A journalist and socialist activist, Lanre Arogundade, attended both the West African and The African Social Forums in Guinea and Zambia respectively, late last year. Here, Lanre offers a socialist critique of the slogan - ’Another Africa Is Possible’.
Yes, another Africa is possible, but how?
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 who suffers decapitating diabetes 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. It is said that the country’s water resources could take care of the needs of the entire southern Africa, which means that it could effectively be 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 result of which is the following (as compiled by Jubilee South Africa):
- Mortality rate of children under 5 years of age is 140 per 1000
- Life expectancy at birth is only 54 years
- Only 58% of the population has access to safe water
- Illiteracy rate for people over 15 is 41%
- Only 18 mail telephone lines per 1000 people compared with 146 in the world as a whole and 567 in the high-income countries
On top of all the above is what has been labelled the big debt burden. It is said that "Africa carries a debt burden of over $300 billion but has only 5% of the world’s income and spends over $15 billion annually on debt repayment" and even the World Bank acknowledges that for every US1$ African countries receive in grant 13$ is paid as interest on debt.
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 Breton 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.
Anti-debt campaigner, Senegalese Dembe Mouusa summarized the views of his constituency: "We want to get rid of IMF and World Bank influence in Africa. We know that most of the debt crisis and its implications came from structural adjustment policies. Even their lending is just promises and we know that that those promises they fulfil them if you destroy your country trade liberalization, commercialization and privatization so we don’t even want to have their money. If we have our way we would say thank you IMF, thank you World Bank, take your money and go back to Washington DC"
Socialists and Marxists 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 under-current 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 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.
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, 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 nationalized and socialized, but also placed under the democratic control and management of the working class, farmers and peasants in order to check likely abuses.
There is no doubt that social forum has attracted and captured the imagination of a number of working class elements and especially the youths. But the endless meetings and talk shops would remain mere yearly rituals if the task of the need to build an alternative African working class and youth political programmes, perspectives and platform is not posed and addressed. In doing this, it is equally important to forge alliances and working class solidarity with the working class and youth of other continents who despite different circumstances face similar capitalist and imperialist yoke.
Good enough, 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.
From the March-April edition of Socialist Democracy, paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (cwi in Nigeria)