At the end of the 19th century there was a scramble for African resources and land by the capitalist nations of Europe. Over a century later there is now a new scramble for Africa. There is no mystery to why a new scramble for resources in Africa is taking place because all over the world there is a struggle by competing nation states for raw resources, the protection of trade routes and establishment of spheres of strategic and political influence. And there is continuing competition and conflict between China and the US for African oil and access to other raw resources both countries are desperate to secure for themselves
The competition for resources between nation states takes place because we live in a world-wide capitalist social system based on the class ownership of the means of production and distribution in which social wealth is produced as commodities by propertyless wage workers to be sold with a view to profit. Capitalism is a class society with a privileged minority living off the labour of an exploited majority working class. Capitalism exists equally in the US as it does in China and Africa.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds a powerful case against capitalism; that it is a “fetter on production”, it is a system of class exploitation, it causes all the social problems faced by the working class and human needs are only met under capitalism to the extent they can be paid for. Workers, the real wealth creators in society, are forced to live off wages and salaries and what workers receive is limited by the rationing imposed by the wages system. For billions of others locked out of markets because they are subsisting on a few dollars a day it means absolute poverty, starvation and often death. This is the lot of millions of men, women and children in Africa.
The problems of the working class are the last thing on the minds of US and Chinese politicians and oil companies as they compete for oil around the continent of Africa. In fact, the scramble for oil and raw resources is not new and it is useful to place China’s involvement in the African continent into a historical perspective; namely the “scramble for Africa” in the 19th century. Capital shapes the world in which we live and it has been doing so for hundreds of years.
For centuries, beginning with the slave trade, Western capitalism has systematically exploited the African continent. In fact Marx had viewed the rape of Africa as one of the principal generators of primitive accumulation by:
"…the turning of Africa into a commercial warren for the hunting of black skins” that "signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (Karl Marx, CAPITAL VOL I (New York: Vintage Books, 1977 p. 915)
But the abduction and enslavement of millions of Africans was only the start. In the late nineteenth century, in what became known as the "scramble for Africa," the continent was arbitrarily carved up into colonies by the leading European powers, which violently subjected tribes and plundered the continent of its rich natural resources.
Here is the 19th century imperialist Cecil Rhodes’ answer to this question:
"We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories…In order to save the forty million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war; our colonial statesmen must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population of this country, to provide new markets... The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question" (quoted from R. Dumont and N. Cohen, THE GROWTH OF HUNGER: A NEW POLITICS OF AGRICULTURE. Marion Boyars, London 1980)
British capitalism then and Chinese capitalism now! Plus ca change.
In the post-independence eras, African states became pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development as autonomous capitalist nation states largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. Dictatorships replaced dictatorships; corruption and theft enriched the indigenous ruling class while, war, famine and death was a common feature for the rest of society.
Here are the Facts of life for the continent of Africa from an organisation food4africa:
* 315 million people – one in two of people in Sub Saharan Africa survive on less than one dollar per day
* 184 million people – 33% of the African population – suffer from malnutrition
* During the 1990s the average income per capita decreased in 20 African countries
* Less than 50% of Africa’s population has access to hospitals or doctors
* In 2000, 300 million Africans did not have access to safe water
* The average life expectancy in Africa is 41 years
* Only 57% of African children are enrolled in primary education, and only one of three children complete school
* One in six children dies before the age of 5. This number is 25 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in the OECD countries
* Children account for half of all civilian casualties in wars in Africa
* The African continent lost more than 5,3 million hectares of forest during the decade of the 1990s
* Less than one person out of five has electricity. Out of 1.000 inhabitants 15 have a telephone line, and 78 out of 1,000 people surf on Internet.
Africa remains a continent abundant in natural resources which could be used to meet the needs of all society, but these resources manage to enrich only a handful of African rulers and foreign capitalists, which now includes capitalists from China and India.
As Marx and Engels noted in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:
"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country…it creates a world after its own image"
And that image is exploitation, plunder, death and destruction on a truly global scale. For the population of Africa it means continued civil war, abject poverty, plunder, dictatorship, violence and hardship. However the world’s working class does not need to exist in a world created after capitalism’s own image. The working class needs to retain a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country but without the bourgeoisie and its coercive State.
What needs to replace the new scramble for Africa is the establishment of Socialism; the establishment by a Socialist majority throughout the world of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Chinese Capitalism and Africa
Following the economic reforms in the late 1980’s China-Africa trade has grown from $6bn (3.75bn) in 1999 to more than $90bn (£56bn) in 2009, roughly split equally between imports and exports: Africa's natural resources – oil, iron, platinum, copper, and timber – flowing east to feed China's factories, and finished goods, from flip-flops to trucks, travelling the other way. Each year Beijing provides billions of pounds in grants and loans to African governments to secure raw material deals or to finance infrastructure projects that could benefit its companies.
