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September 2002

 

cwi

Part 8. Africa

273) This process will develop at different speeds and with different formations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Africa is undoubtedly the worst possible showcase for capitalism at the present time. However, there is a dawning recognition amongst the world bourgeoisie that the policy of putting a whole continent on the 'backburner' is no longer tenable. Even bourgeois commentators have ruminated on the fact that given the terrible spiral of decline that sub-Saharan Africa in particular has experienced "Africa is not angry with us [read capitalism], yet".

cwi274) But Europe and the rest of the world are profoundly affected by Africa's crisis. There is an unstoppable movement of migrants which already knocks at its doors for respite from poverty, ethnic and religious conflict, and despotic governments. Up to now this has been a trickle, despite the alarmist propaganda of the European far right. But a mass wave, an army of millions of immigrants, will beat a path to the rich world's doorstep unless there is hope for some improvement in the conditions of the masses.

275) All the past crimes of the imperialist powers - super-exploitation, the destruction of indigenous societies, the artificial division and creation of 'countries', which cut across tribes and ethnic groupings, the failure to create even the semblance of an educated 'middle class' prior to decolonisation - are rebounding on them. The weak, corrupt and increasingly powerless indigenous ruling class, their parties and their 'armed forces' are seen as utterly incapable of finding a way out of the impasse.

276) The corrupt parasitic character of bourgeois African leaders was underlined by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo when he pointed out that, since independence from colonial powers, corrupt African leaders have stolen $140 billion (£95 billion) from the people. This has been done with the connivance of European countries and banks, which have provided a "safe haven for stolen African money" and therefore share the guilt". [The Independent, London, 4 June 2002.] But Obasanjo is himself a millionaire, making his money ostensibly from chicken farming, but probably from other unexplained activities.

Development, aid and debt

277) The facts and figures describing Africa's deprivation and hopelessness on a capitalist basis are well rehearsed. Trade barriers cost Africa at least $2 billion in lost revenues. On debt, only three countries have actually received some measure of debt relief, over 20 more are in the queue. Africa is, moreover, trapped in paying billions of dollars in interest payments to the governments and banks of the West, while millions go hungry. The continent needs a huge investment in basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges, but between 1996 and 2000 aid, some of it directed towards such improvements, fell from $16 billion to $12.7 billion.

278) The so-called 'New Partnership for African Development' (NEPAD) has been enthusiastically taken up by the bourgeois politicians in the West. Apart from O'Neill and Bono, Tony Blair has visited Africa. Jean Chrétien, the Canadian prime minister, and Jacques Chirac have also declared themselves as champions of NEPAD. However, as the Financial Times commented: "One weary G7 official calculated that there had been 18 African development initiatives in the last 20 years". And, he could have added, the situation has got immeasurably worse in this period.

279) Even when their consciences are pricked and action is promised, as with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), passed by the US Congress in 2000, the results, although an improvement, have been pitiful in global terms. Imports to the US market have increased and now reach the grand figure of $1.2 billion a year. Yet, if sub-Saharan Africa had simply maintained the share of world trade it had in 1980 its annual exports to the world would be £190 billion, more than double the current level, and far beyond what the most generous foreign aid could supply. The US Trade Representative to Africa made clear the position of the US ruling class when he declared: "It is no longer an ideological debate over models of development. It is a question of how market based development will work".

280) In the first two decades of independence, for most African countries between 1967 and 1980, more than a dozen of them registered a growth rate of 6 per cent per annum. This was despite the fact that imperialism tied Africa into a one-sided arrangement, which meant that most countries were stuck as largely agricultural producers or reliant on oil as with Nigeria. This benefited the rich countries. There was very little effort at diversification because of the unfair terms of trade which decreed that the rich countries would receive from Africa and the rest of the neo-colonial world cheap raw materials and sell back dear manufactured goods. Because of the rivalry for influence in Africa between imperialism and Stalinism, the African bourgeoisie was able to manoeuvre and extract concessions from the different blocs.

