The wealth of Africa
From its 800 million people to its vast fertile lands and enormous mineral wealth, Africa is brimming over with riches. There is nothing inherently poor about this great continent. The poverty of the majority of its people is a peculiar product of the latest phase of its history – colonial and neo-colonial – which was so closely tied up with the birth of modern industrial capitalism in western Europe and north America. The plunder of Africa’s great wealth played a major role in the bringing about, and sustenance, of European and American affluence.
“Manganese for steel, cobalt for chrome and alloys, gold, fluorspar and germanium for industrial diamonds – Africa remains a treasure trove for the world’s sophisticated economies. The US continues to rely on Africa for raw materials, and for American companies there are tremendous profits in the current trade agreements that continue the age-old exploitation of the continent by the rich world.
“Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest place, is also its most profitable investment destination. According to the World Bank’s 2003 global development finance report, the huge continent offers the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world.” (‘When it comes to Africa, Bush has more on his mind than aid’ by Torcuil Crichton, Sunday Herald, 12 June 2005)
Africa’s independent, pre-colonial history and cultural achievements, a reflection of its great civilisations, were for years denied by European scholars in order to back up the insidious colonialist lies about ‘child-like people’ who needed shepherding to full adulthood and who were not ‘ready’ for independent rule. It was a rough ‘parentage’ for the people of Africa – mercantile capital saw the continent as a gold mine first for the harvesting of slave labour, then as a vast plantation to be worked by slave labour in situ – as colonies.
The poverty of Africa: slavery and colonial history
In the middle of the nineteenth century, technological achievements (principally the machine gun and steam boat) made stable territorial occupation possible, and Europe switched its emphasis from piecemeal stealing of Africa’s population (some 200 million men, women and children were stolen and sent to the ‘new world’, though more than ninety percent fell victim to the tortures and pestilent conditions of transit and were thus murdered before setting foot as slaves in the Americas) to enslaving the entire continent on a systematic basis.
In 1884, at the Berlin congress, European powers settled their territorial disputes ‘peacefully’ (with respect to each other) for the last time. Lines drawn on a map of Africa apportioned ‘unoccupied’ territory to colonial powers on the basis of their relative strength – at that time. Subsequent disputes, based on the changing relative strength of the imperialist powers, would mean redivision of territory and – since no imperialist power voluntarily surrenders (or frees) its colonial slaves, markets or raw materials – redivision by force. The bloody carnage of the two world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 was set in motion by the imperialist powers with just such aims of forcibly redividing the world’s territories.
After WWII, a post-war wave of national liberation surged across Africa, but the imperialists became very adept at hanging on to the essence of their exploitative relations with their former colonies and waiting for better times. Large European and US capitalists retained direct business and banking control of major African national assets and, having used this influence to keep African economies one sided and industrially under developed, they proceeded to use tools such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to insist upon ‘free competition’. ‘Free’ at least in areas that favoured imperialist monopolies; strict protectionism was of course maintained in the imperialists’ domestic markets and weaker areas of trade.
This market fundamentalism continues to ensure the dependence of the ‘third world’ on huge EU and US capital reserves (built up through the exploitation of the same countries that are then forced to borrow it back on such injurious terms). African countries, having seemingly freed themselves from colonialism, thus become financially re-enslaved as neo-colonies, in hock to the multinational corporations (MNCs) of the imperialist world for vast sums. Consequently, vast political influence is wielded by the imperialist multinationals and most of the continent is in reality only nominally free.
So parasitic have the imperialist countries become that their domestic service economies are less and less productive, and the living conditions not only of the ruling class and their mandarins, but even of the working class in Britain have become dependent on increased exploitation of third world labour. This uncomfortable reality, so often ignored and denied by the fake ‘left’, is the basis for British labour movement passivity and lack of revolutionary zeal in the face of the assaults our ruling class daily wages on the rest of the world. But the aftershock of the upheavals British imperialism is causing will surely hit home sooner or later; and all the signs point to sooner.
“The only part of the so-called national wealth that actually enters into the collective possessions of modern peoples is – their national debt.” (Marx, Capital, Vol 1, p 753)
In capitalist society, productive, profit-making enterprises are privately owned. The socially created wealth of these industries is privately accumulated and denied to the very masses of workers who brought it into existence. Only the loss-making enterprises remain in the arena of national economy, to be paid in varying degree by capitalist profits, and workers’ wages. The main examples of these enterprises are: the maintenance of national armies and police forces; legislative and judicial branches of the state that are needed to maintain the exploitative relations; and very capital-intensive enterprises whose rate of profit is too low to attract privateers.
