Monday, May 02, 2016

Africa's Future?

The tortured situation in Africa is a direct product of its tortured past, but men should learn from their history, not continue to be burdened by it. The World Socialist Movement are of the view that the economic factor plays a major role in determining political, intellectual and religious whims of a given society. Our message to the workers, peasants and students in Africa remain that capitalism cannot offer a permanent solution to social, political and economic crises. Voting for another set of recycled politicians into parliament is not a solution. The workers must utilise the limited political freedom granted it through the medium of the vote to vote capitalism out of the world. Vote for socialism– the alternative to capitalism. In Africa, unfortunately, the word ‘socialism’ has been associated with single-party political dictatorships and as such remains resented.

In a continent racked by civil war and droughts where the majority of men and women exist in dire poverty, its leaders see their interests served by spending vast sums on armaments. Capitalism once again proves itself to be a system which accords the majority slave status and then expects them to die for their masters' interests. The only solution to war and to the miseries of capitalism in Africa, as in the rest of the world, is for the working class to organise for common ownership and democratic control, a society where the root cause of war in the economic and strategic rivalry of a minority owning class is removed and the production and distribution of wealth conducted in the interests of the whole community—Socialism. It is now time the working class struggled for its own interests.

It is now no utopian fantasy – but a practical, revolutionary proposition – to suggest we can live in a world without waste or want or war, in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation. That much is assured. We certainly have the science, the technology and the know-how. All that is missing is the will – the global desire for change that can make that next great historical advance possible; a belief in ourselves as masters of our own destiny; a belief that it is possible to free production from the artificial constraints of profit and to fashion a World in our own interests. And how soon this happens depends upon us all – each and every one of us.

Wealth and power under capitalism can only be realised through legalised exploitation of some people by others. This is a complete contradiction of socialism that envisages a future society in which economic and political privileges will not exist because goods will be produced for consumption and not or sale – while racial and ethnic taboos will not prevail because there wouldn’t be political leaders nor class interests to defend. A class-free, money-free and state-free society will end the ethnic, racial and sectarian antagonisms. The struggle before you remains the same – a class struggle on an international scale. It's time for the people of Africa to discover the truth, that they need to unite and fight for socialism. Bourgeois leaders are after nothing but power. They are not really concerned about the Aids pandemic; looming drought; brutality; violence; rife sexual abuses; the unemployment crisis; shortage of food, clean water and shelter – issues that are affecting ordinary people. All they are after is their own self-aggrandisement. It is also common knowledge that the political leadership in Africa have, to a large extent, the same tastes and lifestyles as the ruling elite of the former colonialists. The two groups share the same consciousness. Both work towards the preservation of the status quo – the exploitative relations of production – as it is the guarantor of their luxurious, albeit parasitic, lifestyle.

Of course, there are exceptions. Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania from independence in 1961 till 1985, for one. Nyerere comes across as sincere and principled, as genuinely wanting a society of social equality, democracy and without exploitation, and unlike nearly all the other historic African independence leaders power did not go to his head. However, the fact that he was sincere and incorruptible shows that the problem in Africa (and elsewhere) is not bad leaders but capitalism. Not even a saint can make capitalism - which African countries are currently obliged to accept – work in the interest of all.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Digest April 2016
Africa's Socialist Banner Digest April 2016

Malawi's albinos at risk

Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. In the United States, about one in 20,000 people have some type of albinism. But in countries such as Tanzania, the number can be as high as one in 1,500.

Malawi's albinos are at risk of "total extinction" amid escalating attacks against them for their body parts, the United Nations warned. The southern African nation has about 10,000 albinos, according to the U.N.

In some African countries, albinos' body parts are believed to bring wealth and good luck. As a result, attackers chop off their limbs and pluck out organs, and sell them to witchdoctors. Even after albinos are killed, some attackers go a step further and steal their remains from graveyards, said Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations' expert on albinism. "Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack," she said. "Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum."