281) This relationship, weak and discriminatory though it was, was torn up by the intervention of the IMF and the World Bank, particularly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. So-called structural adjustment programmes, which were recommended at the height of the Cold War, were now implemented with a vengeance, resulting in a drastic reduction in state involvement. The assault on social expenditure - including university funding - combined with an emphasis in importing into Africa foreign experts with technical assistance programmes, has had a devastating effect. The indigenous engineers, social experts, administrators, etc., were lured away by the better prospects in the industrialised countries. This was matched by a flow of Western 'experts' to Africa. The result is that there are more expatriates in Africa today than at the height of colonialism.

282) The super-exploitation, the sheer gangster capitalism in parts of Africa, has reached such a level that even Tony Blair has been compelled to denounce some companies "including multinationals" who have used valuable natural resources such as diamonds, oil and timber to help to fuel wars in Africa.

The effects of HIV and AIDS

283) The indigenous ruling classes, a very isolated and thin layer of society, have no answer to the ethnic and religious conflicts which scar the continent, or the AIDS pandemic which is the world's new 'Black Death'. Botswana typifies the catastrophe which confronts, to one degree or another, all the countries of Southern Africa. Even the president, Mogae, has said: "HIV/AIDS is the greatest challenge Botswana has faced and threatens the country with annihilation". This country has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, with an estimated 38 per cent of the sexually active population - between the ages of 15 and 49 - classified as HIV positive. It has assumed such proportions that it is not just a burgeoning human disaster but it is having an economic effect which is of special concern to the capitalists.

284) Huge rates of HIV/AIDS infection, for instance, amongst the workforce of Gold Fields, the South African mining company, according to them, has added as much as $10 to the cost of producing an ounce of gold. Of the company's 50,000 workers, 26.5 per cent were HIV positive. For Botswana, a government study has predicted that economic output, already precariously low, would fall by 1.5 per cent over 25 years just as a result of HIV/AIDS, and the country's health expenditure would accordingly need to triple over the next decade. Oxfam estimates that AIDS spending in Africa needs to increase by $10 billion to at least $25 billion a year if the continent is to meet the 'international targets' of halving the numbers living on less than $1 a day by 2015.

285) The issue of the linkage between poverty and HIV/AIDS is the subject of intense debate between Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, and his supporters, and everybody else, it seems. Unbelievably, Mbeki has used the arguments of reactionary US scientists to question whether HIV and AIDS are connected. Mbeki has claimed that diseases caused as a result of contracting AIDS are, in fact, poverty related. He has used a demagogic attack on Western based drug multinationals and their super-profits as an excuse to refuse pregnant women who have the HIV virus access to free anti-retroviral drugs through state provision of this medication. Questions about the effectiveness of the drugs and claims of a lack of financial resources are invoked to justify this position. But the government is not even seeking money from the global AIDS fund because they claim the problem is not cash but lack of infrastructure to deliver treatment. Clearly there is a link between poverty and disease, and there is some truth in the exploitation of this tragedy by the multinational drugs companies, but that does not justify the inane refusal of Mbeki and his supporters to utilise the means that are available now, despite their inadequacies, to at least hold the disease at bay in an attempt to save the next generation.

286) This scandal has enraged wide sections of the South African working class because the media has exposed the fact that leading ANC figures who have HIV are receiving the same drugs refused to the wider population at top clinics inside and outside South Africa. Even Nelson Mandela has waded in against Mbeki, describing the catastrophe that affects South Africa as similar to the fall-out from a war. Six million South Africans are expected to perish from AIDS by the end of this decade. Undoubtedly, the poverty stricken conditions felt by many black South Africans and the lack of a state-funded campaign of education on this issue have made the effects of the AIDS epidemic more widely felt, but as Mandela has stated: "This is a war. It will kill more people than is the case in all previous wars and all natural disasters. We must not continue to be debating, to be arguing, when people are dying." [The Johannesburg Sunday Times.]

Drought and Famine

287) Southern Africa also confronts a serious crisis caused by drought and soaring maize prices, which is likely to affect five million people in the region. The euphemistic 'humanitarian crisis' - in reality starvation or semi-starvation conditions for millions - has been used by international aid agencies to describe the crisis in Malawi, the serious situation in parts of Zambia, the threat of starvation in Zimbabwe, almost famine conditions in Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. In Malawi, women pound grass seeds for food and in Zimbabwe even fields of drought resistant sorghum are wilting. Some farmers told Judith Lewis, the regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa of the World Food Programme, that they "were waiting to die. People with money could not find food to buy".

