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World capitalist crisis demands bold initiatives in Africa

Published Jun 18, 2009 8:36 PM

What distinguishes the contemporary economic crisis within global capitalism from other downturns over the last three decades is that the rapid deterioration of the social conditions of working people and the oppressed is taking place simultaneously all over the planet.

Since late 2007, the banking and manufacturing industries in the Western industrialized states have laid off millions of workers and further impoverished tens of millions more as a result of over-production of consumer goods, real estate and terms of credit.

Within the Western imperialist states and Japan, the main employers have downsized their workforces and transferred trillions of dollars of the social wealth of the working class to the financiers and industrialists. Pension funds, health care plans, public education, cultural programs and social services have been eliminated or vastly reduced for large segments of the population.

Considering that development within the imperialist countries is based largely upon the super-exploitation of the labor and natural resources of people in the colonial and neocolonial countries, it is not surprising that the economic crisis is having a far more dramatic impact on the masses of workers and farmers in Africa and other so-called developing regions. The export prices for raw materials and agricultural commodities produced in Africa have been greatly reduced, dragging down the real incomes of workers in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors there.

It is with this background that the recent 19th World Economic Forum on Africa met in Cape Town, South Africa. It drew the participation of representatives from various states on the continent.

Some 800 people from approximately 50 countries took part in the conference. Five African leaders attended and delivered speeches: Kenya Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga, Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, South African President Jacob Zuma and Zambian President Rupiah Bwenzani Banda.

According to the Xinhua press agency from the People’s Republic of China, “The meeting came as the global economic meltdown has sucked the growth and strength of many African nations, weakening the economic drivers like foreign investment, the demand for raw materials and monetary remittances from the industrial countries.” (Chinaview.cn, June 11)

On June 10 the annual African Competitiveness Report for 2009 was issued. This document analyzed the present economic situation on the continent from the standpoint of capitalist economic and social relations.

A leading newspaper in the west African state of Nigeria indicated that the continent could increase its competitive edge, although several impediments continue to exist. “Limited access to financial services remains a major obstacle for African enterprises, but underdeveloped infrastructure, limited healthcare and educational services and poor institutional frameworks also make African countries less competitive in the global marketplace.” (ThisDay, June 10)

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General who now heads the Africa Progress Panel, was quoted in the above-mentioned article as saying that “The global economic crisis can serve as a wake-up call for both African leaders and their international partners. Africa has transformed in my lifetime and the progress reached so far is proof that concrete achievements are possible amidst adversity.”

However, Annan continues by re-emphasizing his belief in the same capitalistic notions of economic growth. Although Annan realizes that “the economic, climate change and food security crises are all linked” and “cannot be tackled separately,” he fails to make a genuine critique of the role of Western economic models in creating and sustaining the ongoing problems of underdevelopment in Africa.

Annan says, surprisingly enough, that “We need a new development model that provides security, stability and addresses people’s needs. Everyone needs to contribute.” Yet under the imperialist-dominated global economy, decisions are often made which benefit the centuries-old structures of dominance and relations that inevitably reinforce the status quo.

Annan then goes on to say that “Business has a key role, as does Africa’s trading and donor partners. But the primary responsibility to make it happen rests with Africa’s political leaders.”

What role for African workers and farmers?

This top-down model that still relies on the same international division of labor and economic power cannot provide any real hope for genuine development on the continent. The economic statistics released by imperialist-backed institutions like the World Bank clearly reveal that the global crisis in capitalism has in fact dramatically increased the number of people living in poverty.

According to World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the present economic meltdown has thrown another 53 million Africans into poverty. However, in the next breath, she goes on to stress the purported necessity of Africa becoming more “competitive.”

This is the same rhetoric that is heard even within the dominant capitalist states like the U.S. These ideas are utilized to demand even further concessions from workers, who are accused of failing to produce enough at lower wages which would attract greater capitalist investment.

Moreover, this economic rationale has led to complete disaster for workers in both the Western capitalist states and the continent. In Africa over the last two decades the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have demanded greater privatization of services, including education and health care. The result is the loss of tens of thousands of government jobs and far less access to schools and medical services.

In the United States, since December 2007, more than 4 million workers have lost their jobs while millions more have seen their homes, apartments and pension funds evaporate, along with their health care. At the same time $10 trillion in tax revenue and Federal Reserve funds, which by rights belongs to working people, has been handed over to the banks and the industrial magnates. Not one cent has been returned to workers, who have suffered the most under the crisis after creating all the wealth and value in capitalist society.

Even though African governments have been pressured into accepting the terms of the Western financial institutions and their consultants, the overall conditions for the masses of workers and farmers have worsened during this time period. Reported quantitative growth within the last several years has been eroded due to the symbiotic relationship between the imperialist states and their former colonies and current neo-colonies.

In Africa’s most industrialized state, the Republic of South Africa, which is considered the continent’s economic powerhouse due to the legacy of white settler colonialism and its complete integration into the world capitalist system, workers have responded to the present crisis with strikes and other mass actions. Unemployment is rising and the value of the national currency has declined because of the unequal terms of trade inherited from the former apartheid system, which has dominated economic relations within the entire subcontinent of southern Africa.

The newly elected president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who hosted the WEF conference in Cape Town, said in his address that “the continuation of the current crisis will mean increased starvation, poverty and child mortality. We view the economic downturn as providing both challenges and opportunities for the continent and the developing world in general.” (Xinhua, June 11)

Nonetheless, the capitalists and their surrogates in developing countries are presenting no new ideas in relationship to the current crisis. Workers and farmers will have to develop their own political and economic program to deal with the worldwide recession.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. The author has been following the current economic crisis and its impact on the African continent.