Police in Malawi have recorded 65 cases of albino abductions since late 2014. About 20 people living with albinism have been killed so far, the latest case being that of a girl whose uncle played a role in facilitating her abduction and eventual killing. A court in Malawi’s rural district of Dowa on Thursday sentenced the uncle (Gerald Phiri) and his accomplice to 17 years imprisonment for aiding in the abduction of the 21-year-old Eneless Nkhata, who was later found murdered. The sentence is a landmark as it is the most severe delivered so far in cases relating to albino abductions and killings that are haunting Malawi. The stiff sentence comes after Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) protested a four-year jail term given by another court recently to two men who attempted to abduct and murder a 4-year-old child with albinism.

Ero said the fight should go beyond stiff punishments, as "addressing the root causes of attacks, in particular why they are happening, is indispensable to eradicating them. It is worrying to note that witchcraft beliefs and practices are widespread in Malawi, although often a taboo topic.”

Malawi Information Minister Patricia Kaliati has lambasted some witchdoctors for perpetrating the killings. "Some witchdoctors are fuelling the atrocities. We will take the battle against the abductions and the killings to their doorstep, even if it means stopping some of them from practising their trade. That is our serious warning," she said.

Understanding Africa

Africa is a vast continent comprised of nations which because of their colonial past have different histories, just as they have variegated geographical landmarks that distinguish them. Thus African nations do not share many things in common except the forcible grouping together of tribes regardless of the interaction that existed before colonialism. It is imperative to note, therefore, that such a situation in which countries find themselves has made nation building and African unity a difficult task. It also means spreading socialist ideas will not be an easy task to accomplish In the attempt to create nations, different ethnic groups have been split between boundaries and the expression of nationalism has therefore not been through the medium of cultural or ethnic identity, but defined within the context of the country in which the language of the colonial master became the lingua franca. It is not surprising then that one can hardly talk of any positive working class thinking here in Africa. With the intensification of exploitation through a massive invasion of all sectors of the economy by capital, the economic situation of both urban and rural folk has drastically worsened. Under the dire circumstances, peasants drift to the towns with the hope of escaping from the hunger and lack of opportunities whilst the urban factory and office workers are preoccupied devising ways and means of pilfering at their workplaces in order to make ends meet. Consequently, many of these frustrated people find it difficult to engage in political activities thus reducing the chances of potential cadres deepening their socialist consciousness. Indeed many, in their attempts to stay alive, finally abandon the political struggle altogether. On the other hand, the very few who are fortunate enough to find well-paid jobs tend to live ostentatious lifestyles obviously influenced by the type of negative western media output that is predominant here in Africa. A good lot of these people, with an imposed insatiable ambition to "make it", prove more injurious to left-wing politics than their poorer counterparts in the working class who cannot afford the luxury of discussing politics.

Certain conditions must be fulfilled before the idea of socialism can arise. Of paramount importance is a developed industrial society in which the propertyless mass of wage-slaves is increasingly forced into the consciousness that its interests are in conflict with those of the owning class. Some workers, hearing us say this, consider the undeveloped and developing areas throughout the world. They see those millions of peasants whose way of life has never changed in hundreds of years and feel that all this renders socialism, if not impossible, something for the distant future. In Africa, the barriers to socialism seem insurmountable. Is it really so hopeless? We think not.

With increasing contact with the modern world brought by the media, mobile phones, and the internet it becomes clear to rural workers that there is more to life than the village can offer. They hear that the earnings for a few hours work in the cities bring a return the equal of many hours of back-breaking toil in the fields. This, or the desire for education, among other reasons, send him into the cities to begin the process of losing their past—that of “de-tribalisation”.  It starts the moment he or she parts from the controls of the tribe and the ties of the village and must adapt  to the new conditions in order to survive, and the changes are great. The traditional life of the village with its protections and comforts are no longer a safety net. New associations must be sought and these usually present themselves at work. New interests are created and when problems arise they may not be treated as personal or tribal but as social issues which demand new thinking. More, these new associates have different Gods from his own—or no God at all—so acceptance of conventional superstition is challenged. To sum up, there is enormous pressure for a re-examination of beliefs, standards, values, and aspirations. At the same time, the contradiction of a wage-worker’s life and the spectacle of immense wealth displayed in stores, shopping malls etc., leads to the understanding of the money economy. What protection is there? The same as anyone else; a trade union.  Today, although still split by factional squabbles, the union movement continues to grow.  This growth in trade union strength has occurred in the face of tribal loyalties and animosities.