288) In this situation and given the political disengagement of the masses mentioned above, the democratic rights of the masses are under attack throughout Africa. Nearly five decades after Ghana led the way to independence from the former colonial powers 'African democracy' remains a chimera. The weak indigenous bourgeoisie seeks refuge from the indignation of the masses at their conditions, in one authoritarian regime after another. They attempt to prevent the development of any alternative pole of attraction by using vote rigging, murder and assassination of opponents, as well as the playing off of one tribe or ethnic group against another, etc.

Zambia, Madagascar and Kenya

289) The most prominent recent examples of this were the elections at the beginning of 2002 in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the upcoming election in Kenya. When Frederick Chiluba, then a trade union leader, replaced Kenneth Kaunda as Zambia's president in the 1990s it was hailed as a new dawn for 'democracy' and Zambia's economic prospects. But as the price of copper plummeted so did the prospects for the country and the government presided over by Chiluba.

290) In the last election he handpicked Levy Mwanawasa as his heir apparent. Even European Union monitors perceived the election as having "clear, glaring irregularities". He received no more than 28.7 per cent of the vote, with the opposition contender Mazoka receiving 26.7 per cent. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of Chiluba's candidate. But Mwanawasa, who was christened the 'steak' after declaring that the opposition was wrong in labelling him a weak candidate - "They call me a cabbage but I will prove that I am a piece of steak" - has remained defiant. True to his word, on the assumption of office, he reacted to the charges of widespread vote rigging accusations by announcing a crackdown on political dissenters and warning that protest would be regarded as treason.

291) In Madagascar, Ravalomanana, formerly a peasant farmer who rose to become one of Madagascar's richest men and the capital, Antananarivo's, mayor, appeared to defeat the sitting president, Didier Ratsiraka, only to be confronted by the claim that the latter was still the president. A virtual civil war then broke out with mass demonstrations in favour of the new president in the capital, while the ex-president fortified himself in the provinces. Ratsiraka then declared: "He is mayor not a president. The capital has seceded so the provinces must secede too."

292) In Kenya, a similar attempt to maintain the dynasty of Daniel arap Moi, who has been in power for 24 years, seems under way. Once held up as 'the next Singapore', Kenya is now seen as the 'next Tanzania', an African byword for poverty and backwardness. In the last five years it has had negative growth while unemployment has spiralled to 70 per cent of the working population. Half of Kenya's 24 million people live below the poverty line; half a million more will join them this year. Organised crime is growing in the slums and there is rampant banditry in the provinces.

293) In the past, Moi maintained himself in power by widespread vote rigging, intimidation and jailing of opponents. He was also able to play off one tribal grouping against another, to maintain himself in power. Indeed, in Kenya the official political parties are thinly disguised ethnic committees, with differences in policy not the issue. Obliged to stand down at the next election, Moi has forced through a merger between his Kenya African National Union (KANU) with the party of Raila Odinga, the National Development Party, into the 'New KANU'. This amounts to a coalition between Odinga's Luo community in Western Kenya and the various small Rift Valley tribes loyal to Moi.

294) The two main tribal groupings in Kenya are the Kikuyu, 20.12 per cent of the population, and the Luo, 13.91 per cent. The party of the Kikuyu is the Democratic Party (DP), which has been left out in the cold because other ethnic groups, represented by other parties, would not accept him as an opponent to Moi because of a general fear of Kikuyu domination. The sharing out of state spoils between the elite in the different tribal groupings is endemic. The country's last resource which has not been divided in this way is the forest reserves. Yet even here, 15 per cent has already been parcelled out to buy votes. The loser in all of this is the impoverished masses who are bystanders, in the main, to the struggles between different bourgeois elites utilising their tribal bases.

