting governments and exploit ethnicity to mobilise for wars, which are actually aimed at achieving their self-serving interests. They make undue advantages out of these conflicts to better their own stake either by coming directly to power or negotiating to be integrated fully into mainstream of the ruling class, at the expense of the poor working masses who are used as cannon fodders. These wars have left millions of working masses dead, permanently maimed or homeless. Statistics reveals 4 million dead in Congo, 2 million in Sudan and 1million in Rwanda. So also are the countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire, etc where wars, in recent times, have claimed lives of hundreds of thousands.
Only working people can resolve national questions by supporting the full rights of nations and minorities, including full self-determination, while striving for united movements against common enemies. A characteristic of genuine working people movements is seeing people of different nationalities marching together and united against capitalist attack on their living conditions, this shows the potential to build united movements that can transform society.
Role of Working Class
The current steady descent into barbarism of Africa is a graphic reflection of the failure of both imperialism and local capitalist elite to develop Africa’s economy and the living standard of its people. For the whole period of post independence Africa, both the military and the civilian sections of the capitalist class have ruled the continent with same ruinous counterproductive effect. Both in terms of general economic development and working class living standards, Africa today lags far behind Europe and the rest of developed capitalist world than it was four or five decades ago.
Although, a tiny layer of Africa’s population are as stinkingly rich as the most capitalist elements even in the advanced capitalist world, this, it must be stressed, is the product of direct state treasury looting and dubious deals and collaboration with imperialism to plunder the rest of Africa’s human and material resources.
Going by world capitalist history and in particular, the limited history of capitalism in Africa, only the working class people possess the potential to end capitalist induced mass misery in the midst of an inexhaustible abundance.
The glory and progress of modern civilization rests on large-scale application of technological know-how to convert natural resources into finished consumable products. Under capitalism, most of these technological know-how and world resources have been converted to private ownership of a few capitalist corporations and elements. And here lies the major contradiction. While on an international scale and even in many sectors of the economy, continents and countries, there exists abundant technical know-how and resources to provide a decent living for every person on earth, the selfish, profit first nature of capitalism means that most of the time, these potentials remain unrealised.
However, the positive side of capitalism is the development and existence of the working class. This is the class that holds the key to the day-to-day operation of the system without which nothing happens, and is capable of collective action.
To provide for the basic needs of all and not just for a few as is the case under the prevailing dispensation, the working class, supported by other strata of the poor, will have to lead a social revolution. This would entail taking into common ownership and its own democratic control and management the commanding heights of the economy and major resources with a central goal of planning and organising production for use and not just for profit.
Very important to note, the contemporary history of Africa is itself very rich in mass movements and struggles. Last year alone witnessed mass protests and strikes against capitalist, neo-liberal policies in Mali, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger, South Africa, and Nigeria etc.
In the 1990s to early 2000, it was working class led struggles and revolts that helped to propel the defeat of unpopular capitalist governments of Kerekou in Benin Republic and Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia respectively. The Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe led by Morgan Tsvangirai initially grew and developed out of the trade union and working class resistance against the anti-poor capitalist government of Robert Mugabe. In South Africa, only the COSATU led strikes and mass protests have so far slowed the pace of the anti-poor, neo-liberal policies implemented by the ANC capitalist government.
In Nigeria, the current pro-imperialist, anti-poor government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has been shaken to its roots in several occasions by a series of strikes and mass protests led by the trade union movement.
Unfortunately however, all these struggles, severally and collectively, have shown weaknesses that need to be overcome if we are to move from protests and defensive struggles to changing the system. This requires building a movement with a clear programme and a leadership not afraid to fight capitalism.
Socialists argue that Africa will only get out of the vicious circle of decline by breaking with capitalism and taking the continent’s economic resources out of the hands of imperialism and the local capitalists. Only on the basis of a democratically planned economy could a start be made to use the resources in the interests of the mass of people. This is not the old system where the local elite looted the state and nationalised industries for their own ends. On the contrary socialists stand for nationalisation under democratic control and management to prevent corruption and ensure that the resources are used in the working masses’ interests.
Africa is not alone in having an uncertain future, at best, under capitalism. Today the health of the world economy is becoming ever more precarious. Internationally working people, including in Europe and the USA, face increasing uncertainly regarding their future as continuing attacks on their living standards and jobs take place. In this situation if, even in one African country, a decisive socialist break with capitalism was made it could gather an enormous echo in other African countries and beyond. It would be through this international impact that the isolation of any individual country breaking with capitalism and imperialism could be over come. On this, socialist, basis the peoples of Africa could be really united.
But to achieve this well articulated socialist programmes and policies together with a disciplined working class and mass organisations are needed. Without this there is the danger that mass struggles can result in simply a change in the gang of looters. That is what happened in Chiluba’s Zambia, a government formed by ex-trade union activists, ended up implementing capitalist, neo-liberal policies. Of course working people can fight alongside other social forces in individual struggles, whether they concern economic, social or political issues. However within those movements socialists argue that fundamental change, an end to capitalism, is needed to permanently secure any victories won in partial struggles.
In Republic of Benin, the working class mass movement was strong enough to bring down the Kerekou government but lacking its own organisation and leaders could only put in power Mr. Soglo, a dissident member of capitalist ruling class, who naturally ended up implementing anti-poor capitalist policies in power.
Sadly too, the move away from trying to build a working people’s party in Zimbabwe to build the pro-capitalist MDC has equally robbed working people of an opportunity to fight and defeat Mugabe ruling capitalist party. Similarly, it is the labour leaders’ lack of both alternative socialist policies and a determination to chase out the Obasanjo government from power, which allows Nigeria’s widely hated President to plot to remain in power after his constitutional tenure ends in May 2007.
To therefore arrest the current economic decay and horror of war ravaging Africa, the creation of a powerful pan-African working class political movements and organisations struggling on day-to-day basis to fight for improvement in economic and political conditions of African masses linked with the ultimate task of abolishing capitalism, the principal cause of social inequality and turmoil is an unpostponable task for the African working masses, youth, and revolutionaries.