Does this mean tribalism is a spent force? Far from it. In fact, it has staged something of a comeback in recent times. Political leaders, jockeying for position and power, are having to invoke all the old antagonisms—although the dangers of this are obvious and recognised. But in the long run, the past will lose out to the demands of the new. Those who have spent much of their lives with the tribe will remain under its influence to some extent, but the generations who know only city life and who receive a uniform education will have little interest in the ancient ties. Those groups who consider themselves different because of nationality or religion will still unite with outsiders for political or economic reasons.

Ultimately, the greatest factor in the development of Africa’s working-class is that it is part of a world economic system, the effects of which it cannot escape.  Africa is advancing to that of an industrialised, class-divided capitalist society. We can conclude that in many poor and less developed nations, working class political consciousness as a precondition for social change does not exist and that politicians can easily take advantage of working class social grievances to lure them into ethnic and tribal animosities. Study socialism to understand how we live and how we can change the way we live. Socialism is the only practical political alternative to capitalism and our message to the workers of Africa remains the same – the creation of a class-free money-free and state-free society. Though the picture looks so gloomy, that does not mean there is no hope. There are several oases dotted around this desert of hopelessness. And especially now that some basic democratic rights seem to be getting the nod from the dictatorships, we only need to keep up the struggle and to give courage to the already liberated.

May Day and the Disinherited

Humanity needs socialism. We must rid ourselves of the motives of capitalist profits. The only power that can save humanity from the peril of barbarism is the working class. It must free itself from all dependence on the possessing classes. It must cease all collaboration, compromise and concession with their exploiters and embark on the road of class struggle, the route to socialist victory. For the peoples of the world to arrive at the longed-for destiny of peace and plenty capitalism is the enemy. Never has there been a May Day, when the working class of the world faced more momentous issues and tasks than this 1st of May. The Great Recession may be over for the 1% but there is still no relief in prospect for the 99%.  On one hand we find the utmost centralisation and concentration of capital and, at the other end, we find the masses subjected to increasing misery and merciless wage cutting.  Yet there is no limit to the productivity of new technology. In other words, production is shackled and sabotaged by the capitalists who are guided by their lust for profit and not by the wants and needs of the people.

Workers must organise their forces for the complete overthrow of the system of wage slavery. Parliamentary activity, important though it may be, is not enough. The working class must mobilise themselves in the extra-parliamentary struggle—in the everyday struggle for the improvement of their living standards—and this struggle must be carried on with the ultimate view of complete liberation from the profit system. Every piece of repressive capitalist legislation, every attack on freedom of assembly and other civil liberties must be relentlessly fought.

Military expenditure has increased colossally but to see the principal cause of the war danger in the intrigues of the armament manufacturers is false and leaves the roots of war untouched. War will cease when the profit motive is taken out of all industry, not merely the arms trade. War will end when the capitalist state whose primary function is the protection of private property is abolished. Workers must not let themselves be duped again and again by the lies of the politicians. The enemy is at home and the way to stop war is to organise against the profit system. The way to strive for peace is to work for the overthrow of the capitalist system. Each national section of the working class must direct its ire against its own capitalist class, every section of the working class must fraternise with the brothers and sisters in the "enemy" country.

Civilisation hovers at the edge of an abyss. Socialism is the salvation. Production must be released from the fetters of private property and personal profit. The resources of the world must pass into the collective possession of mankind. All other problems, the problems of nationality and of race and religion will be solved once society is freed from exploitation and class divisions.

The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have the World to gain. Workers of the world—unite!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ethiopia's Man-made Famine

Ethiopia is a large country (385,925 sq. miles), with a population of just over 101 million (13th largest in the world), which is growing at a yearly rate of around 2.5% (over double the world-wide average). The government proudly boasts that the Ethiopian economy has been growing, by between 7% and 8%.More than half the population live on less than $1 a day; over 80% of the population live in rural areas (where birth-rates are highest) and work in agriculture; the majority being smallholder farmers who rely on the crops they grow to feed themselves and their families. Nevertheless Ethiopia still finds itself ranked 174th out of 188 countries in the UN Human Development Index. This suggests that whatever ‘growth’ the country has achieved, it has not changed the lives of the majority of Ethiopians. It is evidenced by the millions suffering from hunger and malnutrition, has clearly not eradicated food insecurity.

Millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people in Ethiopia are at risk of starvation. Elderly men and women, weak and desperate, wait for food and water; malnourished children lie dying; livestock, bones protruding, perish. According to a statement issued by the World Food Programme (WFP), over 10 million of the most vulnerable require urgent humanitarian assistance. This does not take into account the seven and a half million people who annually receive cash or food from Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme taking the total in need of humanitarian food aid to almost 18 million. The worst affected areas, according to USAID, are the pastoral areas of Afar and Ogaden Region – where people rely totally on their livestock – and the agricultural lowlands of East and West Haraghe – close to the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia – where millions rely on food aid every year – exports food. Since 2008 the government has been leasing huge amounts of fertile agricultural land to so-called “foreign investors’’: international corporations, domestic agents, fund managers, and nations anxious to secure their own future food security. In 2011 it was estimated that 3,619,509 hectares of land have been transferred to investors. and is sold with the understanding that it is cleared of everything – including people, by government forces. Indigenous people (who have lived on the land for generations) are displaced and herded into camps – the universally condemned ‘Villagization’ programme. Over a million people have been affected. Industrial size farms have been built and foodstuffs (not eaten by the native population) grown for export, – to the investor’s homeland – India, for example. Very little, if any, of the food grown is going into the Ethiopian food market, and there are attractive government incentives in place to ensure that food production is exported, providing foreign exchange for the country at the expense of local food supplies. The NGO Oakland Institute found that these commercial agricultural investments, by national and multi-national companies “increase rates of food insecurity” in Ethiopia, and that, despite “endemic poverty and food insecurity, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that these investments contribute to improved food security.”

It is the poor who die of hunger-related causes throughout the world; it is the poorest people in rural Ethiopia – who constitute some of the poorest people on Earth – who are currently at risk. Every day 35,000 children in the world die of starvation and its attendant causes, but we live in a world of plenty; there is no need for a single man, woman, or child – in Ethiopia or anywhere else – to die because they do not have enough food or water to survive. Oxfam reports that the world now “produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. But close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night.” And they all live, more or less, in seven countries: India, China, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

The Future of Africa

Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources but plagued by poverty. Africa conjures in the minds of many white people images of backwardness, disease, ignorance and poverty. There appears to be little appreciation of the fact that Africa is the second largest continent in the world and, with a population of about 1.2 billion, the second most populous. Africa holds 60% of the world’s strategic minerals, specifically, 65% of its cobalt, 18% of its gold, 95% of platinum, 42% of diamonds, 8% of natural gas, plus vast deposits of oil and uranium.

This begs the question: why is Africa, so rich in resources, the poorest continent on earth? What is the value of diamonds or gold underground when the owners living above them endure a sad miserable life and cannot exploit them and add value to them?

First, the slave trade, which operated from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, led to a loss of an estimated 42 million people from Africa, draining the continent of many of its strongest and fittest.

Secondly, the colonial period from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, although it led to the termination of inter-tribal wars and the introduction of law and order and education, also caused considerable damage to the self-confidence of the people, stifled economic development and choked off growth in entrepreneurial skills. Manufacturing was vigorously discouraged so Africa would not compete with factories in the countries of the colonial powers – France, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Germany. For centuries, even up to now, Africa has been primarily an exporter of raw materials and natural produce.

Vast fields are ripe for development, among them solar energy, wind power, oil and other minerals, the processing of cocoa into chocolates and of palm oil into margarine, soap and other detergents. Housing provides another rich opportunity. The irrigation of the Sahara and Kalahari deserts into fruitful agricultural lands, following the recent discovery of water under the deserts, and the mechanisation of farming also deserves attention. All this is only the tip of the iceberg, considering Africa’s tremendous and huge untapped natural and mineral resources.

Attempts to "woo big business", to make common cause between the interests of capital and those of labour are bound to founder on the reality of class struggle. This should be particularly obvious in  countries like South Africa and Nigeria. The legacy of massive structural inequality cannot begin to be tackled through the market mechanism which works to concentrate wealth in fewer hands. Between the hammer of the state and the anvil of the market, the working class will continue to suffer rampant exploitation and grinding poverty.

