Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Senegal'S Class Struggle

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has served Western interests dutifully.

The changes Wade has made to the constitution, enabling his personalisation of the state, were ushered in alongside a number of other changes that served to further open the country to foreign investment.

Wade's primary skill seems to have been signing cheques to foreign companies. By far the most significant achievement for Wade has been opening up mineral exploitation in the country's Toumbacounda region, facilitated by a $527m project to build the largest port in West Africa. The port is being built in a public-private initiative with DP World - an affiliate of the Dubai World Group, a company that also took on an $800m deal to build and run a special economic zone. The port facilitates the extraction of gold by a Canadian and Saudi company, Oromin Venture Group, and two other Canadian companies; Sabodala Mining and Lamgold Group. They are joined by Jersey-based Randgold, and the multi-national Arcelor Mittal. Numerous other valuable metals are found in the area, such as copper, chromium, lithium and uranium. The quantities seem to be less significant than the rare properties they offer for blending in new metal composites. These minerals will make their way to port via massive road rehabilitation and construction projects, which have been doled out to companies such as Swiss-based SGS Industrial, and China's Henan Industrial Cooperation Group and APIX, the government investment agency. Many Senegalese find it painfully insulting that, after 50 years of independence, they still cannot even build their own roads.

Senegal has also been involved in the protracted process of privatising its water services, with an early electricity privatisation that initially involved Hydro-Quebec and later Vivendi, among others. Vivendi is the company so loathed in South Africa for its pre-paid meter system. These privatisation processes lead to rising household bills for working people whose wages have been stagnant.

Wade formed in ideological association with former South African president Thabo Mbeki's campaignaimed for Africa to undergo a renaissance that would include increasing social cohesion, democracy, economic growth and the establishment of Africa as a significant player in world affairs. The most obvious example of this has been the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a vehicle to expand the reach of neoliberal free-market economic policy throughout the continent. In short, NEPAD further opened the continent to foreign investment - enshrining property rights, treating foreign firms on par with indigenous firms, cutting taxes, enabling the expropriation of profits, creating tax-free zones, and limiting the rights of workers.

According to Senegal Interior Minister Maitre Ousmane Ngom in 2009: "On the one hand, these reforms aim at improving the business environment, and on the other hand modernising the legal framework and the geological infrastructures to attract and develop foreign direct investments." Not surprisingly, international business interests have offered significant praise for Wade’s government over the years. Ousmane boasted that the World Bank's latest "Doing Business" report ranked Senegal as the top reforming country in Africa, and the fifth in the world.

The latest World Bank data shows the current account balance of Senegal at a deficit of $1.029bn. The country exports $3.236bn (2009) and imports $5.919bn. (This inclues foreign aid and remittances.) The exports are of course much larger in actual volume, leading to more shipments leaving the country, but those exports are primary commodities. The value of goods coming in is therefore much greater and is usually manufactured, such as mobile phones, clothing and electronics - the fate of neocolonialism.

Although the global scramble for Senegalese wealth is helping to enrich foreign business and a small local functionary class, the rest of the economy has been suffering. Unemployment rates at around 48 per cent mean Senegalese workers they do so in a highly degrading degrading fashion vy with one another for jobs and wages whose purchasing power constantly diminishes. Many feel a deep sense of despair and humiliation on a daily basis. Senegal has seen a growing division of society between those who can afford pay-per-use services, and those who cannot. Toll roads and new first-class trains sweep the wealthy out to the suburbs, while the rest make their way home in apartheid-style hardship. Agriculture still provides the main source of economic activity for 77 per cent of the labour force, but it remains highly dependent on increasingly unreliable weather patterns. Local peanut production - the most significant agricultural export - has declined, in part due to the privatisation of Sonacos, the state marketing and processing company, but also as a result of changes in climate and soil health. The fishing industry faces declining stocks as foreign trawlers poach along the West African coast with impunity.

Senegalese people need to stop looking for heroic leaders. Y’en a Marre ["Had enough"] members are starting to express some dissatisfaction with the culture of the M23 opposition movement, which is dominated by figureheads, whose politics closely resemble those of President Wade and people who simply want to occupy his throne. M23 prove themselves to be and self-interested, rather than political principled. Y’en a Marre members reveal a greater interest in popular education and grassroots action. They draw inspiration from a long history of non-violent anti-colonial resistance.

Demonstrations have managed to gain significant support outside the capital, Dakar, and taken place in smaller towns throughout the country. There have been a number of labour disputes. For example, most recently, taxi and transport workers managed to stop service for a three-day period with a near-100 per cent participation rate as they protested both the rise in fuel prices and police harassment and bribery. Before that, the union at the national broadcasting corporation participated in a protest and brief labour disruption over claims that the company was being used for Wade's propaganda purposes rather than upholding standards of journalism. For the past three months, there has been a nationally coordinated strike of college and university professors who face ever-growing class sizes but cannot afford basic housing. At the same time, the opposition is nevertheless rather disconnected from the everyday struggles of working people. The demonstrations reveal no practical links with the unions leading these struggles.

Adapted from here

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