Per-Ake Westerlund from Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) introduced the CWI Summer School discussion on Africa, on 13 July, giving an outline of the economic crisis and its political effects in Africa.
After a period of rapid economic growth, Africa is being severely hit by the economic crisis. The IMF prognosis for Africa in 2009 is economic growth of 2.0% - this is a significant slowdown from a growth rate of 5.2% in 2008 and represents a severe downturn in many African countries. South Africa, one of the biggest and most developed economies on the continent, with 5% yearly growth since 2004, is now in the position of -1.8% in the first quarter of 2009. Angola represents the most drastic change, with a growth rate of 14.8% in 2008, now down to –3.6%.
The crisis has plunged states across the continent, after some years of surplus, into rapidly increasing current account and state budget deficits. The change in the economic situation, with a slowdown in economic production, intensified attacks on jobs. In mining, 360,000 jobs have been lost in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the first quarter of 2009, 25,000 miners lost their jobs in South Africa. There are struggles erupting in ports, as dock workers in Algeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast fight for their jobs and conditions. Movements of the unemployed are beginning to be organised, including in Namibia and DR Congo.
There is a jobs massacre in the public sector, as governments make cuts in desperate attempts to expenditure and are increasing privatisation.
Obama’s recent visit to Ghana aimed to present an optimistic picture of the future with the country’s newly discovered oil wealth and political stability. This view is not shared by workers and young people, who recently demonstrated against the recruitment freeze in the public sector.
Public sector workers, including nurses in Zambia, teachers in Gabon, health workers in South Africa and university academics in Nigeria have taken strike action against attacks on pay and conditions, privatisations and job losses.
Arrogant, colonial mindset
Contributions to the School discussion on Africa highlighted the need to look past the arrogant, colonial mindset of the capitalist media, which presents Africa as a hopeless basket case with self-inflicted problems. Conditions faced by many of the poor and working class on the continent are barbaric; capitalism is unable to take society forward or provide a decent level of existence for the majority.
In economies like Nigeria’s, society is moving backwards. Roads in Lagos are subsiding in the rainy season bringing traffic chaos as they are not maintained. Government workers in the provincial states have not had their wages paid for several months and their trade union reports that 50 workers have died of hunger.
The Aids crisis is catastrophic for Africa, with 40% of the adult population of Botswana being affected and 1,000 dying everyday in South Africa. The climate crisis is causing famine, flooding and the displacement of millions. The scarcity of water, fuel, food and other basic necessities leads to tension between communities.
The desperate situation leads many to seek an individual way out of a nightmare existence. Last year, 67,000 “illegal” migrants made their way to Europe from Africa over the Mediterranean.
In countries such as Somalia, Sudan and DR Congo, armed groups and militias step into the political vacuum. Many of these groups are sponsored by corrupt governments or reflect support for religious fundamentalism. Capitalist powers use these conflicts as an opportunity to exploit natural resources and sell arms. Armed groups prey on mass unemployment, the frustration and desperation of young people, increasing ethnic and religious tensions.
The strength of the workers’ movement varies from country to country but this onslaught of attacks from the bosses, corrupt political elites, warlords and landlords, backed by major capitalist powers and multinationals, is being resisted by the working class and poor.
70,000 construction workers strike in S Africa
In South Africa which has a rich tradition of struggle the working class is beginning to fight back. Last week, 70,000 construction workers working on the World Cup stadiums went on strike demanding a wage increase of 13%. The world press focused on the danger that construction might not be complete for next year’s World Cup.
Africa has long been a battleground for competing powers such as France, US, Britain and formerly the Soviet Union. China is now seeking to increase its influence, being reliant on Africa for 33% of its oil. China is viewed by some as a friendly partner, as it invests in infrastructure, re-opening factories and mines and building palaces for governments in return for lucrative contracts and access to land. However, for the masses it will be viewed as another exploitative power, as shown by attacks on Chinese officials and demonstrations against the bosses.
Alex Rouillard, Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI France), in summing up the discussion, highlighted the need to learn from the failures and mistakes of Stalinist communist parties and past national liberation movements which were unable to overthrow imperialism and capitalism in the region and whose leaders, once in power, become pawns of the
major powers. This has been seen with the leadership of the ANC in South Africa, who have carried out neo-liberal policies and enriched themselves on the back of the struggle against apartheid. Alex also pointed to the failure of armed guerilla methods in the Congo and other African countries.
There is a need to build mass organizations, trade unions and political parties that can lead united struggles of workers and poor against capitalism and imperialism. This task is being taken up by the CWI sections in Nigeria and South Africa. In Nigeria, the Democratic Socialist Movement is pushing the trade union leaders to take action against the government and the bosses. Despite a series of general strikes since 2000, which mobilised the masses, the union leaders are unwilling to challenge capitalism. The DSM comrades play a leading role in the Education Rights Campaign, which has been the backbone of students’ solidarity action for the strikes in the universities leading to the arrest of CWI activists. The CWI aims to build its forces across the continent of Africa by engaging in all struggles of workers, poor and youth.