Zimbabwe

295) This is also true in Zimbabwe as elsewhere in Africa. The land question is at the heart of the conflict which is tearing Zimbabwe apart. Britain's colonial legacy left 97 per cent of the population, the African masses, confined to less than a quarter of the land. The hunger for land fuelled the national liberation struggle of both the majority Shona population and the Ndebele, the next largest ethnic grouping. Even Nkomo, who was generally favoured by imperialism over Mugabe at the time of the independence from Britain, asked: "What will be the future of the people's land?"

296) Yet after 20 years of Mugabe's rule - until the 'war veterans' began seizing land in 1998 - the picture had not changed substantially. Six thousand white farmers occupied half of Zimbabwe's 81 million acres of arable land; about 850,000 black farmers were crammed into the rest. Moreover, since independence, only 10 per cent of arable land was moved legally from white to black hands. The British had imposed the constitutional impediment that white farmers could not be compelled to sell. When they did offer to do so it was at inflated prices which the government found difficult to pay.

297) Yet in the 1980s, 8.5 million acres of land was given to 72,000 black families, paid for by the UK. Unfortunately, given the economic and cultural deprivation of the African masses, these small-scale farmers, lacking the tools and the skills, usually failed. Mugabe himself, as well as the white farmers in the past, never seriously considered land redistribution. White tobacco planters made so much money that some of them built landing strips for their new aeroplanes. They were in effect in alliance with Mugabe and his government at this stage. Some land was purchased by the government, but this was usually a weapon of political patronage, with most of the farms going to officials of the ruling party and the privileged army officers. One of these was Mugabe's spokesperson, George Charamba, while another farm went to Zimbabwe's military chief, General Vitalis Zvinavashe. He threatened a coup if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had won the last election. At the same time, 500,000 poor Africans clamoured for land.

298) Zimbabwe has declined from being the bread basket of Southern Africa to where it is now on the brink of running out of maize. This fuelled the discontent of the masses and partly led to the 'land war' of the 'war veterans'.

299) Socialists and Marxists support genuine land redistribution to the African masses in the context of the expropriation of not just the land but also the multinationals which still control Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. But in Zimbabwe it is necessary to ask what is being done, who is doing it and why?

300) Mugabe's denunciation of the white farmers and of British imperialism in particular has found an echo amongst a section of the masses. However, this propaganda only came to the fore after his rule produced colossal opposition from the working class which staged a series of mass strikes from 1996 onwards. The economy fell by an estimated 8.4 per cent in 2001, taking the decline in real per capita incomes since 1997 to 23 per cent. The demagogic whipping up of the 'veterans' in a patently synthetic 'land war' has actually aggravated the food crisis facing the country. The World Food Programme has warned that half a million Zimbabweans already face serious food shortages, which could lead to starvation in the next period.

301) Zimbabwe's neighbours are concerned about the consequences of this and the inevitable ratcheting up of conflict within the country. It is reported that South Africa is preparing a military base near its northern border as a refugee camp in case tens of thousands, possibly more, flee what even the South African government has described as "meltdown".

302) At the same time, the opposition to Mugabe from imperialism, evident in the aftermath of the recent, probably rigged, elections, is the fear not of Mugabe and his supporters, but the effect of his radical demagogy on the mood of the masses. His invocation of 'socialism' and his recent actions in leaning on a section of the masses at least, has alarmed imperialism. Their attitude is similar to their fear in previous periods of Stalinist or reformist labour organisations, whose leaders were a second reformist agency of capitalism. The bourgeoisie, however, was always concerned that, under mass pressure, as in Chile in 1970-73, radical statements from the top could fuel mass movements from below which in turn could compel radical or socialist governments to go much further in attacking capitalism than the leaders themselves intended.

303) There is no possibility of Mugabe proceeding in this direction at this moment but his invocation of 'socialism' and even of 'Marxism-Leninism' given the economic and social collapse in the whole region, could be the trigger for mass movements later. It is for this reason that international capitalism has switched its support to the opposition MDC, an openly bourgeois formation. The MDC's origins lie in an attempt by the ranks of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to create a workers' party which, after direct intervention by the German and Scandinavian social democracy, was channelled in a pro-capitalist direction. If it replaced Mugabe it will act in the same way as Chiluba in Zambia did on coming to power. Accepting the market would mean an enormous aggravation of the problems of the Zimbabwean people. It is necessary therefore for the Marxists in Southern Africa to steer an independent course. The different major party formations, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, are invariably head and tail of the same bourgeois coin. Throughout the region a small and independent working class force is and will develop which will seek to go outside the limits of capitalism, imposed by even the leaders of the 'opposition' forces to the ruling governments.

