Friday, August 12, 2022

Africa: left to rot (1993)

 From the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Africa has begun to look like an immense illustration of chaos theory. Much of the continent has turned into a battleground of contending dooms: poverty, starvation, illiteracy, corruption, social breakdown, war, and drought. It has become the basket case of the planet, the poorest of the third world, a vast continent in free fall.

In the face of political instability. disintegrating roads, airports and telephone networks, and other disincentives, investors from Europe, USA and Japan are withdrawing from Africa and looking elsewhere; why risk expropriation or failure in a continent with a weakness for one-party dictators, where drainage by corruption often equals the legitimate economic intake?

Expatriate businessmen estimate that wealthy Nigerians have enough money in personal deposits abroad to pay off the country’s entire foreign debt, more than £36 billion. Zaire’s President Mobuto Sese Seko has a personal fortune that has been estimated at from £4 billion to £6 billion, somewhere not far below the level of the country’s external debt. He has isolated himself from his subjects—and from gathering political unrest—aboard a luxury yacht that cruises the Zaire river, with a helicopter waiting on deck.

There are 160 countries on the United Nations Annual Development Index, a measure of comparative economic and political progress; 32 of the lowest 40 are in Africa.

For decades Africa could count on the Cold War as a kind of economic resource. The USA and the former Soviet Union struggled with each other through African proxies, poured in money (though mostly for strategic purposes rather than development) to prop up pro-Western or pro-Soviet surrogates. Now the Cold War is over and so is the geopolitical game, at least for the time being.

As the Berlin Wall tumbled, a Le Monde article was luridly dismissive of the continent:
our priorities are elsewhere, in Europe, in Asia. At a time when our brothers on the other side of the Iron Curtain (eastern Europeans), after having chased out the infamous, desperately need us, why continue favouring ghastly African regimes?
Africa’s inner rhythms of evolution and development were shattered many years ago by the intrusion of Europeans, who brought in alien controls, boundaries and forms of government. Colonialism was slowly introduced as a direct control of Africa. This colonization eventually developed into a direct and brazen exploitation of natural resources and peoples for the exclusive benefit of foreign imperialists.

The African states which exist today are an imposition from the West. The political map of Africa drawn up by the colonizers was dictated by a European cartography of power rather than by any internal dynamic of allegiances. Africa was in this manner brought to the threshold of capitalism with new social divisions, those of capitalists and wage-workers.

Despite the great enthusiasm for liberation and independence of African countries in the 1960s, the African continent is still dependent upon subservience to the highly developed capitalist powers. But the nature of dependency in these times is different from classical colonialism; in fact the so-called independent states have been aided by the colonial-imperialists to break down the old. outworn colonial set-ups which have become a hinderance to the latter’s effective control in Africa. For example, the abolishing of apartheid in South Africa is not an accident or an act of good will from De Klerk; it is being done under pressure from the Western capitalists, who believe that they will benefit more under a President Mandela.

There are immense advantages to be derived for the Western capitalist powers from the newer types of colonialism, such as the “commonwealth” form as exemplified by Britain and France. By such means the former colonies are transformed into economic satellites. Even more effective than this is foreign "aid’’ (at the highest rate of interest to pay back). This benevolent guise conceals the real purposes and serves the interests of the capitalists. Newly-independent countries must come under the yoke of the Western capitalist because of their dire need for aid. And aid without strings does not exist.

As a consequence of the low development of industry and agriculture, the newly-emerged government leaders are compelled to concentrate their efforts upon developing modern agriculture based on cash-crops, and new industries, new resources and new sources of energy. To do this they have to rely heavily on imports from the developed capitalist countries by diverting their limited home industrial and agricultural products for export.

Avoiding capitalism
The question arises: Can Africa’s problems be solved within the framework of capitalism? Is it in fact necessary for the African countries to go through capitalism before it could have socialism?The answer is no, it is not necessary for Africa to go through to highly developed capitalism. The world today is rotten-ripe for socialism. The development of communications to a split-second level means that, given a victorious Socialist majority in the industrialised world, the painful period of capitalist development could be avoided for the millions of people of the Third World countries.

The collapse after seventy-four years of Soviet-Russian “communist” rule was a bitter disillusionment to some African rulers attracted by Leninism. Things might have been different had the growing maturity of the working class crystallized into Socialist consciousness rather than into a defense of Russian state capitalism. Socialists in Africa and all over the world have a job to do working to spread the truth about real Socialism: a world society in which every man, woman and child has freedom of access to all the resources of the world.

Michael Ghebre

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