It does not have to be like this. There is an alternative which, in fact, has far more in common with the best traditions of African communalism, and which looks beyond the state or the market for the real emancipation of the great majority.

There can be no national solution to the struggles of workers in Africa because capitalism is itself international. Their struggles are closely linked to the struggles of workers here in Britain and elsewhere; our fate is bound up with theirs. The Socialist Party, therefore, urges our fellow workers in Africa to seriously consider the socialist alternative.

What we seek cannot be brought about by putting our trust in leaders, no matter how sincere or  enlightened; it must arise from the self-organisation of ordinary people, conscious of that alternative, and determined to make it a reality. Together, we can make it a reality. In so doing, we will have nothing to lose but our chains; we have a World to win.

A war still to be won

Workers in South Africa are yet to access a better life and are trapped in poverty wages, a labour activist said.

“It is common knowledge that workers and the working class, in general, are yet to access a better life as they remain trapped in poverty wages. The wage gap, which is characterised to a large degree by race, continues to perpetuate racial polarisation between workers in the same industry,” said labour activist, Ngako Elifas Ngoepe. “A battle to bring about better working conditions, safer work environment, job security, a living wage and so forth remains an ongoing battle by workers and the working class, in general, the world over.”

Ngoepe said access to mine housing still reflected racial stereotypes with mine hostels remaining 100 percent African, whilst their white counterparts were offered decent family accommodation in nearby suburbs. “Similarly, squatter camps that envelopes the mining areas are characterised by high levels of stinking poverty with neither sewer systems nor adequate water supply.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spending more to stay healthy

By 2040, people in developing countries will continue to spend a greater proportion of their own money on healthcare than those in the developed world as national health spending is failing to keep up with demand, a Lancet study warns.

The researchers say that low-income countries only spend around 3 US cents on health for each dollar that rich countries spend. This is unlikely to change in the next 25 years despite growing wealth, according to the paper. This means people living in these countries will have to spend a larger share of their own income on private healthcare than those in rich countries - or forego important health treatments, the authors say.

The research also found that donor money for health services in developing countries is levelling off after tripling between 2000 and 2010. Funding for maternal and child health is growing, but money to care for people with health problems such as HIV/AIDS tuberculosis and malaria is decreasing, the study says

Fact of the Day (Zambia)

40.8% of Zambians living in extreme poverty.

The 2015 living conditions monitoring survey has revealed that 40.8% of the country’s population is living in extreme poverty. The survey has also revealed that 54.4% of the country’s population is poor, while 13.6 percent of the population is moderately poor. The survey indicates that 76.6 percent of the population in rural areas is poor, with 23.4% of the urban population being poor. Western province has the highest population of the poor at 82.2% with Lusaka province having the lowest 20.2%.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The recession bites in South Africa

 Tens of thousands of jobs in mining, metals and engineering are at risk in South Africa as firms cut costs due to the commodity rout. Trade union Solidarity says that as many as 58,549 workers in South Africa could lose their jobs this year across a number of industries. It said that more than 29,000 jobs could go in the mining sector, as well as 8,000 in the metal and engineering industry.

South Africa — which exports vast quantities of platinum, manganese and iron ore — has been hit hard by resource companies cutting costs in the face of declining profits. They've been hurt by sharp falls in commodity prices due to oversupply and slowing demand growth in top consumer China.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

At the crossroads (1997)

From the February 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all the African countries, Morocco is the nearest to Europe. It is just 16 kilometres south of the southernmost tip of Spain, across the Straight of Gibraltar. But immediately you step off the ferry from Algeciras, at Tangier, you know that you are no longer in Europe, but in North Africa.

After 44 years of "protectorate”— that is colonial rule—Morocco became independent of France and Spain on 2 March 1956. The Hizb el-Istiqlal (Independence Party) and a number of other pro-nationalist groups, but excluding the Parti Communiste Marocain which was also pro-nationalist, had achieved their aim. The PCM. being good patriots, supported a constitutional monarchy and the reunification of Morocco with Mauritania; but this did not stop the Moroccan government from dissolving the PCM in September 1959. Morocco has been ruled by King Hassan II since 1961.