304) In Zimbabwe, it is unlikely that Mugabe would cede power to the MDC and for this reason the 'Commonwealth' has suspended the country while at the same time seeking the basis for a 'national government'. They hope that with the inclusion of the MDC this would be sufficient to rein in Mugabe and bring the regime more firmly under the control of capitalism and imperialism. It is the working class of Southern Africa who ultimately hold the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, ethnic and tribal clashes, the disaster of the AIDS epidemic and a downwards spiral of the region.

South Africa

305) In South Africa above all it is the mighty black proletariat that will be decisive for the future not only of that country but of the whole region and, with the Nigerian working class, of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The replacement of the apartheid regime with the rule of the ANC has opened a new chapter for South African capitalism. Shorn of the outer trappings of the previous racist regime, the South African capitalists, still overwhelmingly white, have been 'liberated' to play a greater and greater imperialist role in the region and throughout Africa. South African firms have penetrated, sometimes establishing dominance throughout the region. Moreover South African armed forces have been used with other African troops in 'peacekeeping' roles throughout Africa.

306) The government of the ANC, on the other hand, has been a willing tool to carry through the programme of South African capitalism and imperialism, through the introduction of neo-liberal policies. Since the ANC came to power over a million jobs have been lost, with the ANC-controlled public sector contributing the bulk. This will increase significantly with the capitulation of the Cosatu-affiliated teachers union adding its signature to an agreement already accepted by its fellow Cosatu-affiliated public sector counterparts to 'restructure' the public service.

307) The government's six-year old neo-liberal strategy - known by the acronym Gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) has wreaked havoc with the lives of the black working class. Gear has achieved neither growth, nor employment nor an increase in foreign direct investment. The temporary reduction in inflation and interest rates - now going into reverse - has been achieved by the economic equivalent of treating a man suffering from short breath with asphyxiation.

308) Twenty-nine per cent of the population - 11.7 million - live on R98 ($0.98) or less a month! Fully 74 per cent of the population live below the poverty threshold calculated very conservatively at between R352 ($35) and R390 ($39) per person per month, in sharp contrast to the union minimum wage demands of above R2,500 ($250) per month.

309) The government has announced a programme to sell off £11.3 billion worth of state assets. However, "poor market conditions" have meant that so far this programme has proved to be a failure. Foreign capital inflows have contracted which in turn has led to a depression of the Rand. In these conditions, any sell-off of state assets would be at rock-bottom prices. This led, for instance, to the sale of a stake in South African Airways to Swissair and to other consortia being stalled following the financial difficulties of Swissair. Indeed the government is now in the process of renationalising SAA.

310) This decision was no doubt encouraged by the massive two-day general strike in August 2001 against the privatisation programme. This strike took place despite the foot dragging of the COSATU leadership and showed the massive oppositional pressure being exerted from below. Our South African organisation has played an important role in the anti-privatisation struggles of the South African working class. Privatisation in the neo-colonial world, and in this case in South Africa, has a devastating effect on the conditions of the masses. It involves a further deterioration in basic services such as water, supply of electricity, etc.

311) The ANC's privatisation and cost recovery policies for basic services are directly responsible for the biggest cholera epidemic in the country's history, which has already claimed 200 lives and shows no sign of abating. The introduction of water charges in rural Kwa Zulu Natal forced two thirds of the population in the district to turn to dams and rivers for water.

312) The impending privatisation of electricity and the privatisation of water management and refuse removal has led to a huge accumulation of debt and cut-offs of basic services. The Municipal Services Project (linked to Queens University in Canada) published a survey which reveals that an estimated 10 million have had their electricity and water cut off for non-payment of bills. Two million have been evicted from their homes for the same 'offence' and a further 1.5 million have had their property seized for the same reason. Fifty-one per cent of those in arrears said that they could not afford to pay those arrears no matter how hard they try.

