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September 2002

 

cwi

Part 7. The Neo-colonial World and Africa

252) The neo-colonial world comprises the majority of humankind, approximately two thirds of the world's population. Ensnared within the framework of landlordism and capitalism, compounded by the disastrous neo-liberal policies of the past decade, it is set on a seemingly unstoppable descent into abject poverty for the mass of the populations, leading to ethnic and social strife, chaos and disintegration. In the last two decades the average life expectancy of Africans has dropped by 15 years to 48 years. [BBC World Service, 11 February 2002.]

253) Some 1.2 billion people worldwide, most of them in the neo-colonial world, live on $1 a day or less. The same number lack access to safe drinking water. Moreover, 70 per cent of the world's poor are female. According to the UN, 600 million children - or one in four - live in absolute poverty. Tragically, nearly 200 million under-fives weigh less than they should and some 250 million children work full- or part-time. There are more than 130 million children of primary school age who are not even in school and 11 million children die from preventable diseases each year. This is approximately 30,000 every day, including on 11 September.

254) Forty per cent of the world's population, 2.5 billion people, lack access to even the most minimum toilet facilities and of the 30,000 children who die each day, water borne diseases account for 6,000 of these. Moreover, the inexorable process of urbanisation will enormously compound these problems. At least 160,000 people are moving to cities from the countryside every day. 600 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin America now live in squatter settlements without any sanitation whatever and governments are unable to cope. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that within 23 years almost five billion people on the planet will be without proper sanitation. Contaminated water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene cause over 80 per cent of all disease in developing countries. WHO points out: "Half of all hospital beds in developing countries are full of people suffering from water borne diseases. Human waste is responsible for cholera, typhoid, trachoma, schistosomiasis and other infectious diseases. Moreover, in Africa, the Middle East and in Central Asia water scarcity, according to the UN, "could become a catalyst for regional conflicts as oil did in the 1970s".

'Benefits' of the market

255) The glittering prospects held out by capitalist ideologists for the neo-colonial world on the basis of untrammelled capitalism, the implementation of deregulation and neo-liberalism, has turned into ashes. 'Free trade' and the implementation of the World Trade Organisation's programmes, and those of the World Bank and the IMF, have had disastrous effects. Most neo-colonial countries are still primary producers and commodity prices have been in a chronically declining spiral for at least two to three years. Coffee prices, for instance, fell by a half in two years and cotton by two thirds since 1995, damaging sub-Saharan countries in particular as well as Latin America. The post-11 September economic slowdown compounded this situation. Lower oil prices have undoubtedly benefited the industrialised countries allowing them to cut interest rates, but the vulnerable and poor oil exporters such as Nigeria, have, to say the least, benefited less.

256) 'External financing', particularly in the infrastructure of 'developing' countries, has collapsed. Infrastructure projects have dropped in value from a total of $4.5 billion in the mid-1990s to $2.5 billion five years later. The World Bank's vice-president declared: "Frankly, what we are seeing is a crisis whereby the public sector has withdrawn from financing infrastructure, thinking the private sector could carry the burden". A director of the World Development Movement stated: "The deeply ironic thing is if you privatise services, investment actually falls. What western investors want is quick returns for what it perceives to be big risks".

257) In other words, "letting the market rip", the substitution of previous minimal state sponsored aid to the neo-colonial world by 'private investment', has been an abysmal failure. At the same time, long-term resources from the West to the neo-colonial world have declined dramatically from the peak of $341 billion in 1997, to an estimated $197 billion in 2001. Even foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen by just under nine per cent from its peak in 1999. Therefore, the access to capital markets by the 'emerging markets' has declined, which has increased the impact of the global slowdown of the last 12 months.

Trade or aid?

258) Even where some lower income countries have increased their share of world trade, they have not seen a corresponding rise in income. Over two decades there has been a 'decoupling' of world trade from 'growth' in the neo-colonial world. Following advice from the international agencies of world capitalism they have, in most cases, diversified out of raw materials into manufacturing. This however has led to them being trapped in 'international production networks', which means they merely assemble imported parts in low-skilled, labour intensive industries, owned by multinational companies.