Drop the debt
The point to grasp about debt is not simply its size, but the fact that it reflects underlying property relations. The wealth of a society is appropriated by the capitalists and, in the case of Africa, Asia and Latin America, very often by a foreign superpower making superprofits by exploiting cheap labour resulting from derisory wages and terrible living conditions. Without a fundamental change in property relations, dropping the debt of the oppressed nations today (were financiers to accede to such demands) would simply result in re-accumulation of the debt tomorrow, since, while their wealth continues being sucked out by multinational corporations, these countries have no other way to pay for what basic services and infrastructure they have other than by borrowing.
Third world debt is not a new phenomenon. It was in order to keep critically indebted countries within the snare of the financial oligarchs that the WB and IMF were originally set up. To this end they arranged emergency ‘aid packages’ to prevent Mexico (1982), Argentina (2003) etc from falling out of exploitative relations with monopoly capitalism and falling into a turmoil of social upheaval. Such ‘aid’ has a propitious dual role for imperialism; on the one hand, it creates, or more often extends, a relationship of financial servitude with the third world country in question; on the other hand, it serves to divert potentially revolutionary movements. Imperialism really does get to have its cake and eat it – at least for the time being.
Live 8 / Make Poverty History
The G8 started as the ‘library group’ of six nations (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan), whose economic ministers first met in the early seventies to discuss the impact of soaring oil prices on their floundering economies, which was then threatening to tip the world into recession. Canada was asked to join in the eighties and Russia made eight after the counter-revolution had triumphed in the USSR – a ‘reward’ for allowing increased NATO domination in Europe.
These annual meetings of government spokesmen from the world’s most powerful imperialist/capitalist nations have so exposed themselves as reactionary think tanks and servants of monopoly capital that they have become the focus of significant protest in recent years. In particular, the ‘Battle of Seattle’ at the WTO meeting in Nov/Dec 1999 alarmed state security services, who have been looking ever since for ways to subvert, control, demoralise and disarm the growing threat. (See for example http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/miscdocs/200008_e.html)
During the build up to the Gleneagles summit on 6 July this year, a concerted campaign was waged by celebrity, state and establishment figures for ‘leadership’ and control of this movement. But the attempt to make protest ‘constructive’, non-violent and benevolent in its attitude to the world exploiters’ forums cannot triumph in the long term, any more than capitalism can cease to be itself.
On Saturday 2 July 200,000 ‘fans’ were treated to ‘Live 8’, a pop concert in Hyde Park organised and addressed by Bob Geldof, a close associate of Blair, who summed up his aims as: “More aid for Africa, debt cancellation and fair trade.” (But what is ‘fair’ trade?)
On Sunday 3 July a carefully orchestrated march called by the tailor-made ‘Make Poverty History’ (MPH) campaign in Edinburgh, attended by such dangerous radicals as Scottish first minister Jack McConnell and Hillary Benn MP (Son of Labour grandee Tony and recently made Secretary of State for ‘International Development’) heard a message of solidarity from Pope Benedict XVI, intimating that “rich nations should accept the burden of debt relief for the poor”. Very pious.
The briefest look at the MPH website reveals just how firmly integrated into the imperialist establishment are the federated organisations whose poster boys for G8-promoted ‘poverty solutions’ Geldof and Bono have become.
Apart from the worthies already mentioned, the Make Poverty History federation includes religious groups such as the churches of England and Scotland, the Baptist Union, CAFOD, the Church Mission Society, Liberal Judaism, and the Evangelical alliance; industry groups including the biotechnology and biological research council; and unions and professional bodies whose members, like the marchers, may well have the best intentions, but whose leaders are adept at steering them in the pro-imperialist direction. Add a seemingly endless list of charities and lobby groups, from Princess Di’s memorial fund to Elton John’s AIDS foundation and you have a picture of the great and good not seen since the benevolent days of Victorian philanthropy – a philanthropy that diagnosed immorality the root cause of poverty, rather than examining its own exploitative role, and prescribed the horrors of the workhouse as a cure.
In the build up and aftermath of Gleneagles, we were regaled with platitudes of the first order; a thin veneer beneath which business at the G8 carried on in its usual high handed, not to say, bloodthirsty and rapacious manner.
G8: The mountain has brought forth a mouse!
After the summit there was little evidence of any meaningful concession. The US accepted climate change “as an issue”! G8 will “work towards” decreasing tariffs and subsidies to make trade ‘fairer’, and an increase in debt relief by $28.8bn over 10 years has been pledged – which we will examine later. Nevertheless, Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof was ebullient, calling it a “great day”.
“Never before have so many people forced a change of policy onto a global agenda. If anyone had said eight weeks ago will we get a doubling of aid, will we get a deal on debt, people would have said ‘no’,” Mr Geldof said.
