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World View:Ghana, Indonesia, Uganda

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Financial wizards or great pretenders?

In the 1990s when, under the cunning guidance of the IMF and the World Bank, the Ghanaian people were literally being strangled by the Economic Recovery Programme of the Structural Adjustment Programme, the financial advisers to President Jerry Rawlings always managed to conjure figures and statistics which indicated that the economy was doing excellently well. These statistics not only earned Ghana the epithet “darling state” of the West but Rawlings himself was so glad with his economists that he bestowed upon the title “financial wizards”. But the truth is that these accolades were for the purpose of damage control. Rawlings knew deep within his heart that his “wizards” were in reality great pretenders like himself as together they had been stashing away huge sums in foreign banks.

The history of the struggle for economic development in Africa and the forces dictating the pace thereof are not in the least different from the scenario that the West, Rawlings and the economic advisers enacted in Ghana.

Groping in the dark
Immediately African countries were pronounced independent by the colonial masters, the leaders rolled up their sleeves and set to the arduous task of nation-building. Although a few may have seemed to genuinely have the welfare of the masses at heart, many of these leaders and their ministers were deeply engaged in stomach politics. Be that as it may, these leaders, day in day out, saw the plight of the masses getting worse and worse.

A great number of African countries became independent in the sixties. This period also happened to be the peak of the so-called “cold war”. The West and the East struggled to control these newly-independent nations to enhance their (West and East) own economic interests. The result was that these African countries found themselves in a kind of trial-and-error methods of trying to extricate themselves from growing poverty.

At first the state got involved in business by setting up marketing boards. These bought up cash crops from the farmers and exported them. The state thus acted as a middleman. The state also created development boards, authorities and corporations in the hope of making money to move their countries forward. In some extreme cases some governments resorted to outright nationalisation of private business. However all these efforts by no means arrested the downward trend in the living standards of the masses. They still paid dearly for imports and received peanuts for their exports.

To overcome this problem of high prices of imports, the policy of import substitution was introduced. By this, companies producing such imported commodities as milk, beverages, matches, canned foods, bottled drinks, etc were encouraged to come and establish factories and carry out production here in Africa. Many companies responded positively but the outcome of this policy was a deepening impoverishment of the masses. They served as cheap labour in these factories. In fact only a few could afford to furnish their families with the commodities they got involved in producing. African leaders were baffled as what tended to happen was that nothing happened. No wonder there were lots of attempts at and successful coups d'état during the sixties and seventies.

It was during this period of beating about the bush for economic direction that the IMF and the World Bank joined in the fray. They came along with a novel package that was going to miraculously propel African economies to the highest degree of development. This new policy was the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). This SAP idea condemned the previous method of development as unworkable and maintained instead that making structural changes, including the expansion and re-orientation of production, was the only way forward. African nations were to put the production of “non-traditional exports” and tourism into a higher gear. Thus in a country like Ghana where the traditional exports were mainly cocoa, timber and gold, under the SAP crops like pepper, pineapples, yams, maize, and oranges were to be turned into cash crops and exported. SAP also stipulated that private capital was to be the “engine of growth” and that “governments have no business doing business”. It did not however take long for the people to understand that they were once again fooled by official policy. Hardship and suffering increased a thousandfold. The masses had been moved from the frying pan into the fire.

Today the SAP is still the invisible hand directing affairs at our finance ministries in the interests of the owners of the World Bank and the IMF and to the detriment of the masses of Africa. However this time around there is a formidable group of foot soldiers preparing the grounds for, facilitating implementation and soothing the pains of these anti-people policies. These are the NGOs. There are hordes of them in every African country. All the misinformation propagated in the form of catchy phrases and slogans by the IMF and WB are picked up unquestioningly by these NGOs and parroted all over the place. The NGOs assist governments in deceiving the people by embarking on projects which are either white elephants or never even take off the ground. Meanwhile the wealthy companies keep selling their obsolete equipment to Africa in the name of appropriate technology.

Socialists or capitalists?
On Thursday 23 August the BBC Focus On Africa programme broadcast the news that Jose Edouardo dos Santos of Angola had announced that he would not be standing for re-election in he next presidential elections. Interestingly the BBC referred to the man as a “former Marxist”. This reminded me of others like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and a host of them who were also said to be “Marxists” by which they meant “communists” or “socialists”. Of course the West and East tagged these people thus for obvious reasons—whereas the West saw the as “dangerous”, the East considered them “good boys”. But the truth is that none of these leaders who championed the struggle for independence actually understood the global system. At best they only had hazy and confused ideas of soviet-style “socialism” (state capitalism). And, sadly, the present crop of leaders are even more bankrupt and myopic than their predecessors. If so, who gave the precursors advice and who advises the current leaders?