259) The industrialised countries were able to 'lock in' the benefits of technology, research and development, and 'brand'. However, their poorer 'trading partners' were left competing against each other to provide low-cost labour. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development commented: "Competition amongst firms, including international ones, in developing countries becomes competition among labour located in different countries". It has even led to UNCTAD's Richard Kozul-Wright to issue a call for the abandonment of the 20 year "fixation with liberalisation" - the belief that opening up their markets provides 'developing countries' with an automatic exit route from poverty.

260) >From Asia to Africa to Latin America, the problems of the peoples in the poorer countries of the world have been enormously exacerbated. A prime example is Malawi, where 2 million out of the 11 million population face starvation. In Africa as a whole there are 20 million people suffering from malnutrition and facing starvation - a figure much greater than at the time of 'Live Aid' in support of the starving in Ethiopian 20 years ago. Malawi, like most of Africa, is heavily dependent on agriculture, faced severe shortages in 2002 because of a drought. But this was enormously compounded by the IMF which, some time before this, had advised the government to sell off its reserves of grain in the previous period. The result is that Malawi is compelled to massively import food from 'donors' as well as on the world market. This aid has been utilised by the rotten corrupt elite of Malawi to stuff their own pockets.

261) Yet these policies are the bedrock of world capitalism's approach to the neo-colonial world. Paul O'Neill, the US Treasury Secretary, went on a much publicised visit to Africa with the rock singer Bono. This was prompted by the dire position of the continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. Its share of world trade has dropped from almost 4 per cent 20 years ago to less than 1 per cent today. If sub-Saharan Africa had maintained its exports at the same level as 1980 its economy would be worth an extra $280 billion a year. Nevertheless, O'Neill stated in Ghana, whose workers' average wage of $400 a year is the same as it was 40 years ago, that aid, particularly US aid, would be directed "only to those countries who show good governance and also who encourage economic freedom".

262) This means that they must "open up their markets" which, as the disastrous example of Malawi shows, means to reduce subsidies to farmers and privatise industries. However, the US and the EU are not implementing 'free trade' in their dealings with African countries. The US has passed a farm bill which will increase US farm subsidies by $35 billion, or more than $20,000 to each farmer. The EU also subsidises its own farmers, while continuing to flood African markets with artificially cheap food and products. This at a time when African producers get minimal help from their cash strapped governments. The result is that the Ghanaian rice industry, which Bono and O'Neill saw for themselves, has collapsed in recent years as heavily subsidised US (and Thai) imports have flooded in. From being an exporter, Ghana now imports $100 million worth of rice a year.

263) The situation may be slightly altered - some countries have managed to industrialise or partially industrialise - but the unequal pattern of trade relationships between the neo-colonial world and the industrialised countries is inevitable on a capitalist basis. In fact, it is more firmly set than in the past. Talk of aid and bailing out these countries, even where it has increased, is like taking a thimble to empty the ocean.

264) Even the largely stooge pro-capitalist regimes within the neo-colonial world occasionally echo, ever so faintly, the growing and burning resentment at the unequal treatment they receive at the hands of the dominant economic blocs, particularly the US. Referring to the imposition of import quotas on steel and the subsidies to US farmers, President Cardoso of Brazil, in May 2002, declared at the EU-Latin American summit: "There is a perception that protectionism is condemned when it is an instrument of development for the poor but not when it is a weapon of defence for the rich".

265) At the same time, Africa, Asia and Latin America are an important market for the euphemistically named 'arms trade' whereby the rich arms manufacturers of the West grow fat on selling them fiendish weapons of mass destruction. The elite in these countries use these arms to bolster their own power and prestige against their rivals, and also increasingly to keep the impoverished masses in check.

Environmental catastrophes

266) The neo-colonial world has also increasingly become a dumping ground for the waste, much of it poisonous, from the 'throwaway' society existing in the industrialised world. For instance, discarded parts from computers have produced a 'cyber-age nightmare', which has poisoned the environment in countries such as China, India and Pakistan. Between 50 and 80 per cent of the electronic goods collected for recycling in the West and US is exported to Asia, which is done to exploit the weaker environmental laws and lower waste handling costs which exist there. However, the computers and their screens contain significant levels of poisonous materials. A hundred thousand migrant workers in China are employed to strip old computers of valuable parts with the remnants being dumped in fields and rivers. These poisonous materials, such as lead, barium and mercury can seep into the water and the soil.