About the only kind thing that can be said about Morocco is that it is a "guided" bourgeois democracy, where opposition parties (but not "subversive" parties) are generally tolerated —and where Islamic fundamentalists have not, as yet, resorted to the kind of violence witnessed in adjacent Algeria. In Morocco, the king rules with a Parliament, in which two-thirds of the deputies are elected by universal suffrage. and the remaining third are chosen by an electoral college of local councils, professional groups, employers' organisations and a few "tame" trade unionists. The iron fist of the state is generally covered by a velvet glove, although when I was there in 1981, I witnessed students who were demonstrating against the deposed Shah of Iran, who was in the country at the time, mown down by machine-gun fire from Moroccan troops.

French influence is still strong, although less than in the past. Nevertheless, French companies have been responsible for much of Morocco's industrial development. Politically, however, Morocco has. and has had, other less transparent allies and friends.

In 1948, there were about 200,000 Jews living in Morocco: and up to Moroccan independence in 1956, 100,000 of them had left for Israel. Following independence, the new Moroccan government gave in to pressure from other Arab states and forbade emigration to Israel. However, MOSSAD organised secret escape routes bribing Moroccan officials. In 1961, Israel asked France and the United States to intervene with the recently crowned King Hassan II. The king needed Western support, and so quietly co-operated with Israel, thus allowing more than 80,000 Jews, who wanted to go to Israel, to leave the country. Although Morocco was a member of the Arab League, and officially a supporter of the Palestinian cause, it nevertheless established close ties with Israel. MOSSAD helped Morocco organise its secret service; and in 1965, did Morocco a favour by assisting the Moroccan secret-police assassinate their dissident, Mehdi Ben-Barka. Morocco and Israel, sometimes with Egypt, have quietly co-operated ever since.

In 1977 Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan UNITA nationalist leader, backed by South Africa and the United States, travelled to Morocco, where he met King Hassan. From Morocco. UNITA obtained a secure external headquarters in Rabat. Morocco offered Savimbi military training facilities, near Marrakech, for up to 500 men at a time; and Morocco provided UNITA with arms, and other military equipment, most of which came from the United States, over a period of many years. In 1981, Savimbi and other UNIT A rebels met senior State Department officials in Morocco to discuss United States plans for Angola. Morocco has, since independence, been a loyal but subordinate ally of the United States; and the CIA has always had a strong presence in the country.

Economic problems
The Moroccan economy has suffered severe drought in recent years, which has badly affected the predominant agricultural sector. Indeed, agriculture is still dominant. It is the principal source of employment, accounting for half the working population. Most of the farms are not economically viable, with only one percent of the farms having more than 125 acres. Most of the rest are under eight acres.

Since 1993, the government has been involved in a massive privatisation programme of what was largely a state-run, dirigiste, capitalist economy. Banking and foreign currency regulations have been lifted. From the capitalist viewpoint, the Moroccan government claims that it is a success story:
"International fluctuations in commodity prices have led the government to build up a more diversified economy by reducing reliance on agriculture and mining. It has been largely successful since the mining sector's share of GDP had declined steadily from 5.3 percent in the 1970s to 1.8 percent in 1994. Manufacturing has increased its share from an average 16 percent in the 1970s to almost 18 percent in 1990-94 period. The sector's share of total exports has jumped from 20 percent in 1986 to about one-third since 1992" ("Images”, Observer, 22 December 1996).
However, the economy is estimated to have contracted by five percent in 1995.

And how has this affected the majority of the people of Morocco, the workers and the peasant farmers? The Times (26 December) reports that unemployment is 20 percent, with those under 30 years of age suffering unemployment of more than 40 percent. Fifty-one percent of the population are still illiterate; and the per capita income in Morocco, North Africa's poorest country, is just £800 a year.