313) These policies, of course, completely undermine the achievements the government boasts about in terms of connections to the electricity grid and the provision of water and sanitation. Only half the population has access to flush toilets. Close to a third continue to use pit latrines and chemical toilets. Five per cent still use bucket toilets and 10 per cent do not have access to any form of toilet whatsoever. Forty-two per cent have no access to refuse removal and 10 per cent use communal skips.

314) These statistics confirm the connection between neo-liberal capitalist policies and repression as the government attempts to overcome community resistance. Skirmishes between police and communities resisting cut-offs and evictions are now a regular occurrence in all parts of the country.

315) The coming to power of the ANC led to a ballooning of expectations that the conditions of the mass of the people would be transformed. Despite all the attempts to damp these down, there is acute and growing awareness of the failure of the ANC to deliver on its promises. Awareness of unemployment for instance as a serious problem has risen from 45 to 58 per cent. The South African Institute of Race Relations has also warned: "Clearly expectations have been created and sentiments aroused that are beyond the capacity of the government to match. The government, in talking constantly about service delivery (without emphasising with equal vigour that services have to be paid for), has created a problem for itself that it cannot solve".

316) University of the North (Turfloop) students burned down buildings in protest at the with-holding of SRC funds and the repressive atmosphere prevailing at the university. The events at Turfloop and the xenophobic looting of hawkers' goods during the Congress of South African Students' march have of course been used to whip up hysteria and to prepare public opinion for the repressive measures used so far and for more to come.

317) Disillusionment with the ANC government, increasingly alienated from the masses, now runs deep. Since 1999, ANC membership has declined by two thirds. At a municipal workers union rally, workers replied to shouts of "Viva ANC!" with "Phantsi!" (Down!)

318) The irony of the political situation was graphically captured by the statement of New National Party leader Martinus 'Koertbroek' (short pants) van Schalkwyk, after announcing the collaboration with the ANC. He said that there were no longer any significant differences between the ANC and the NNP especially on economic policy, and that the only credible opposition to the ANC would come from labour on the left. Mbeki poured fulsome praise on van Schalkwyk in a parliamentary speech describing the NNP's break with the Democratic Party and its collaboration with the ANC as the most significant political development since the first democratic elections in 1994.

319) The cosying up of the Cosatu leadership to the ANC is causing confusion and disorientation and therefore delaying the political differentiation that must follow. But the class polarisation must at a certain stage translate into conscious political opposition. The process of political realignment in Western Cape is an anticipation of what will happen nationally at a certain stage.

320) Tensions in the ANC - between the old guard ANC exiles and Robben Island graduates and the former UDF leaders - are resurfacing before its coming December conference. Rumours are circulating of a possible challenge for the presidency by current ANC national chairperson and defence minister and former UDF leader 'Terror' Lekota. Mbeki's recent appointment of SACP national chairperson Charles Nqakula as Minister of Safety and Security, and his wife as deputy to the Minister of Home Affairs, Gatsha Buthelezi, has reactivated the latent tribalism in the ANC with accusations of domination by a 'Xhosa Nostra'.

321) The political tensions are also extending into the hitherto cosy relationship between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party that has allowed them to coexist in a government of provincial unity in the only other province apart from Western Cape not controlled by the ANC.

322) This collision between aroused expectations and the impossibility of the Mbeki government to deliver has provoked collisions like that on the issue of privatisation. Further massive eruptions impend. The tripartite alliance - between the ANC, the Communist Party and COSATU - will be blown aside in the mass movements that loom. The idea of a new mass workers' party in opposition to the ANC, has been floated again and again in the last seven years, within the trade union movement. In the next period, a new movement of the South African working class will shake to its foundations not just the capitalists in South Africa and the black elite which has enriched itself through 'power sharing'. But the whole of Africa will be shaken.

323) The main area of work for our organisation has shifted to the student field with the launch of a second branch of the Socialist Student Movement. This has already come under attack and registration was achieved only after a struggle. We have become well known in working class communities in African townships in Kwa Zulu Natal. Our participation in the 5,000 strong march in the 'R10' (for basic services) campaign, as well as other activities, has spawned a branch in Umlazi and the potential for two more in other townships. We intend to launch nationally this year and to fight for a united campaign for free education.