He added that he gave the G8 summit “10 out of 10 on aid, eight out of 10 on debt”.
“Six hundred thousand Africans, mostly children, will remember this G8 summit at Gleneagles because they will be around to remember this summit, and they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Bono.
Such blithe inanities and blatant falsehoods cannot hide the true content of the G8 deals and the surrounding circus laid on by the British establishment.
George Galloway, speaking in Edinburgh, quite correctly pointed out Blair’s “‘grotesquely cynical manoeuvre’ in placing himself at the forefront of the anti-poverty campaign, and says that if ‘Sir Bob and Sir Bono’ really wanted to help, they would stand in Whitehall and call on poor countries to tear up the debts because they have already paid”. (Cited in http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/news/archives/2005/07/03/gorgeous_george_lord_bob_and_bolivia.html)
Hypocrisy of imperialist ‘charity’
As it turns out, the pledged sum turns out to be a classic example of imperialist fraud and lies reminiscent of Enron’s ‘creative accounting’ and the massaging of unemployment statistics.
“The G8 communiqué announcing the ‘victory for millions’ is unequivocal. Under a section headed ‘G8 proposals for HIPC debt cancellation’, it says that debt relief to poor countries will be granted only if they are shown ‘adjusting their gross assistance flows by the amount given’ – in other words, their aid will be reduced by the same amount as the debt relief. So they gain nothing.”
“The ’55 billion’ claimed by The Observer comes down, at most, to $1bn spread over 18 countries. This will almost certainly be halved – providing less than six days worth of debt payments – because Blair and Brown want the IMF to pay its share of the ‘relief’ by re-valuing its vast stock of gold and passionate Bush has said No.
“The first unmentionable is that the gold was originally plundered from Africa. The second is that debt payments are due to rise next year, more than doubling by 2015. This will mean not ‘victory for millions’, but death for millions.” (John Pilger; Morning Star G8 special, 2 July 2005)
On top of this, the amounts pledged, while seeming large when judged by the standards of our own individual lives and experience, are actually vanishingly small in the scale of economies of nations and even compared with the economies of the largest multinational corporations.
In sheer volume terms, the world’s largest economy is sending the largest amount of foreign aid to Africa, but as a proportion of national wealth only 0.16 percent (around £19bn) of the US budget goes on aid, far short of the 0.7 percent of GDP that is the UN target. Compare this with the current level of US military spending (expected to top £600bn in 2006).
This meanness is especially striking when we compare the amount pledged – not actually given – with the vast magnitude of African assets owned and controlled by US and EU monopoly capital, as well as the surplus value (profit) their multinational corporations (MNCs) derive from employing (exploiting) African labour power.
The real flow of wealth remains firmly one way: from the ‘poor third world’ to the ‘rich first world’.
“At present, for every $1 of ‘aid’ to Africa, $3 are taken out by western banks, institutions and governments – and that does not account for the repatriated profit of transnational corporations.” (Pilger, ibid)
Hence the poverty of the former and the opulence of the latter. Seen in this context, the imperialist nations’ pledge of 0.7 percent of GNP (a pledge, moreover, that was made, but never kept, some 35 years ago in the UN) can be seen as a useless sticking plaster over the sore of African poverty that is rooted in the present actions as well as past history of our ruling monopoly capitalist class. It is an expensive and diversionary PR campaign; nothing more.
Market fundamentalism: systematic and deadly terrorism on a world scale
Furthermore, ‘aid’ is being pledged on the condition of ‘good governance’, an insidious cover-all phrase whose true meaning is ‘strict compliance with imperialist market fundamentalism’, as dictated by the World Bank and IMF.
Far from being a solution to poverty, such ‘aid’ acts as a bribe and sop to encourage manipulable regimes to open up all markets, assets, productive processes and activities (‘services’), no matter how fundamental to the development of the people and nation, to privatisation and plunder, thus further impoverishing the ordinary people of the recipient nations.
“The African Growth and Opportunity Act, which sounds like a benevolent multilateral trade agreement between the US and Africa, forces participants to remove subsidies from their industries (while allowing the US to subsidise its own) and insists on privatisation of social services such as water even in countries that face drought.
“The non-government organisations working in the continent have described the agreement as a colonial imposition that provides the US with cheap labour and goods and tax-free energy. Of course, over 90 percent of the sales under the agreement in its first nine months were oil exports from Nigeria and Gabon.
“The returns are not for Africans though. While 70 percent of Nigerians exist on a dollar a day, Shell continues to make megaprofits from oil drilling in the country, taking an estimated $30bn out of the ground since the 1950s.
