Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why Africa is poor and backward

Writing in the "Ecologist" magazine at the height of the make poverty history campaign in 2005 , Dr Shiva (an Indian author and environmentalist), said:-

"If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the system for wealth creation which create poverty 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 for 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, she says:-

"People 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 start fact that slavery, the scramble of Africa, colonialism apartheid, racism, western-imposed economic "reform", unfair trade policies, and foreign debt, have all contributed to poverty in Africa, brought their 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 letters western prescriptions on privatisation and restricting budget allowances on public toilets such as water gas, electricity, transport, hospitals and schools, the very pillars on which good standards of living should stand 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 cannot expand not improve on all these services; hence there are no books nor new schools, no medicines, nor new hospitals, shortages of water and electricity supplies. It means governments cannot employ or pay more doctors, nurses, teachers or buy much needed medicines. This situation has begat the image of "Poor Africa" that can be evangelised in the western world today.

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 small fraction of the total workforce, thus limiting the size of the 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 African 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, inclusive of street hawkers, petty shopkeepers, casual workers, prostitutes in the urban areas, 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 is the misrepresentation of socialism by the continents early "advocates of socialism". Individuals first propagated the supposed revolutionary ideas of socialism in Africa by individuals influenced in the main by the then USSR. But as the Soviet system only another version of capitalism, a distorted idea of "socialism" was spread. 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, and exhausted by the struggle is out of the question. Such as situation of ignorance and extreme poverty has become a continent breeding ground for religion, which feeds on despair and, so can be imagined, most people, 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.

Socialist Standard submission unsigned and undated

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