BUSH’S VISIT to Africa, no doubt to pave the way for more privatisation contracts for US multinationals, has seen a lot of media interest in the continent that will be dropped as soon as Bush returns to the US.
But his visit has highlighted the terrible living conditions of the masses in Africa. The 1990s saw the gap between the advanced capitalist countries and the under-developed countries rise dramatically. 30 of the 34 countries described by the UN as having "low human development" (an amalgam of income, life expectancy and literacy) are in Africa. 21 countries went backwards in terms of human development, many of these in Africa.
South Africa, once the "powerhouse" economy in Africa, has dropped 28 places since 1990 in the United Nations human development report. Part of the cause of this is the lower life expectancy as a result of the AIDS pandemic where 4.7 million people are infected.
600 people die every day of AIDS-related illnesses. A recent report showed that 40% of adult deaths in 2000 and 2001 were AIDS related. Life-prolonging retroviral therapy is available to private patients but most HIV-positive South Africans cannot afford it.
In Botswana the situation is even worse. By 2010 half all children will be AIDS orphans and the average life expectancy will have plummeted from an already low 47 to 27 years.
But the AIDS crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. International capitalism has wreaked havoc on this continent. Sierra Leone has a GDP [roughly, annual wealth] per head of $470 and an average life expectancy of just 34.5 years. 363 children per 1,000 live births in Sierra Leone do not reach their fifth birthday compared with just four in Norway. In 1820 Western Europe’s per capita income was three times that of Africa. By the 1990’s the difference had risen to 13 times.
These horrendous living conditions are the result of the super-exploitation of the natural resources of this continent by multinationals and the vicious ’neo-liberal’ policies forced through by agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Compliant local regimes have sold off whole swathes of publicly-run companies to big business.
Many are angered at this horror and are searching around for solutions. The recent marvellous general strike in Nigeria and the battle against privatisation in South Africa hint at how this catastrophic situation can be overcome – mobilising the power of the working class and the urban and rural poor, to challenge the system.
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) continues to play an active role in these movements. We argue for the building of new mass workers’ parties out of such movements and engaging them in a struggle to transform society along socialist lines.