Western anxieties over the relationship between China and African countries were highlighted by WikiLeaks's recent release of a US embassy cable in which Johnnie Carson, the US assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, said:
"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons. China is in Africa for China primarily."
He could, of course, be describing the US or any other capitalist nation. The memo warned of: "tripwires", asking:
Is China developing blue water navy? Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations? Once these areas start developing then the United States will start worrying.
But are the Chinese Colonists behaving in the same way that the European Nation States were in the 19th century? When you look at the numbers of Chinese companies operating in Africa, you could say yes. Chinese capitalism is colonising parts of Africa and setting-up businesses in a similar manner to the European powers of the nineteenth century.
African governments have defended the ties between African States and China. On a recent state visit to Beijing, Jacob Zuma, the South Africa president, said:
"China is there discussing with the brothers and sisters in Africa to create a mutually beneficial kind of relationship … different from former Western colonialists [who simply took] things by force" (GUARDIAN 24th 2010).
Of course, the “mutually beneficial kind of relationship” Jacob Zuma has in mind is the enrichment of himself and his class. The working class in South Africa will continue to live in exploitation, squalor and poverty.
The scramble for Africa now includes Indian capitalism.
In 2010, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh accompanied by dozens of business leaders held trade talks in Ethiopia as India tried to catch up with China. The Prime Minister led a trade delegation to an economic summit in Addis Ababa to increase Indian capitalism’s presence on the African continent.
Bilateral India-Africa trade has grown from about £620m ($996) in 2001 to £28.5bn ($46bn) in 2010. India's aim is to reach £43bn ($69bn) by 2012. Some 250 Indian companies have invested in African countries, mainly in telecommunications and chemical and mining businesses.
But India remains about a decade behind Chinese capitalism in investing in Africa. China says its two-way trade stands at £75bn ($129bn), a 43.5% increase on the previous year, and up from just £620m ($996) in 1992. Chinese companies have built roads, bridges, railways and power stations in return for access to cheap labour power, markets and resources.
The fierce competition between Chinese and Indian capitalism for resources, minerals and food to meet the demands of their respective economies is not so dissimilar to the first scramble for Africa in the late 19th century.
According to a report in the GUARDIAN:
"India is especially focused on energy. The country imports 70% of its oil and has turned to new suppliers such as Nigeria, Sudan and Angola to reduce its dependence on the Middle East. It also needs uranium for its ambitious civil nuclear programme"(23rd May 2011)
Capitalism, Chinese style
Chinese capitalists treat the continent of Africa as through it was the Wild West –a Wild West Capitalism as it were. Sinopec, an oil firm, has explored in a Gabonese national park and another state oil company has created lakes of spilled crude oil in Sudan.
Workers employed by Chinese companies at times fare little better than the environment.
At Chinese-run mines in Zambia’s copper belt workers must work for two years before they get safety helmets. Ventilation below ground is poor and deadly accidents occur almost daily. To avoid censure, Chinese managers bribe union officials while difficult shop stewards are sacked and workers who assemble in groups are violently dispersed – the beating of workers is common.
Tensions came to a head in 2010 when miners in Sinazongwe, a town in southern Zambia, protested against poor conditions. Two Chinese managers –who were most probably workers themselves - fired shotguns at a crowd, injuring at least a dozen.
This has not stopped the workers striking for higher pay and better working conditions. About 2,000 Zambian workers at NFC Africa Mining, majority-owned by China Nonferrous Metals Mining Corporation, went on strike in October 2011 for better pay and working conditions.
In the South African town of Newcastle, Chinese-run textile factories pay salaries of about $200 per month, much more than they would pay in China but less than the local minimum wage. Unions have tried unsuccessfully to shut the factories down but the Chinese employers point out that many South African firms also undercut the minimum wage, which is too high to make production pay. Without the Chinese, unemployment in Newcastle would be even higher than the current 60%. Workers say a poorly paid job is better than none; highlighting the Socialist argument that minimum wage legislation rarely works.
Tens of thousands of “frontiersmen” from China have moved out across the continent. Sanou Mbaye, a former senior official at the African Development Bank, claims more Chinese have come to Africa in the past ten years than Europeans in the past 400 –there is supposed to be 1 million Chinese workers in the continent of Africa. First came Chinese workers from state-owned companies, but more and more arrive individually or stay behind after finishing contract work. A recent Chinese government survey of 1,600 companies shows the growing use of Africa as an industrial base. Manufacturing’s share of total Chinese investment (22%) is catching up fast with mining (29%).
