In writing on Africa, more than one historian has drawn attention to an important factor dominating the history of the continent up to the second half of the 19th century—its isolation. For instance, Alexander Campbell, writing in his book Empire in Africa, likens it to a gigantic saucer rimmed with mountains and sealed for thousands of years from nearly all human contact with the outside world. Most of the rivers there are not easily navigable for more than a short distance from their mouths, owing to rapids and falls. The outstanding exception is the Nile, but even this has cataracts in its middle and upper reaches which prohibit navigation. This discouraged settlers from trying to penetrate the interior and acted also as an obstacle to any native attempts to “break out.”
Conditions of existence must have been grim indeed. In the equatorial regions there was swamp and thick forest to face, whilst elsewhere natives scratched a bare, living out of large areas of desert and bush. The African was subjected to a wide range of climates, most of them hostile; and in general, the soil was harsh and unrewarding. Harassed further by pests and diseases of all kinds, and the ravages of the tse-tse fly, it is little wonder that he remained “backward” for so long. Doctor Livingstone found people who were unaware of the name of a hill or tribe less than twenty miles distant. Hardship, isolation and fear were the lot of the native, and tribal life was hedged round with restrictions and taboos.
Today, we see a very different picture. Africa has been through a period of intensive development over the past sixty years. The older capitalist powers carried out extensive colonisation during the “scramble” of the latter 1800’s, but now, rising nationalist movements are beginning to challenge the power of such as Britain. France and Belgium, and in some areas have actually won independence.
The latest of these is the Belgian Congo, which we are told will become independent in June.
This does not mean, however, that foreign capitalists are losing interest in the areas where political control has been relinquished. Heavy investment has been taking place, and indeed has often been welcomed by the new African governments. In Ghana, for example, the greater part of the £342 millions expenditure during the five year plan is to be met by obtaining capital from overseas. As recently as September 1959, a report issued by H.M. Stationery Office gave news of the favourable investment prospects in Ghana. Further north in Egypt, the Russians have financed the Aswan Dam construction, whilst in Algeria hundreds of millions of pounds have been sunk in oil and industry since General De Gaulle became President of France. Here, the battle for control goes on with increased fury, as will have been seen from recent newspaper reports.
With the rise of nationalist feeling, and the breakdown of the old tribal loyalties, a new oppressed section is appearing—the African wage worker, having largely the same problems as his brothers and sisters elsewhere. He has exchanged his white oppressors for those with darker skins, who are ruthlessly determined to develop the new states as rapidly as possible along modem capitalist lines. Like most workers, he has yet to lose his racial prejudices. He has still to realise that “black” capitalism has about as little to offer him as “white” capitalism.
The message of Socialism is world wide however. It reaches across the artificial national boundaries erected by man. and is as much for the ears of the African workers as for others. This month, therefore, we are devoting most of the space in our journal to articles dealing with Africa and its problems, in an attempt to keep clear the real issue facing workers in that continent —as in all other continents—Capitalism, or Socialism.