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
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,
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
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
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
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