Governments in Africa have courted Chinese investment to secure lucrative deals with the indigenous ruling class. Some countries made industrial investments a precondition for resource deals. In Ethiopia two out of three resident Chinese firms are manufacturers. Yet the Chinese did not need much encouraging. The continent—soon to be ringed with Chinese free-trade ports—is a stepping stone to a commercial presence around the globe.
To this end, the government in Beijing is encouraging all sorts of activity in Africa. Construction is a favourite, accounting for three-quarters of recent private Chinese investment in Africa. The commerce ministry recently said that Chinese companies are signing infrastructure deals worth more than $50 billion a year. For investment in African farming, China has earmarked $5 billion of investment.
Perhaps the most significant growth in Chinese activity has been in finance. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has bought 20% of Standard Bank, a South African lender and the continent’s biggest bank by assets, and now offers renminbi accounts to expatriate traders. Other mainland banks have opened offices too, and from their sleek towers they make collateral-free loans to Chinese companies.
In just a few years China has become the most aggressive investor-nations in Africa. This commercial invasion is without question the most important development in the sub-Sahara since the end of the Cold War that is redrawing the global economic map. One former U.S. assistant secretary of state has called it a "tsunami." Some, like THE ECONOMIST, are even calling the region "ChinAfrica."
There is already more Chinese living in Nigeria than there were Britons during the height of the empire. From state-owned and state-linked corporations to small cockroach capitalists, the Chinese are investing across the continent bringing with them as many as 1 million Chinese workers to build and run the facilities.
Whether it is indigenous African workers or workers from China the social wealth being created is coming from workers’ exploitation; the generation of surplus value realised as profit when the commodities are sold on the market.
The Politics of Oil
In a recent paper China’s Oil Rush in Africa (2006) published by the Institute for Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank, the US has become increasingly alarmed at the impact of China’s investment in Africa to meet its own oil demands.
The Institute offers advice to US Government agencies on energy security. Many of its authors have military backgrounds. The author of the report on the threat of Chinese capitalism to US oil interests was Cindy Hurst a political-military research analyst with the Foreign Military Studies Office and an officer in the US navy reserve (http://www.iags.org/chinainafrica.pdf)
The United States, at present the largest world economic and military power, consumes a quarter of the world's oil but possesses only 3 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves. West Africa alone has 15 per cent of the world's oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply up to a quarter of U.S. domestic consumption.
U.S. oil imports from Africa-which come mostly from Nigeria and Angola, but also from Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon - surpassed those from the Middle East for the first time in 2007.
China, meanwhile, is also heavily involved in the new scramble for Africa, driven to seek reliable sources for oil by its own growing domestic needs. China's oil consumption has doubled in a single decade, and oil imports now comprise more than 40 per cent of its total oil consumption. By acquiring the Canadian company Addax Petroleum in August 2009, China Petrochemical Corporation SINOPEC acquired a number of petroleum exploration and production licenses in Nigeria. A few months later, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) offered Nigeria $50 billion to acquire the state shares in twenty-three licenses that are operated by European and US companies (Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Eni/Agip, ExxonMobil and Chevron). The Chinese goal is to tap into the African market and compete with the Western firms as any capitalist country does (www.afriqueavenir.org/en/2010/06/23/rise-of-african-oil-production).
There is intensifying global competition for control of oil and gas production and supply. Worldwide, a new generation of mainly state-owned companies, such as China's CNPC, Saudi Arabia's Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, Venezuela's PDVSA, and Iran's NIOC now control one-third of the world's oil and gas reserves and production, while the major Western companies; ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell control just one-tenth of production, and only 3 per cent of reserves. This intense competition for resources was spelt out in a recent paper by the academic, David Goldwyn:
Africa plays a strategic role in U.S. and global energy security. It is a critical supplier of new source production to global and U.S. oil supply. It is a natural gas supplier, with enormous potential to meet increased future demand in a carbon constrained world. Africa remains open to foreign investment and is one of the few continents that have not dramatically reduced access to investment in recent years. If the continent meets its potential, it may increase its production dramatically over the next two decades, serving as a pillar of global energy security by providing a major source of diverse oil and gas supply. The risk of instability in many of Africa’s key energy producers is high and rising, posing a threat to the stability of these nations and their neighbours, as well as U.S. investment and the global economy (Pursuing US Energy Interests. http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/csis_africa_review-energy_prepbub_draft.pdf)
The dependence of the United States and other developed nations on oil from developing countries is only going to increase during the 21st century creating tensions and conflict. 90 per cent of new supplies will come from developing countries in the next 40 years. That marks a big shift from the past 30 years, when 40 per cent of new production came from industrialized nations.