On the attainment of independence many African countries still depended on the former colonial masters for advice and guidance. In fact this is true of most of the francophone nations. Others, like Gamel Nasser's Egypt, Nkrumah's Ghana and Sekou Toure's Guinea were so radical (though not revolutionary) that they openly castigated the West and courted the friendship of the former USSR. But in reality they did not escape the domineering influence of the existing global economic system since the East also practised capitalism. The finance ministers and economic advisers thought there were differences between the West and East in their theories and strategies for development and that thinking was partly responsible for the trial-and-error methods of development the newly-independent countries adopted – they were just variations of the same rule of capital.

The situation is different is different today. There are thousands of “experts” working day and night in seemingly harmless institutions and commissions and advising governments on their economic policies. The IMF and WB are still the main determinants of the path African economies must chart. But in order to lend some credence to their nefarious activities, they keep creating, from behind the scenes, economic institutions which are outwardly African in nature. And even if the IMF and WB have no hands in the creation of some of such institutions, they still manage to control them by picking up some of their bills. These bodies serve as economic think-tanks and advisers to governments. Some of them even assist in soliciting loans for governments. These include the Economic Commission for Africa; Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS); African Development Bank (ADB); Southern African Development Committee (SADEC);West African Monetary Institute, etc. There are groups spearheaded by individuals like Adebayo Adedeji, Julius Nyerere and others. The experts in these institutions hold regular meetings not to seek genuine ways and means of salvaging the African masses but, pretenders as they are, to wine, dine and go home with per diems which are sometimes higher than the monthly salaries of employees in the high income category. They waste huge quantities of paper-producing volumes of reports which sit on shelves gathering dust. But even if these “experts” are genuinely engaged in helping, their efforts will always come to nil.

The reason is that like their bosses in the IMF and World Bank, they are trying to reform a system which is inherently flawed. The system in operation in today's world is profit oriented. Every idea put across and every step taken is to make profit not to satisfy human needs. Based on money, the belief is that without money nothing can work. Therefore governments are advised and sometimes coerced to take loans. The few with big money invest in our countries. Since investors are looking for profits the end result is that the human and material resources are mercilessly plundered.

But the truth is that production is carried out by people not money. Problems are solved by human beings, not money. The main problems Africans face are food, healthcare, shelter, education, clothes, and so on. These are produced by human labour acting on natural resources,. Africa has more than enough of these human and natural resources but because they system is based on money, these resources are accessible to only those who have money. These are a negligible minority who own all the means of production and distribution of wealth. But since they will use their wealth to produce only what will fetch them more money, they may produce what people do not need. For instance vast tracts of land are used to cultivate cash crops like tobacco, cashew, and cocoa for factories in the West yet what we need more here are maize, rice and other food crops. These latter are not very profitable so despite their importance, they are not produced. This is capitalism.

Any hope for Africa?
In the increasing problems facing Africans are a result of the economic arrangement in which every action is determined by money and profit, then the surest way of arresting the sorry situation is doing away with money. This is only possible on a global basis. The profit system is universal and so getting it off our backs requires the concerted efforts of the global working class not just in Africa, Asia or Europe. When the means of production and distribution of wealth pass from private ownership to collective ownership then the products will also be collectively shared. People will, in this higher and humane system of ownership, willingly contribute whatever efforts they are capable of providing since they know they can freely take from the produce how much they need. In this new social organisation money will have no place and all institutions and people related to money like markets, banks, credit cards, cheques, tickets, bills, accountants, cashiers, sales-girls, etc, etc will vanish. The people engaged here will be available to get involved in the real work of producing clothes, food, medicines, education, etc. This is socialism.

However, this civilised system of production relations can only materialise when the majority get to understand it and want it implemented. It is only then that Africa and the whole world will rid itself of pretenders posing as financial wizards.

