Friday, October 27, 2006

AFRICA AND POVERTY

Writing in the Ecologist magazine at the height of the Make Poverty History campaign last year, Dr Vandana Shiva (an Indian author and environmentalist) said, "by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes. Before we can make poverty history, we need to get the history of poverty right. People don't die for lack of incomes. They die for lack of access to resources.”

According to Dr Shiva, what makes poverty is that people are no longer able to live "off the land"; instead they are forced into becoming consumers. "People", she says, "no longer have access to resources such as water and land because these have been appropriated and/or destroyed by mega corporations and industrial agribusinesses. Poverty is a final state, not an initial state of an economical paradigm, which destroys ecological and social systems for maintaining life, health and sustenance of the planet and people."

Many people are quick to point out that corruption, wars and leadership ineptitude are the main cause of poverty in Africa. But problems are rooted in centuries of injustices and exploitation. Nobody can run away form the stark fact that slavery, the scramble for Africa, colonialism, apartheid, western-imposed economic "reform", unfair trade policies, and foreign debt, have all contributed to poverty in Africa. These have greatly contributed in bringing the people to their knees; stagnated or hindered development and fuelled conflict. This history of poverty is the history that they want to make history, not poverty.

Take the case of African debt, for example. The IMF and World Bank, hand-in-glove with G8 governments and western corporations, have always demanded that to qualify for loans or debt relief, African countries have to follow to the letter western prescriptions on privatisation and restricting budget allowances on public utilities such as water gas, electricity, transport, hospitals and schools - the very pillars on which good standards of living are gauged in capitalism. Contrary to the promised benefits, privatisation has pushed up costs in all of those essential services beyond the reach of most Africans. This has meant that governments can neither expand nor improve on all these services; hence there are no books, no new schools, no medicines, no new hospitals, etc. Instead, there is a constant shortage of water and electricity supply. It also means governments cannot employ or pay more doctors, nurses, teachers, or buy much-needed medicines.

Global capitalism sees Africa as a source of raw materials and a ready market for the finished products of the West. Comparatively few industries and factories have been established in Africa. As a result, factory workers constitute only a tiny fraction of the total workforce, thus limiting the size of the ‘industrial proletariat’.

On the other hand, in the rural areas where the majority of the population are found, the dominant labour process is still, to a degree, feudalistic. Individual farmers own their means of labour, hoes, machetes, and such other simple traditional implements and each family works on a small plot of land.

As the dominant worldview in any given society has been the view of the ruling elite, there is little wonder that in rural Africa, conservative traditional beliefs (in the power of the gods, the fetish priest, the chiefs etc) still hold sway. In the same vein whilst some in the urban areas (the relatively better paid workers) are slaves to the delusion to achieve and "make it", most think that they have been "divinely" destined to live in misery and must patiently wait for the day of deliverance and reward in the “after life”.

This unique production process has led to the creation of a rather disproportionate and disparate working class that includes street hawkers, petty shopkeepers, casual workers, prostitutes, seasonal agricultural labourers in the rural areas and a large reservoir of the unemployed and underemployed.

When considering the level of class-consciousness in Africa, note must be taken of the misrepresentation of socialism by the continent’s early advocates of “socialism". These individuals, influenced in the main by the then USSR, thought that was socialism in practice on the African continent. But as the soviet system was only another version of capitalism, a distorted idea of "socialism" was spread in Africa. This "Marxism-Leninism", as it was popularly known, had nothing to do with the self-emancipation of the working class that Marx taught. Instead, this soviet distortion taught that power could only be captured on behalf of the workers, as they were incapable of the feat, by small conspiratorial group of professional revolutionaries who alone were capable of understanding socialist ideology.

In Africa, the capitalists, afraid of the liberating potential of an enlightened people, have deliberately limited access to a decent education. Apart from a good education being a commodity available only to privileged elite, the course content of education in general has been so designed as to produce school leavers whose academic worth and capability is deplorably second rate. Even for the few who are privileged enough to have access to education, they read nothing but misinformation and distortions that are intended to hold back intellectual development in general and political awareness in particular.

Most people in Africa spend all their time looking for the next meal. The very disturbing problem is of material insecurity. Even for a majority of the literate the decision to buy, for instance, a newspaper is at the risk of foregoing a meal. People are so hungry, so tormented by war and instability that a conscious involvement in the class struggle is out of the question. Such a situation of ignorance and extreme poverty has become a convenient breeding ground for religion. And as religion feeds on ignorance and despair these poor souls, having lost all hope, turn to the myriad religious groups that abound for "comfort". Western capitalists, needless to say, generously sponsor these groups precisely because they are aware of the power of religion to blunt the revolutionary potential of the dispossessed, and of religion's ability to grease the machinery of exploitation.

Make no mistake about it, Africa is a land abundantly rich in natural resources – any other advanced continent with similar resources would be considered the number one superpower and a force to be reckoned with – and resources sufficient enough to meet more than the needs of the continent’s real needs. At the moment these resources are not the common property of the people of Africa, but owned and controlled by a minority elite with interests opposed to those of the majority. Poverty in Africa can be eradicated, though never via the myriad prescriptions provided by Western organisations and those who offer capitalist remedies. Freedom from poverty and equal access the benefits of civilisation is possible, but only on a continent where workers have at last united, and determined, with their fellows around the world, to fashion a system in their own interests. – a world where there is no private control and ownership of wealth production, where the world’s natural and industrial resources are the common property of all and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit.
Kephas Mulenga

1 comment:

Collectif Guinée Libre said...

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