Thus the new scramble for Africa is a struggle between major competing national powers for control of potential and actual energy sources and profits at a time when they control fewer resources themselves. The race is all the more important given that conflicts and tensions in other energy-rich areas such as Iran and Venezuela. In the coming decades the US directly or indirectly through its proxy states, like Israel, will engage in conflict with Iran and are no doubt working on “regime change” in Venezuela.
The interest in African oil on one level is nothing new. As Exxon states in its publicity hand-outs, the company has been in Africa for a century while Nigeria has been an exploration hub for the continent for decades.
The Horn of Africa has also been the site of Western corporate investment for a number of years where Western companies including Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and Total held Somali exploration concessions before the country slid into civil war in 1991. But interest in East African oil has become more pronounced over the past twenty years or so. To date, Tanzania has licensed at least 17 international companies exploring for both offshore and onshore energy sources in the country. Firms that hold exploration blocks in Tanzania are Oslo-listed Artumas Group Inc (AGI), France's Maurel & Prom, Norway's Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras of Brazil and UK’s Aminex.
Petrobras alone has invested $11 million in Tanzania, and plans to spend another $14 million to develop Mtwara port. Tanzania's government puts the east African country's proven natural gas reserves at 7.5 trillion cubic feet. "Oil remains the prize in off-shore East Africa. Gas has been found but no commercial oil has been found yet despite increasing evidence for its potential presence," said Mr Mike Rego, exploration director for Aminex, which is active in the area (http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/sunday-citizen/41-sunday-citizen-business/16825-africas-oil-scramble-heads-east.html).
Despite its continued instability, Somalia is now seen as a likely country for investment for oil exploration as the rush is on to get there first; the US and Britain or China. The Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, speaking to the Observer after meeting Hillary Clinton and David Cameron at the London Somalia Conference recently, said that in the future a share of natural resources would be offered in return for help with reconstruction (GUARDIAN 25th February 2012).
Increasing oil and raw material prices have produced a boom in some African countries, as well as a marked jump in foreign investment, especially by Western and Chinese capital. By 2005, foreign direct investment had almost tripled over the previous five years. ExxonMobil has recently developed the Chad-Cameroon pipeline that runs through war-torn areas in Central Africa, the largest single investment in Africa. ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, invests 22 per cent of its capital expenditures in Africa, and gets 30 per cent of its oil from Africa. Nigeria has been identified as one of the key destinations in West Africa, Exxon Mobil Corporation has recently set out a $185billion investment plan over the next five years in Nigeria alone (PREMIUM TIMES April 5th 2012).
Angola, received a $902 million tender in 2007 from Eni, the Italian oil company, to secure the rights to drill offshore, one of the highest fees ever paid by an oil company and its current equity production is approximately 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (ZACS INVESTMENT 23rd November 2011). And the US oil company Chevron recently announced a $1.9 billion investment for the exploration of 70 million barrels from the shared Angola-Congo cross-border Lianzi field in north-western Cabinda province and south of Brazzaville (ANGOLA PRESS 1st March 2012).
In an interesting article, "Africa: Next U.S. oil war venue” published in BLACK STAR NEWS (April 17, 2007), the journalist Bruce Dixon wrote:
"The Pentagon does not admit that a ring of permanent US military bases is operating or under construction throughout Africa. But nobody doubts the American military build-up on the African continent is well underway. From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials."
And he went on to say:
"They've (the military) conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets. Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead "forward staging depots", and "seaborne truck stops" for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are "protected anchorages" and offshore "lily pads" from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa's oil and mineral wealth for decades to come."
The 21st century scramble for Oil in Africa may not necessary end in armed conflict between the leading capitalist powers like the US and China although client states continually collapse into civil war. Conflict exists throughout Africa due to either competition between one ruling group being beneficiaries of investment money from client States to the exclusion of the other or struggles to hold land rich with mineral reserves and oil in order to sign deals with China or western Capitalism.
The world’s resources should not be the preserve of a minority. Africa has the potential to provide sufficient food, housing and general welfare for its inhabitants. The impediment preventing the needs of Africa from being met is capitalism, national capitalist rivalry over the world’s resources and the profit motive overriding human need. The problems of the people of Africa are bound up with the problems facing the world’s working class. And the cause of these social problems comes from the private ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class. To replace the anti-social objective of profit-making with the Socialist objective of production for use requires, first, conscious political action not only in Western Europe and the US but in China and Africa too.
From the journal Socialist Studies.