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Indonesia: all change for no change

The chain of over 13,000 islands stretching 3,600 miles from Malaya to Northern Australia have a long and chequered history. Evidence suggests humans resided on some of these islands over 50,000 years ago. From 3000 BC to 500 BC immigrants from South China mixed with, or displaced, the original Melanesians. Indian influence from AD 700 created a Buddhist and two Hindu empires co-existing among those islands. The introduction of Islam by Arab traders in the 13th century eventually destroyed these empires. Brunei became a powerful Islamic Sultanate, dominating the whole of Borneo and parts of the Philippines. The whole chain of islands were divided into many kingdoms but Arabs came to dominate trade and religion throughout.

The first Europeans to open a sea-route to Asia were the Catholic Christians of Portugal. Their ruthless hatred of Islam was welcomed by the island kingdoms who assisted in breaking the trade monopoly of the Arabs. The first half of the 16th century saw the demise of Arab trading as the Portuguese built fortified trading posts, not only among these islands but, throughout the whole of Asia in an attempt to monopolise commerce in that part of the world.

In the latter part of the 16th century serious European rivals appeared on the scene. The Protestant Christians from Holland hated the Catholic Portuguese and they proceeded to evict them entirely from the island chain. The Dutch set up their trading centre at Batavia on the island Java and they would eventually colonise the entire archipelago under the name of Dutch East Indies. In the meantime the British were eliminating Portugal from India and Malaya. It was the lust for the lucrative trade in eastern silks, porcelain, precious stones, perfumes, spices etc that drove these commercial ventures and caused so much bloodshed.

France squabbled with the British over India but later settled for claiming Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam). Borneo was partitioned and claimed by the Dutch and Britain while the Philippines were claimed by Spain. Way down in the south, Australia would become British and the large island to the north, New Guinea, would be partitioned and claimed by the Dutch (west), Germany (north-east) and Britain (south-east). After losing World War I, Germany would lose this colony to Britain and the whole eastern half of this island would be handed to Australia to look after. The sole remnant of Portuguese activity was the eastern portion of Timor, the Dutch claiming the western half.

The Japanese overran all these colonies, except India, during World War II and this prompted European colonies throughout the world to seek independence after Japan was defeated. The armed conflicts between foreign ruling classes and local ruling classes have done nothing to improve the lives of workers in any of these countries. 1945 saw the end of World War II, and Holland challenge the claim for independence by their East India colonies. The military expeditions and attrition of guerrilla warfare became economically unsustainable and independence was granted in 1949 when the Republic of Indonesia was formed. Centralised rule from Java was been opposed by several other islands and the Republic quickly became a seething mass of discontent. Ongoing revolts and dissent in Sumatra and in the original “Spice Islands” (the Moluccas) and other territories have been met with by excessive military brutality.

This authoritarian dictatorship embarked upon policies of expansion to extract wealth from surrounding resources, enabling the ruling elite to live on obscene opulence amongst the grinding poverty of the masses. West New Guinea (Irian Jaya) was invaded and forcibly annexed in 1963, adding another festering sore of discontent to the Indonesian collection.

In this same year, 1963, an aggressive Indonesia was lured by the lucrative oil in Northern Borneo. A secret war was fought when British and Australian interests in oil-soaked Brunei insisted that this area of land be incorporated into Malaysia. SAS units from Britain and Australia, and the 3rd Australian Regiment, made damaging and deadly incursions into Indonesian territory (Kalimantan) during this undeclared and clandestine war. Plans were made in 1964 to bomb Jakarta. This information was made available only recently, under the 30-year secret-file rule.

This conflict ended abruptly about 1965, as though an undercover political deal had been struck between the parties involved. Indonesian army officers were suddenly being trained in Australia for jungle warfare, and in the same year up to 700,000 Indonesians were massacred by their army for dissent. It was alter revealed that US Intelligence was also implicated in this slaughter.

The solitary Portuguese colony of East Timor, surrounded by a sea containing suspected riches in oil and natural gas, waited apprehensively for the outcome of independence wars being fought by Portugal against their African colonies of Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia also waited.

When both Portuguese colonies eventually won their independence in 1975, East Timor also announced their own freedom., they were immediately invaded by Indonesia and officially annexed in 1976. No action was taken by the UN against this act of blatant aggression or against the human violations in which tens of thousands of Timorese civilians died. In indecent haste, with Portugal now out of the way, Australia officially recognised the annexation and struck a 50/50 deal with Indonesia for the riches of the Timor sea. It seemed as though this had all been pre-planned, a political “pay-off” to Indonesia for backing down in Borneo perhaps?

