Farewell OAU. Welcome the AU! With enormous fanfair, pomp and pageantry, the African Union (AU), the new continental body being established by African states, was launched in Durban, South Africa, on 15th July, 2002. The AU is replacing the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the regional group formed by the continent’s capitalist leaders in 1963.
The primary goal for the formation of OAU 38 years ago was to promote the unity of the various countries and liberation of the continent from colonial rule. The AU project is even more ambitious. To be modelled after the European Union (EU), it is aimed at greater economic and political integration of the continent through the creation of an Africa-wide economy.
It is envisaged that an African common parliament, court of justice, central bank and currency will be established in the next few years, like in the EU. Through the parliament and court of justice, it is hoped that the continent’s people will have greater say in the running of the affairs of the continent while the court of justice will promote respect for human rights by ensuring that violators of human rights and perpetrators of crimes like genocide are punished.
Furthermore, it is expected that by establishing an African common market, currency and central bank, obstacles to the economic integration of the continent will be dismantled thus paving way for economic prosperity and higher living standards for the poverty-ridden, prostrate masses.
Also, the AU is to have a Peace and Security Council, obviously fashioned after the UN Security Council. With this, it is expected that conflicts and wars which have ravaged the continent will be minimised, if not eliminated. In contrast with the OAU, the AU has the formal right to intervene in the affairs of member states, especially in cases of war crimes and genocide.
In a continent ravaged by endemic poverty, hunger, illiteracy, diseases, ethnic and religious conflicts and wars, the objectives and vision of the AU outlined above will ordinarily be welcomed by any reasonable person. Unfortunately, the brutal truth is that there is no way these laudable goals outlined by the Obasanjos, the Mbekis, Abdulai Wades and Ghadaffis of this world would be achieved under the present neo-colonial capitalist and imperialist socio-economic system which holds sway all over the continent.
A balance sheet of the OAU
The comment of one Jackson George, a Liberian who lives in the US, who wrote to the BBC aptly captures the balance sheet of OAU. He said: "After 30 years of existence, the OAU has left Africa in ruin".
While most of Africa has been freed from direct colonial rule, this has been replaced by imperialist domination of the continent and the super-exploitation of its human and material resources by imperialist multinational corporations and governments.
In many parts of Africa, the 1960s, compared with the present, now seems like paradise, as a result of drastic economic and social decline, and fall in living standards. According to the annual United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report released on 24th July, 2002, the 27 poorest countries in the world are all African. Of the 35 countries classified in the low human development category, 28 are from Africa.
Though a continent reputed to have the potential to feed the world population, millions of Africans still die of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases. The social, economic and political crises ravaging the continent can be seen in the fact that Africa accounts for half of world refugees while a substantial percentage of people who live with HIV/AIDS are from the continent, not to talk of millions who still die from malaria, cholera and similar preventable or curable diseases.
Equally, the OAU and African ruling elite failed in their declared mission to unite the continent. After about four decades, the artificial divisions and boundaries created by the colonialists have remained unaltered. Virtually all the countries have been ravaged by internal ethnic/religious wars while many countries have gone to war against each other. The protracted wars in the Mano Rivers Union countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) and Great Lakes region (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, etc) and between Ethiopia and Eritrea underscore the failure of the various African ruling classes in this respect.
Will the AU be different?
Fundamentally, the new AU will be no more successful than the now defunct OAU in uniting the continent and developing its economy. This is essentially because the AU is based on the same old, rotten neo-colonial capitalist economic and political foundation which was the bane of the OAU. In other words, AU is an old, stale wine with a new label.
Today’s so-called new generation of African capitalist leaders (the Mbekis, Wades, Obasanjos, etc) are even more subservient to the multinational corporations and imperialist powers and institutions than their predecessors of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 80s, the existence of its planned economy and those of other Stalinist countries in Eastern Europe provided concrete example that an alternative society to capitalism is possible. Not only that, it gave the ruling classes in the newly independent countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America the room to manoeuvre between the two main camps in the Cold War era imperialism led by the US and Stalinism led by the Soviet Union.
