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Africa and the G-8

Broken promises & worsening poverty

Published Jul 20, 2009 9:25 PM

This year’s Group of 8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, once again demonstrated the failure of capitalist economic policies to bring genuine development to the African continent. The summit’s final day discussed the G-8 providing aid to Africa for agricultural programs. The fact that previous pledges of $50 billion made at the 2005 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, have not been met, however, made African leaders even more skeptical about the role of Europe and the United States in the future of the continent.

The current economic crisis is having a devastating impact on African states. The continuation of the current system will widen further the income gap between the Western capitalist states and the countries that have emerged from colonial and semi-colonial rule. The declining standard of living and increasing poverty rate in Africa will result in more job losses, greater food insecurity and social instability.

ActionAid spokesperson Meredith Alexander said of the L’Aquila Summit that: “Although the G-8 leaders reaffirmed their Gleneagles promises this week, their own accountability report does not even acknowledge how far off track they are. This suggests that the Gleneagles promises are increasingly unlikely to be met. It is another failure for the world’s poor.” (Independent, July 11)

United Nations figures indicate that the number of malnourished people around the world has risen since 2007. By the conclusion of 2009 the number is expected to surpass one billion, reversing declines made since the 1960s. Consequently, the world economic crisis is effectively eliminating the limited progress made since the triumphs of the national independence movements during the 1960s and 1970s.

Jeremy Hobbs of the British-based aid organization Oxfam said of the G-8 Summit, “For Obama it was ‘yes we can.’ For Berlusconi’s G-8, it’s ‘no we won’t.’ This summit has been a shambles, it did nothing for Africa, and the world is still being cooked.” Referring to the next G-8 meeting, he continued, “Canada 2010 is the end of the road for the G-8—all the promises they have made are due. They have 12 short months to avoid being remembered as the ones who let the poor and the planet die.” (Independent, July 11)

Joanne Green of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development stressed the need for aid to go directly to African farmers and not to agribusiness companies: “Tonight one billion people will go to bed hungry because the food system that rich countries have created isn’t working. Climate change will only increase the vulnerability of poor people as land and water are degraded. Supporting small-scale farmers is vital, so that they are less reliant on the peaks and troughs of the global food market and the multinational players who dominate.” (Independent, July 11)

Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam Canada, said in a blog on July 8 that “Performance on aid varies greatly among G-8 members but together they fall $23 billion short of the target they set in 2005. The result? At least 3 million lives have been lost—women who die needlessly in childbirth; children who fall victim to preventable diseases; persons with AIDS whose lives are cut short because they could not get treatment.” (All-Africa.com, July 8)

Capitalist crisis: impact on women

The declining economic and social conditions in Africa and other so-called developing areas will inevitably have a damaging impact on efforts aimed at achieving gender equality. If there is an increase in assistance for agricultural production, it is necessary to ensure that the bulk of resources allocated go directly to women. In many African countries, women are responsible for 80 percent or more of food production.

Sabina Zaccaro writes, “The problem is funding. According to the World Bank, the economic crisis and the new rise in food prices could lead to 2.8 million more children dying by 2015 if no concrete action is taken. Sixty billion dollars are needed over the next five years to fight infectious diseases and strengthen health systems in the developing world.” (IPS, July 8)

Consequently, if no direct attention is paid to the plight of women and children in the current global capitalist crisis, more people will be driven into poverty through shrinking incomes, increases in infant mortality, malnutrition and the decline in labor productivity.

Obama’s message in Ghana blames the victims

Following the G-8 Summit in Italy, U.S. President Barack Obama flew to the West African state of Ghana for an official visit. Media pundits proclaimed that this was his first trip to Africa since taking office, overlooking his recent speech in Cairo.

These corporate media statements reveal the ongoing racist notion of two Africas, one north of the Sahara and so-called sub-Saharan Africa. The progressive forces on the continent have rejected these colonial divisions and categories.

Despite all its challenges, the African Union held serious discussions at its summit in Libya July 1-3 around creating greater economic, political and military cooperation on the continent.

The symbolic return home of the first U.S. president of African descent was well received by both the governments and the people. Nonetheless, Obama’s message represented no real departure from the traditional post-independence approach of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa.

The bulk of Obama’s remarks criticized corruption and inefficiency on the part of African states, with implications that these problems were the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment. He made little reference to the legacies of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism as the real source of underdevelopment.

The president visited the slave castle at Cape Coast where he reflected on the tragedy of the four-century-long Atlantic slave trade. In his address before the Ghana parliament, however, he stated that although colonialism created division and conflict on the continent, this could no longer be viewed as a major impediment to African progress.

Obama’s remark that “the economic problems in Zimbabwe could not be blamed on the West” received a cool response from parliamentarians. It totally missed the mark in regard to the ongoing unequal relations between former colonial states and the imperialist countries. In Zimbabwe, the revolutionary African National Union, Patriotic Front and the western-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions have formed an inclusive government, yet the United States and the United Kingdom continue to maintain economic sanctions.

Ghana was praised for its ostensible progress related to the notions of “good governance.” Yet this state, which achieved national independence from Britain in 1957, fell victim to U.S. imperialist intervention after President Kwame Nkrumah sought to place pan-Africanism and socialism as the principal objectives of the nation’s domestic and foreign policy. A coup against Nkrumah in 1966 was financed and engineered by U.S. imperialism through the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Since 1966, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have sought to remake Ghana in the image of the West. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Obama administration selected this country for the presidential visit instead of states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, which take a more independent stand.

By blaming Africa’s economic and social problems on its governments and people, Obama’s talk provides a rationale for the G8’s failure to honor its commitments to provide development assistance to the continent.

An article published in the Malaysian Star noted that, “The decline in agriculture in many African countries was due to the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank. These countries were asked or advised to dismantle marketing boards and guaranteed prices for farmers’ products; phase out or eliminate subsidies and support such as fertilizer, machines, agricultural infrastructure, and reduce tariffs of food products to very low levels.” (July 13)

Consequently, the rhetoric of Obama is not fundamentally different than what has been advanced through successive U.S. administrations. What is needed is an independent domestic and foreign policy based on the needs of African people themselves, and not the policy imperatives of the U.S. and European imperialists.

From the G-8 to the G-20 in Pittsburgh

The next G-20 Summit is set for Pittsburgh, Pa., this September. The G-20 represents an attempt by the imperialists to broaden the discussions around economic issues to involve not only the so-called High Income Countries but to also engage other states such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, etc., which are former colonial and semi-colonial states that have experienced economic development resulting from the evolving international division of labor and economic power.

That the High Income Countries face grave economic difficulties provides openings for workers and the oppressed in both the developed and developing regions to open a dialogue and plan joint efforts to tackle the main forces behind the crisis in capitalist globalization. Anti-imperialists, social justice advocates and other mass organizations are mobilizing to go to Pittsburgh in order to advance an alternative agenda that places the workers, nationally oppressed and women at the center of any development program.

Efforts must be made to involve broad forces in the demonstrations surrounding the G-20 Summit. Special appeals should be made to the African-American, Latina/o, Asian-American, Native and LGBT communities and other oppressed groups to attend and participate fully in the resistance efforts.

Rank-and-file workers and unemployed people should be encouraged to go to Pittsburgh and put forward an agenda that transcends and refutes the failed “buy American” sloganeering that has led nowhere in regard to preserving workers’ jobs and homes in the United States.

It is only when the workers and oppressed in the United States recognize the common interests they have with the plight of the peoples of the developing world that a real international movement can be built that will effectively end capitalism and imperialism and create the conditions for socialism on a worldwide scale.