“At present 12 percent of US oil comes from Africa and by 2015, when the UN’s Millennium Goals to halve world poverty will be laughably incomplete, that proportion will have reached 25 percent. To control the security of oil supply will, in all likelihood, require a large US military presence near the oilfields. [But here, real progress was made at Gleneagles, for the G8 nations agreed 20,000 ‘peace-keeping’ troops should be stationed in Africa to protect such ‘strategic interests’.]
“Poverty and the needs of the African population will take second place to US geo-political strategy. In the lexicon of aid and trade, the NEPAD agreements and the AGOA, there are only three letters that really matter to the US in Africa, they are O-I-L.” (Torcuil Crichton, ibid)
So ‘debt cancellation’ turns out to be a sham and a fraud, entrenching and re-enforcing the mechanism by which the poor are further impoverished. The indebtedness of selective (compliant) puppet national state regimes is (temporarily!) reduced in return for further privatisation, deeper long-term sacrifices, bigger cuts in the social wage and, ultimately, more debt. For British workers, the result of this is even cheaper labour abroad, more jobs leaving the country, higher unemployment and, ultimately, wage cuts here too. We cannot fight the attacks of international capital on our own jobs and conditions without defending workers internationally – including their right to defend themselves from this piracy by armed force if necessary.
“A ridiculously small amount of US aid, far less than 1 percent of its total aid budget, is spent in sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on Earth. A lot of the funds go to Pakistan, to Israel, to countries that assist in the US’s strategic interests. In that respect, foreign aid is, as it always was, a tool of foreign policy.” (Ibid)
Inevitably, those who effectively resist neo-colonial plunder and raise their people out of poverty and subjugation are singled out as being ‘rogue states’ least deserving of aid. This will be water off a duck’s back to the Zimbabweans, who have incurred imperialism’s wrath by really effecting massive transfer of wealth (first the nation’s land and now the nation’s industry) from the rich to the poor, and are not in need of the imperialists’ enslaving ‘charity’. The lesson here too is clear: let African workers and peasants take revolutionary control of their own destiny and they will be able to unilaterally cancel all ‘debt’ and exploitative relations of production.
Working-class opposition to the plunder of Africa has been bought off in the imperialist countries by throwing a healthy slice of the booty to influential leaders in the working-class movement, thus creating a very bourgeois ‘aristocracy’ of labour. Hence the very efficient way in which Blair and ‘Labour’ are happy to prosecute wars in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa to protect the interests of finance capital at the drop of a hat. Labour’s trade union and ‘revolutionary’ hangers on of various hues play their despicable role through unstinting support for this very imperialist Labour Party on all decisive issues, despite its many heinous crimes against humanity.
If we fail to defend our fellow workers (irrespective of national boundaries, which the capitalists themselves long ago transcended in their ceaseless thirst to exploit cheap labour, seek new markets and hunt for raw materials), we give up any claim to our own independence and freedom. We totally remove ourselves from the arena of class struggle and meekly submit to our own exploitation at the hands of the very same capitalists. Only blind prejudice is left to convince us that the order of the world is somehow tipped in our favour. At least we’re better off than … whoever. Hence the droning of capitalist media on the ‘danger of immigration’.
We are encouraged to snivel and cringe before our ‘superiors’, the capitalist class and their representatives, while bashing each others’ skulls together over age old, irrelevant ‘differences’ in race, nationality, and religion. Thus the true dividing lines between worker and capitalist, exploited and exploiter, are blurred, and the only real social solution to poverty – a phenomenon now totally historically unjustifiable in light of the vast productive potential of modern social labour power – is made to seem too complex for our ‘simple working-class minds’ to grasp. Namely, revolutionary removal of the exploiting classes and collective administration of our work and wealth in the interests of working people. The lack of consciousness amongst workers in the imperialist countries, cultivated by a comfortable existence and a bribed ‘working-class leadership’, can only be fought by establishing a truly working-class party to fight for our long term interests: confiscation of the capitalists’ ill gotten gains and the end of the era of exploitation of man by man and nation by nation.
We must revisit the exemplary lessons of the Soviet Union, which in its ascendancy showed working people the world over the practical and prosaically beautiful truth of socialism: that it is possible to administer the most sophisticated and organised productive processes, indeed the creative life and economies of entire nations, without an exploiting class. That peaceful co-existence and co-operation can be substituted for the oppression and exploitation so characteristic of the relations between US and European imperialism and Africa. That the racist, divisive and impoverishing inter-dependency of imperialism can be smashed in the fires of collective struggle if the people of Africa and the workers of US and Europe again take up the path of October.
Let the workers and oppressed peoples of the world forge a new all encompassing Soviet brotherhood of nations and consign imperialism, exploitation, poverty, famine and war to the scrap heap of historical curiosities where they belong.