African economy produces billionaires while poverty persists

Press reports from Africa indicate that there are unprecedented levels of economic growth taking place throughout the continent, which includes some of the fastest growing economies internationally.

A Ventures magazine article dated Oct. 9 calculated that there are 55 billionaires on the continent, most in Nigeria and South Africa, the largest regional economies that produce oil, natural gas, platinum, diamonds, gold and other strategic resources. Other newspapers and journals reported on this survey of African billionaires.

In the Financial Times based in London, African editor Javier Blas wrote that a five-fold surge in energy prices since 2003 “contributed to the increase of billionaires in hydrocarbons-rich countries. The new list puts Africa at par with Latin America, which Forbes magazine said this year was home to 51 of the super-rich.” (Oct. 7)

The same article notes, “Asia is home to 399 billionaires. The lists published by Forbes, which has been compiling lists of the most wealthy for years, and Ventures magazines are not directly comparable, however.” The article makes it appear as if Africa is rapidly closing the gap in wealth and production with countries in Asia that were championed during the 1990s as the center of rapid economic expansion.

Blas points to some of the leading personalities who have accumulated wealth in the last several years: “The richest person in Africa is Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman involved in cement, food, oil and other sectors with an estimated personal fortune of more than $20 billion. Allan Gray, the publicity-shy South African financier, is the second richest, with assets worth at least $8.5 billion. Mike Adenuga, a Nigerian involved in the oil and telecoms industries, has an estimated fortune of $8 billion, according to Ventures.”

Class struggle intensifies

The enrichment of various personalities, families and interest groups has not reached workers, farmers and youth. The continued existence of unemployment, hunger, homelessness and lack of quality education means that the class struggle in Africa is still very much in existence.

This has been demonstrated through a series of strikes in various countries, including Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, some of the most populous and economically developed states that are thoroughly integrated into the global capitalist system. The demands surrounding these work stoppages were related to low wages, poor working conditions and threats of layoffs.

A survey of the conditions involving workers and farmers in Africa conducted by Afrobarometer examined opinions of people living in 34 countries through the views of some 50,000 people who were representative of different social groups and classes across the continent.

Based upon the views of these population groups, the majority of Africans are by no means satisfied with the overall economic conditions prevailing in their respective countries.

Researchers evaluating the responses found: “Meeting their basic daily needs remains a major challenge for a majority of Africans, even at a time when their countries are reporting impressive economic gains. Either economic growth is not trickling down to average citizens and translating into poverty reduction … [or] there is reason to question whether reported growth rates are actually being realized,” the investigators reported.

One clear trend in African economic development relates to the lack of national and regional planning to establish an infrastructure that could facilitate genuine growth. The Afrobarometer study observed, “The data showed significant correlations between access to electrical grids, piped water, and other basic services in communities and lower levels of lived poverty.”

Afrobarometer reports that poverty levels have been reduced in numerous African countries. “Poverty has come down very, very slightly,” said Robert Mattes, who is the director of the University of Cape Town’s Democracy in Africa Research Unit. The lives of people in Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia have gotten better over the last ten years, the study found.

In some states with a more industrialized economy such as South Africa, however, levels of poverty increased in the recent period. In addition to South Africa, Afrobarometer documented that poverty increased in  Botswana, Senegal, Mali and Tanzania. These trends reflect the broader international pattern of greater concentrations of wealth within capitalist economies.

The need for socialism

An evaluation of economic growth in Africa cannot be separated from broader social patterns in the world system. In order for Africa to foster genuine growth and development there must be a revolutionary transformation of the existing class structures inherited from the legacies of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism.

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana and a leading theoretician of the African Revolution during the period between the 1940s and 1970s, examined the character of the class struggle on the continent and the need to overthrow capitalism and build socialism. He emphasized that in order for Africa to overcome underdevelopment and poverty there must be a decisive break with imperialism.

In his book entitled “Class Struggle in Africa” published in 1970, Nkrumah points out, “Colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism are expressions of capitalism and of bourgeois economic and political aspirations. In Africa, under colonialism, capitalist development led to the decline of feudalism and to the emergence of new class structures.” (p. 55)

National liberation movements and independent governments, according to Nkrumah, must view the struggle for freedom within the context of the global struggle against capitalism and imperialism and for the construction of socialism. He stresses, “The ideology of the African Revolution links the class struggle of African workers and peasants with world socialist revolutionary movements and with international socialism.” (p. 40)

The nature of this worldview, Nkrumah continues, “emerged during the national liberation struggle, and it continues to mature in the fight to complete the liberation of the continent, to achieve political unification, and to effect a socialist transformation of African society. It has developed within the concrete situation of the African Revolution, is a product of the African Personality, and at the same time is based on the principles of scientific socialism.”