The global balance of forces, combined with the post-second world war boom in the world economy, made it possible for the emerging ruling elite in African countries to run public sector-led economies, though within the framework of capitalism. Even capitalist rulers like Nkrumah, Awolowo and Nyerere implemented some welfare reforms in education, health and housing.
However, the weakening and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union has enabled imperialism since the late 1980s to reassert its control over the ex-colonial world. Thus, the ability of African capitalist elite to act independently of imperialism has been further curtailed. Concerned with preserving capitalism – the source of their own wealth, privileges and power – they are incapable of implementing any policy that can challenge and break the ownership, dominance, control and exploitation of the continent’s resources by the multinational corporations and imperialist institutions and governments. And without such a bold anti-imperialist programme, genuine socio-economic development and political stability would continue to elude the continent.
Take the economy for instance. From Egypt to South Africa, from Senegal to Kenya, the ruling classes have been privatising state assets, under pressure from IMF, World Bank and other imperialist institutions. Billions of dollars are being spent annually to repay debt owed to western creditors, starving vital indispensable social services like education, health, housing, etc of needed resources. Development initiatives for the continent, such as the "new" much-publicised NEPAD are based on attracting foreign investments to the continent by removing safeguards and restrictions initially put in place to check or minimise excessive exploitation of the continent’s human and material resources. In short, the AU, like the OAU before it, will continue to preside over the "re-colonialisation" of the continent.
However, this does not mean that the AU will never succeed in establishing some continental structures like an African parliament or Central Bank. But on a capitalist basis, the establishment of these institutions will not translate into improved life for the poor masses of the continent or put an end to wars and genocide.
Here, the experience of the European working class and youth under the European Union (EU) would be quite useful. The EU was formed by the European capitalist classes primarily to booster their position against the US and Japanese capitalism, their principal competitors in the global market. In order to make European capitalism "competitive"
(i.e. more profit earning than its competitors), the continent’s capitalists, under the umbrella of the EU, have often implemented policies to drive down the real wages and conditions of the workers. A typical policy is the one which forbids an EU member-state from having a budget deficit of more than 3% of its GDP. To conform with this standard, many EU states have undertaken substantial cuts in the state sector, leading to stagnation of wages and pensions, reduction in employment, and cuts in spendings on education, health and other social services. If the European Union cannot guarantee decent living for workers of Europe, how then can the weaker AU be expected to liberate the African masses from endemic poverty and misery?
For a socialist confederation of Africa
Only the African working class and peasants, and not its capitalist elites, have the interest and are capable of breaking the shackles of neo-colonialism which stultifies the continent’s development. To achieve this, the workers and peasants will have to organise and struggle to overthrow capitalism and imperialism and end the domination of the multinational corporations over the continent. By putting the continent’s resources under public ownership and with full democratic control and management by the working masses themselves, it would be possible to end imperialist exploitation and to plan the use of the resources of the continent for the needs of its peoples.
To attain this objective, the workers and youth in the various countries on the continent need to struggle to build independent mass working people’s parties with socialist programme, policies and methods. These parties will serve as platforms to organise mass struggles against the neo-liberal, "second slavery" policies of privatisation, commercialisation, retrenchment of workers, etc, being implemented on the continent by the ruling elites in collaboration with imperialism. Above all, these parties will struggle to put into power workers’ and poor peasants’ governments that will implement socialist programme.
However, to realise the full potential of their own countries and the entire continents, the workers’ governments will need to link up together in a socialist confederation of Africa, breaking down the artificial barriers created and sustained by imperialism. For this perspectives and policy to succeed, the solidarity of the international working class, especially of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries, must be consciously cultivated in order to break the certain opposition of imperialism. Most importantly, such efforts must be seen as part of the struggle towards the building of a world socialist federation, the only lasting bulwark against capitalism and imperialism.
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