Africa: How imperialism impoverishes Africa

THE RECENT decision by the United Nations (UN) to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the latest in a series of interventions on the continent of Africa, ostensibly to quell ethnic conflicts and avert a "humanitarian nightmare".

In the case of DRC they have left it late since the current civil war has been raging for years and has already claimed up to five million lives. The recent massacre of 400 people in Bunia took place in full view of 700 UN troops who did nothing to stop it.

The conflict in DRC is a war for territory and thereby for access to the massive mineral riches of this impoverished, yet potentially wealthy, country.

It is conducted by various militia forces, mostly the degenerated remnants of ’radical’ guerrilla armies which fought to overthrow the US-backed puppet regime of Mobuto – who fled the country in 1995. Neighbouring states linked to former colonial powers are involved, each laying claim to its own share of the spoils.


WHY IS it that the West, having turned a blind eye to these events for almost a decade has only now decided to intervene?

Western governments are concerned that the spiralling conflicts will interfere with the supply of minerals like diamonds, cobalt, coltan, etc, as well as destabilising the surrounding states.

This is typical of the post-independence relationship between the imperialist countries and the nominally independent former colonies.

After world war two the European powers faced with revolution by the colonial masses – the struggle for national and social liberation – had been forced to negotiate settlements with nationalist movements.

Where possible, moderate, pro-capitalist leaders had been installed to head off the more radical elements in the movement. Where this strategy failed, they resorted to conscious destabilisation often fomenting ethnic conflict or military coups to get the kind of pliant leaders who would not threaten Western interests.

Throughout the period of direct colonial rule, Africa had been prevented from developing their own industries, making them almost totally dependent on imports of Western consumer goods. At the same time the African states relied on revenue from raw materials and agricultural exports to fund their domestic economies.

The prices of both imports and exports were determined by the world markets which were dominated by the industrialised nations. Very rapidly, huge deficits accumulated.

The ’debt’ burden

WORKING WITHIN the capitalist system, it was only possible to bridge the gap by taking out huge loans from those same Western nations who also dictated the interest rates and repayment levels.

The neo-colonial states were locked into a spiralling crisis of ballooning fictitious debt. Rather than stopping the debt repayments the easier option for governments was to unload the burden onto their own people.

The ruling elite resorted to state repression to stay in power. While spending on health, education and public services was slashed in line with the IMF programmes, military and police budgets were increased, with Western arms and security firms providing the hardware.

As the African economies fell into deeper crisis, more stringent conditions were placed on aid programmes and debt restructuring.

Capitalist economics

THE IMF and World Bank, the chief agents of imperialism’s financial dominance, forced them to open up their domestic markets to more and more foreign competition. They were also forced to sell of their state-owned sectors, with Western companies first in the queue.

The effects of these mass privatisation have been devastating. In Angola for instance, water was once provided as a free service. Now it has to be paid for. Those who can’t afford to pay are disconnected. This has led to an increase in dysentery, cholera and other water-born diseases as people now have to resort to contaminated sources.

The UN has estimated that $35 billion a year – only 3.5% of the incomes of the world’s 200 richest individuals – is sufficient to ensure safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, primary healthcare and basic education in Africa.

Most African countries have to export food to gain hard currency. Malawi, whose people are facing starvation, was even advised by the World Bank to sell off its surplus grain stocks as part of its debt restructuring.

While Africa is forced to allow untrammelled access to its markets, the West continues to maintain tariffs on imports, while subsidising its agricultural production. African producers are always at a disadvantage in the so-called ’free market’.

The resulting increase in poverty, lowering of life expectancy and collapse in infrastructure is taking society backwards.

What future?

AT THE G8 summit in France, aid to Africa was trumpeted, amongst others, by Tony Blair. But underpinning their pious speeches, is how best to protect the interests of the imperialist nations.

The whole history of post-independence Africa is an object lesson in the impossibility of building stable, democratic, developed economies on the basis of capitalism. Only the working class fighting behind the banner of socialism can unite the oppressed masses in a struggle to end the centuries of super-exploitation and dictatorship.

Feed the multinationals

THE POP entrepreneur and ’Band Aid’ charity organiser, Sir Bob Geldof, has praised George Bush’s pledge to generously fund an anti-AIDS campaign in Africa.

Some 28 million Africans are HIV positive and two million died from the disease last year. However, it seems that one-third of Bush’s £15 billion pledge will fund campaigns promoting sexual abstinence, rather than family planning, in accordance with his Republican Christian funda-mentalist backers.

Moreover, the US administration supports the highly profitable, pharmaceutical multinationals (top ten US drug makers made $37 billion profits in 2001) whose retroviral drugs such as Fluconazole (costing $500-$1,000 a month) for treating HIV/AIDS are beyond the pockets of poor countries and most Africans – 180 million of whom live on less than $1 a day.

When the South African government attempted to import cheaper generic versions of these drugs the multinationals banded together in a court action in 2001 (later abandoned) to stop their import.

Even now the US insists that any poor country seeking a waiver on a multinational drug patent must take their case to the US-dominated World Trade Organisation.

From The Socialst, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales.

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June 2003