267) It will also be the poor who will suffer the greatest from global warming and the disasters which will follow in its wake. In the Solomon Islands for instance, 41 per cent of its 380,000 population were either killed or affected between 1991 and 2000 from disasters arising from global warming, such as rising sea levels, floods and harsher tropical storms. The poor are the most vulnerable to disasters; 88 per cent of those affected and two thirds of those killed in the past ten years live in the least 'developed' countries. At the same time, 'emergency disaster funds' are not used to protect the poor but are siphoned off by the rich and the governments who protect them in the neo-colonial world. For instance, nearly two thirds of funds spent on a flood action plan in Bangladesh between 1990 and 1995 left the country to pay foreign aid consultants.

268) On top of this of course is the danger that is posed by the collapse of the eco-system, itself a by-product of global warming. In the light of what appear to be insufferable obstacles facing the poor and the working class in the neo-colonial world, and the onward march of neo-liberalism and globalisation, a sense of hopelessness can pervade the outlook of the masses in the neo-colonial world. As in Europe, the USA and to some extent Japan, the process of disenchantment from bourgeois democracy is under way. Left and radical parties in the past seemed to offer an alternative to the openly bourgeois parties have moved to the 'centre' (the right), have become advocates of the 'market' and therefore have left the masses politically disarmed.

269) The world is crying out, on all major issues that confront humankind, from all corners of the world, but particularly in the neo-colonial world, for democracy and planning of resources. Capitalism, however, is incapable of achieving this. The barrier to this is the control of the means of production by a handful of billionaires - 497 worldwide - and the hemming in of the huge productive potential by the nation state and the other restrictions intrinsic to 'modern' capitalism. The US naturally dominates the list of billionaires with 243 and nine out of the top ten positions. Only by removing their grip, alongside of the other 'supermillionaires' who dominate the wealth and power of world capitalism, would the colossal productive potential be released. Unless this is effected, the whole of humanity could sink into barbarism, the elements of which are evident today.

Human trade

270) It is there in the mass lumpenisation which accompanies unplanned urbanisation in the neo-colonial world. It is evident in the rise of slavery and abduction, to be found in Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Sudan today. It goes hand in hand with forced abduction. Ten thousand people have suffered this fate in one country alone, Sudan, since the intensification of the conflict there in 1983. Alongside of this is the forced labour which persists in Brazil, Burma, India, Nepal and China. Until March 1999 India had 290,000 bonded labourers, in effect slaves.

271) The horrific trade in human trafficking is also on the increase with human rights organisations estimating that 700,000 people are enslaved in this way each year. In fact, the US government has estimated that the number could be as high as 4 million. Part of this is the brutal exploitation of women through prostitution, which has dramatically increased particularly since the collapse in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, and worsening of the onset of economic crises in the underdeveloped world. Even the British Home Office estimates that there are 1,420 women who have probably been brought into the UK into forced prostitution in one year. Powerful criminal organisations are estimated to earn $7 billion (£4.3 billion) a year from economic and sexual slavery. Asian prostitutes in the US can sell for $20,000 while Russian women working in the brothels of Belgium are reported to bring in as much as $7,500 a month, $7,000 of which goes to the handlers. UNICEF reported that millions of children are involved in prostitution, with the largest number, 400,000, in India, the second largest number 244,000 to 325,000, incredibly, in the USA and then 200,000 in Thailand. [Süddeutsche Zeitung 13 December 2001.]

Effects of globalisation

272) Perhaps even more than in the industrialised countries, in the neo-colonial world the relatively recent achievement of democratic and national rights was seen as a vital weapon for the improvement and alleviation of the conditions of the masses. The real experience, however, has been the same process of bourgeoisification of former mass workers' or radical parties. This in turn has resulted in a bitter mood of disillusionment and in many countries and regions a turning away from 'democracy'. A mood that 'nothing can be done' in the teeth of what appears to be 'unstoppable' globalisation can take hold. However, this is a temporary phase. So extreme are the conditions now confronting millions in these regions that a mood of bitter opposition to globalisation and its effects exists, and can develop on an even higher scale than in Europe and the US in the next period. This may take the form, in the first period, given the huge anti-imperialist mood which affects these countries, of anti-imperialist populism. After a certain period this will inevitably give way to a rise of greater working class combativity and the development of a socialist and revolutionary consciousness.