Exploration since the late 1970s has revealed increasing riches of oil and gas in the Timor sea—a bonanza. Is it pure coincidence that the UN has shown increased interest, during the 1990s, in Timorese “Human Rights” in direct proportion to the increasing wealth reported lying beneath the sea “owned” by this island territory? Increasing pressure has been put upon Indonesia, by the UN, to introduce democratic elections, and in 1999 East Timor successfully voted for Independence.

An ever-opportunistic Australia, always a UN agent for Western capitalism, provided Timor with protection and peace-keeping troops on “humanitarian grounds”, after 24 years of inactivity and indifference to their plight.

A new agreement has been drawn up whereby Australia will now “manage” all the resources in the Timor Gap, worth billions of US dollars, without the need to pay any “aid”. Royalties from profits will be sufficient payment for East Timor with some left over for Australia to pocket. Indonesia will miss out completely.

All the usual major Western capitalist companies have moved into the area, among them the US giant, Phillips Petroleum and Australia's Woodside Petroleum, etc, and—oh yes—the Dutch are back again with their Royal Shell Group.

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Uganda's politics of alcohol, soap, salt and sugar

At last, like the presidential elections, the parliamentary elections are over. This was a month of violence, harassment, intimidation and torture on one side and merrymaking (in a form of “gifts”—alcohol, salt pieces of soap, sugar and cash in exchange for votes) on the other hand. The campaigns attracted many people, especially the rallies of those candidates who were well and easy on their pockets. Here, like anywhere else, the standard by which men and women are judged is their material possessions. Even if you have ideas or initiative, if you are broke you must go without. Those without money dwell in the darkness of inescapable poverty (despite being in the midst of potential plenty), ever wrestling with the torment of survival in a world dominated by the fast buck. So it would have appeared a miracle for a poor but reasonable person to sail through and make it to parliament.

On the other hand, there was controversy when the president turned out and started campaigning in favour of some candidate and campaigning against some others on grounds that the favoured ones were "pro-movement". In some parts of the country the electoral process was militarised. This was mostly in places where supporters of multiparty politics were contesting along with the historicals of president's movement system and/or his personal friends. This resulted in violence where some people lost their lives.

Most contestants bribed voters to the extend of buying the poor needy voters, blankets, mattresses, bicycles and hoes, in the expectation that out of which excitement the poor voters would eventually not resist voting for such candidates even if it was clear that the candidate was a non-performer. This is not surprising given that recently Transparency International ranked Uganda as the third most corrupt country in the world. In fact some candidates went as far as spending over U shs 900 millions (£360,000).

Most manifestos centred on poverty, as if the contestants had a formula to eliminate it or as if they had just realised that they were living with poor people. Their opportunity was to capitalise on this biting poverty in most Uganda's homes. Their elaboration of how poverty could be eliminated was insincere on the candidates' part, given that poverty cannot be eliminated under capitalism and especially in a country like Uganda where a majority don't have enough and the right education and civilisation.

There was talk about health programmes, education, security and peace yet in some places these rallies could not take place because of insecurity – due to rebel activities. The candidates came with programmes for bringing health to all yet since about twenty years ago the Ministry of Health has been running an advert in the name of “Health for all by the year 2000”. This is 2001 and most people here in Uganda are still dying of curable diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and malaria.

So their manifestos seem to be disabled ones.

Then we come to voting day. Most of the candidates and their supporters saw this as a day determining between life and death. They became aggressive so as to win the election. Winning indeed would be the only way by which they could recover the money used in bribing voters. Once elected they could get access to public funds and embezzle it. They could, as well, get high salaries and allowances. On polling day voters who supported poor candidates and those candidates who were not favoured by the president were harassed and intimidated. Some were even refused voting but the supporters of the favoured and rich candidates were allowed to vote more than once, to vote in other people's names – the dead and the absent.

Uganda is a country that has been infested with wars before and after the so-called independence. It seems here the needs of democracy are planted on unfertile grounds. Most folk here don't have a proper understanding and education of the world we live in, capitalistic society based on profit and competition, and the next stage of society—socialism that will depend on contribution to society by individuals based on individuals' ability and where individuals take from society according to their self-determined needs. No ruler and no ruled, then and only then would be true democracy, a proper voting process and would there be value of the vote.