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Capitalist crisis sharpens class struggle in Africa

Published Aug 9, 2009 1:11 PM

The failure of capitalist methods of production and distribution is clearly illustrated by the way the collapse of the financial and industrial centers in Western Europe and the United States has devastated former colonial countries. Since late 2007 tens of millions of workers and farmers in several regions of the African continent have been severely affected by unemployment, rising commodities prices, food deficits and the decline in material aid from the industrialized states.

Meanwhile, the dominant imperialist power in the world, the United States, has continued to interfere in the internal affairs of developing states. Under the guise of fighting “terrorism,” “Islamic extremism” and “piracy,” the Pentagon has formed the Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is seeking to develop and strengthen “partnerships” with various governments on the continent. None of these military programs has improved the economic conditions in Africa.

In fact, the economic crisis has affected the most vulnerable sectors of African societies. Where there is greater industrialization, for example, in the Republic of South Africa, striking workers have demanded higher wages and nationalization of key industries. In countries like Kenya, where agricultural production and tourism have been highly significant within the national economies, the failure of crops and the threat of famine have created tension and civil unrest.

In Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, the continuing role of U.S. imperialism in attempting to control and shape the political character of the burgeoning state has created guerrilla resistance and mass dislocation. The oil-producing state of Nigeria in West Africa has undergone attacks on the petroleum industry, prompting the government to launch a military offensive in the Niger Delta as well as an attempt to grant amnesty to members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Strike season in South Africa

Beginning July 27, a series of strikes hit South Africa’s transportation, municipal and mining sectors. These work stoppages followed violent demonstrations in several townships the week before, protesting the inadequate delivery of city services and the need for increased production of housing.

In Johannesburg, municipal workers gathered for a mass demonstration on July 27 demanding a 15-percent increase in salaries. The workers asked for enough wage increases to counter inflation, which is a byproduct of the deepening economic crisis.

According to Toronto’s Globe & Mail, “The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union, which say they represent 150,000 municipal workers, want a 15-percent wage hike to cushion their members as the country grapples with its first economic recession in 17 years. They have rejected an 11.5-percent wage increase. Annual inflation was 8 percent in May.” (July 27)

In the same article SAMWU General Secretary Mthandeki Nhlapo said, “Indications are that the majority of workers, if not 90 percent of them, are out on strike. Refuse collection is badly affected. Other services like electricity are also affected. Across all services within municipalities, the effect is visible.”

In addition to municipal and transport employees, workers in the chemical sector have also gone out on strike. In the gold and coal sectors, unions were scheduled to decide on July 28 whether to accept existing wage offers, which would avoid strikes in some of the world’s largest mines.

Although the newly elected African National Congress governmental leadership under President Jacob Zuma was heavily supported by the trade unions and the South African Communist Party, because of the campaign’s stated goals of directly addressing the conditions of the workers and poor inside the country, the economic crisis has prompted these same social forces to engage the bosses in industry as well as state structures.

The ANC Youth League raised the demand for the nationalization of the mining industry in an effort to save jobs, increase salaries and improve working conditions for employees. However, the Zuma government has rejected this appeal.

At the same time a campaign pledge by the ANC to create 500,000 new jobs is proving to be more difficult to keep than anticipated, in light of the fall in prices for exports and the impact this is having on industry as well as the government.

Kenya: Threat of famine increases tension

In the U.S.-allied East African nation of Kenya, the failure of agricultural policies has created serious food deficits. In Kenya’s northern region, the shortages have caused conflicts over access to land for cattle grazing and water distribution.

Kenya’s government has sent security forces to quell conflict among groups in competition over resources within the pastoral communities around Isiolo. Recent reports indicate that 20 people have died in clashes.

Despite the Kenyan government’s close alliance with the U.S. under the leadership of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, this relationship has done nothing to improve the conditions of people in either the rural areas or the cities. Prime Minister Odinga recently delivered an address to the nation, saying that food shortages will affect both urban and farming areas.

At present the U.S. has warships stationed off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean to ostensibly fight “piracy” along the coastal areas of neighboring Somalia. However, very little assistance has been provided by the U.S. and the other imperialist states to deal with the growing problems of food deficits and the consequent famine.

Somalia: Struggle against U.S. interference continues

In the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, which shares a border with Kenya, the Transitional Federal Government is being bolstered by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The AMISOM forces consist of 4,300 troops from the U.S.-backed states of Uganda and Burundi.

Fighting between the resistance forces—both Harakat Al-Shabab Mujahideen and Hisbul Islam—and the TFG and AMISOM is still causing dislocation of people from the capital of Mogadishu and other areas of the central and southern regions of the country. Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni has stated recently that his country is willing to send more troops to back the TFG government.

Off the coast of Somalia, a flotilla of U.S., NATO and other warships is patrolling the waters in order to combat what the imperialists call “piracy” by patrol boats that have taken over cargo vessels. Ships from many countries transport billions of dollars in goods and military equipment through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In April the U.S. Navy killed three Somali teenagers and arrested another after they undertook negotiations to return a cargo vessel that had been captured with an American captain on board.

Washington indicates it wants to maintain a long-term presence in the region. “The [U.S.] Navy advised mariners to use a designated corridor when transiting the Gulf of Aden. The corridor is patrolled by 30 warships, supported by aircraft from 16 nations.” (Associated Press, July 27)

U.S. military presence, both direct and indirect, has not brought stability or prosperity to the people of Somalia. As a result of U.S. failure to control the political situation in Somalia, Washington has focused attention on the Somali community in Minnesota, claiming that resistance forces are recruiting youth there to fight the TFG in Mogadishu.

Nigeria: U.S.-based oil firms under attack

Over the last several months in the oil-producing West African state of Nigeria, there have been numerous attacks on the operations of the U.S.-based petroleum industry in the Niger Delta region. The government offered the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta an amnesty agreement in an effort to halt the destruction of drilling equipment and the seizure of industry employees.

The Nigerian Federal Government has launched a major two-pronged offensive against members of MEND over the last several months. The military executed one leading figure in the movement, Ken Niweigha, in late May. The government has also offered amnesty to Henry Okah, another MEND leader, who was extradited from Angola after escaping the country. Neither track has quelled the unrest in the oil-rich areas in the Niger Delta.

Other repressive government actions have also taken place in the northern region of Nigeria, where police have reportedly killed more than 30 people in the northeast state of Bauchi. According to a July 27 Reuters news agency report, approximately 70 people with guns and grenades destroyed a police station in the state’s capital on July 26 and later retreated after an intense gun battle with security forces.Later reports say 700 people have been killed in battles in northern Nigeria. (AP, Aug. 3)

The need to break with capitalism

Obviously the integration of the African continent with the world capitalist system has not brought economic development or social stability. Consequently, organizations representing the workers and farmers must look to alternative forms of ownership, production and distribution of the wealth within society.

The fact that Africa is dependent on the imperialist states for the export of raw materials and agricultural commodities, in order to earn foreign exchange, places the continent and its people at the mercy of the imperialist states. With the Western countries undergoing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the so-called developing states will sink deeper into poverty and social dislocation.

In the Western imperialist states, the ruling class is telling the workers and oppressed to wait for the capitalist system to rebound for the economic conditions of the masses to improve. In the developing states, the governments and peoples are offered failed models of “development,” which only serve to increase their dependence on the industrialized states.

Only socialism offers a solution to both the imperialist countries and the former colonial and neo-colonial states. The wealth within society, which is created by the workers and farmers, must be distributed for the benefit of the majority. In order for there to be genuine economic growth and development during this period, the masses must be at the center of the decision-making process and the implementation of economic policy.