Nigeria

324) Next to South Africa, Nigeria is probably the most important country in Africa. Yet, as the Financial Times wrote on 19 June 2002, "The country, which is Africa's most populous nation and one of the world's top 10 oil producers, has seen real incomes decline by an average of 1.5 per cent per year over the past 25 years." Having exhausted the possibility of holding the masses and the country in check for any further period, the military regime between 1998 and 1999 paved the way for the return of civilian rule. This took the form, in the first period, of severe restrictions on those allowed to contest the presidential elections. Only three pre-selected parties were initially able to do so.

325) The results of civilian rule however, against the background of a deepening of the economic crisis, aggravated by the general depreciation in the price of oil, has led to bitter disappointment amongst the masses. One group of looters under the banner of the military has been replaced by a new gang of corrupt and degenerate civilian politicians, with the military still standing threateningly in the background. There has been, in this period, a massive growth of state sponsored corruption, particularly in the student movement, which our Nigerian section has highlighted.

326) The discontent of the masses was reflected in two brief but very important general strikes, one in June 2000, which lasted for five days, and the latest in January 2002. The latter general strike on the first day was the most complete national stoppage in Nigeria's history. However, for the labour leaders, the tops of the trade union federation the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), this general strike was seen as a means of ventilating the accumulated opposition to the government. The timid NLC leaders took less than two days to demobilise support for the strike.

327) This failure of organised labour to organise a distinct working-class struggle under its own banner has led to an impasse. This, in turn, has compounded the desperate social, economic and national degeneration of Nigeria. All the tendencies that existed in the previous military regime, of social collapse and a massive impetus towards centrifugal dislocation, if not disintegration of the country, have been reinforced.

328) The issues of nationality and religion, as well as tribal and clan clashes within nationalities, have been given an enormous impetus because of the economic and social blind alley of the last three years in particular. Ten thousand people have been killed in religious, ethnic and tribal clashes in the three years of civilian rule. In the predominantly Moslem states of the north, Sharia law has been invoked more and more by the ruling group of militarists, landlords and capitalists. This has been done in order to hide the patent failure to deliver the goods to the population in these states. This in turn has provoked a wave of fear and opposition from Christians. Many of the Moslem poor, especially in the rural and semi-rural areas have mistakenly welcomed these measures, which they interpret as a decisive action to combat the wave of crime and corruption which has engulfed Nigeria.

329) The horrifying social, economic and national disintegration of Nigeria has even led to a mood of nostalgia from some towards the previous military rulers. The idea of a strongman, a decisive, albeit authoritarian, government, has gained some credence in the past period. However any resort to another military coup, apart from being opposed by imperialism and the other African government, rather than preventing would speed up the process of a possible disintegration of the country. It is therefore more likely in the short term that a civilian president, hiding behind the fig leaf of Nigerian 'democracy', would be maintained. However, such a government is most likely to resort to more and more dictatorial, Bonapartist methods, in order to consolidate the situation. Already, three state governors have resorted to forming their own local 'militias'.

330) Obasanjo was elected as president with the support of the north but did not win significant votes in the south-west of the country. Now, however, the northern elite feel that they are losing some of their previous privileges, their ability to loot the state and society, but are not sure what to do about the situation. On the other hand, the NLC leaders are doing no more than really playing with the idea of launching a new workers' party. Their model for Nigeria is the pro-capitalist MDC in Zimbabwe. But even this they hesitate to initiate for fear of how such a party could develop under the pressure of mass action and involvement.

331) Therefore, stepping into the void left by these labour 'leaders' is the National Conscience Party, which we are involved in. This could undergo a significant development in the next period. The leader of this party is already known nationally as an important oppositional figure. On the other hand, it is not certain how determined the leadership of this party is to seize the opportunities now to build a mass party. The refusal to grant the NCP electoral registration has thrown down a challenge to the NCP leaders of leading a mass campaign against the attempt to rig the scheduled elections.

332) The CWI is especially proud of the growth of the Nigerian section of the International and the role which it has played. In South Africa and Nigeria important bases have been established which can provide springboards for the establishment of viable sections of the CWI throughout Africa.