All this has resulted in thousands of poverty-stricken Moroccan would-be workers "illegally” going to Spain. Scores of them are detained every week, reports the Times. Last summer, 50 Moroccans were apprehended each day in Spain; and 1,300 were detained in June alone. Just how long it will take them, and many others, to realise that escaping the miseries of one country, Morocco, for the miseries of another, Spain, will not solve their problems, we cannot say. All we can say is that they will not solve them, in Morocco or elsewhere, within the framework of world capitalism.
Peter E. Newell

Monday, April 25, 2016

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200

Not so long ago, when investors, shell-shocked from the 2008 financial crisis, were hunting for the next big growth story, the idea of a resurgent Africa took hold. After decades in which the perception of Sub-Saharan Africa had been that of a continent of poverty, disease, civil wars and corruption, from about 2009 a new, more hopeful, narrative began to gain attraction.

In this version, instead of being the “hopeless continent” — the title of an Economist magazine cover story in 2000 — a new narrative replaced it – "Africa Rising". Africa became the next great investment frontier. Most of its multilateral debt had been forgiven, growth rates had improved since the turn of the century and, for the first time, governments were tapping capital markets at low rates.

Overpopulation is no problem for capitalist growth. Thanks to a high birth rate — in many countries 5 or 6 per woman — the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to double to 2bn by 2050, according to Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. By contrast, Europe, and the Americas have stopped growing and Asia’s population is leveling out. African cities were thus said to be brimming with young aspirants ready to buy branded beer (rather than cheap moonshine), toothpaste, mobile phones, motorbikes and, perhaps before too long, cars and houses. That means a newer bigger market. But the conviction that there is a growing African middle class, which has done most to drive business interest in the continent, is fragile.

The boom was fed by China’s voracious appetite for African oil, copper, iron ore, bauxite and sundry other commodities which pushed up the GDP of countries from Angola to Zambia. Similarly, its China began to invest in roads, ports and power stations.

“Africa was about to become the new Asia,” says Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society in London, and author of The Economist’s “hopeless continent” article. It was, he says, “absolutely ridiculous”.

Moeletsi Mbeki is an academic and younger brother of Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president noted that few countries have a strategy to match Asian economies, such as Taiwan and South Korea, which built prosperity on manufacturing and exports. “Africa is still not yet in the manufacturing age.” [With exception of Ethiopia]

“Africa has always been valued for its commodities, whether it’s gold or diamonds or slaves,” says historian Martin Meredith. “‘Africa Rising’ was based on the Chinese being prepared to trade heavily to get their hands on those raw materials.”
That phase is over.

“You’ve gone from huge over-exuberance to uber-pessimism without anything much in between,” says David Cowan, Africa Economist at Citibank.

Nigeria and South Africa, which together make up more than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product, are in deep trouble. Nigeria’s petroleum-dependent economy will be lucky to notch up GDP growth of 3 percent this year, barely enough to keep up with population expansion. The naira is under pressure, foreign exchange is rationed, the budget is strained and a balance of payments crisis is looming. South Africa is in even worse shape, convulsed politically, battered by deep job losses in its struggling mines and facing the real possibility of a downgrade of its sovereign debt to junk.

Other African states, especially commodity producers, are struggling. Angola, which had been pumping out oil and purring along at double-digit growth rates, has turned to the International Monetary Fund. Mozambique is in dire straits after squandering much of the proceeds of international borrowing. The grotesque use by politicians of windfall profits around the continent is a reminder that corruption is alive and well.

In country after country, growth is slowing, external positions weakening and fiscal deficits widening. In its semi-annual report, the World Bank forecast growth in Sub-Saharan Africa of just 3.3 percent this year, less than half the average of 6.8 per cent recorded between 2003 and 2008. Because of their growing populations, most African states need nearly 3 percent growth just to stand still in per capita terms. Vijay Mahajan helped consolidate optimism with his 2009 book ‘Africa Rising: How 900m African Consumers Offer More Than You Think.’ But Mahajan, built his thesis on less-than-robust advertising classifications of spending power of a “middle class” that were scraping by on a few dollars a day in insecure jobs. (His book title he admits was his publisher’s spin.)

 Many well-paid jobs are in the bloated public sector, funded by governments that may no longer be able to afford such expense. In recent years, consumer goods companies have been forced to chase their customers downmarket, offering them smaller packet sizes (the two-cigarette pack has hit the streets of Harare) or economy brands to keep cash-strapped customers loyal. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the middle-class story is that with a few exceptions, Africa hardly makes anything. For too many countries, the economic model continues to be to dig stuff out of the ground and sell it to foreign companies.