The liberation of Africa

It might as well be made clear at once. The title of this article is black humour. In the whole of this mighty continent (Europe would fit into a corner), from Cairo to the Cape, there is hardly a square mile of liberty—even of the capitalist brand such as exists in places like Britain where the proletariat is at least able to organise itself into trade unions and political parties (and where the SPGB can publish, and you can read, this journal).

For a hundred years and more, almost the entire continent was carved up among the powers of Europe, mainly England and France but also including Portugal, Belgium, Italy and pre-1914 Germany). The European imperialists had little difficulty in ousting the native rulers who were in many cases barely out of the Stone Age—but who, like all ruling classes, had treated the subject classes with horrifying oppression and exploitation. It would be anybody’s guess whether the mass of the African peoples were subjected to more vicious exploitation under the Europeans than they were under their own native rulers (some of whom, among other delights, were always ready to sell their subjects for transportation to slavery). However, there grew up in the African countries (just as in India and South America) a movement to liberate the Africans from the European capitalists—a movement which was eagerly supported by European leftists of the Fenner Brockway ilk (it may be news to some readers that this ancient ILPer, a colleague of such as Maxton whose names sound like history lessons, is alive and well in the Lords where he occasionally pontificates about Africa without the slightest sign of realising that he spent his life helping to con the Africans from a white-ruled hell to the black-ruled hell that they have to endure now). We in the SPGB always did our best to point out that nationalism, whether in Ireland or India or Africa, was simply a trap for the working class and that those who laid down their lives for this cause were merely substituting a native ruling class for a foreign one. With the kind of “benefits” that are made so horrifyingly clear every time you open a paper or switch on the news.

It may be worthwhile to have a very brief look at a few of the dozens of countries where nationalism has won the day. In the north there is Egypt where the lot of the mass of the people is at least as degraded as it was in British days and where, only a year ago, President Sadat rewarded the poor devils who crossed the Suez Canal in the teeth of Israeli guns in the Yom Kippur War by decreeing a massive increase in the prices of the poor basic foods that they subsisted on—with no comparable increase in wages. As these workers were already only just about subsisting, there were riots in Cairo and Alexandria which were put down with at least as much brutality as was used by the British. And the “ring-leaders” (the name the ruling class always gives to workers who have the cheek to kick against the pricks) are still rotting in gaol—as though rotting in the normal poverty of Cairo’s slums is not bad enough. That should teach the Egyptian workers to fight their masters’ wars against Israel. (Sadly, there is no reason to think it will. Any more than in the case of British workers.)

Sadat recently had the impudence to hold a referendum where the voters were given the chance to say they thought there was too much political freedom! And, according to Sadat, said it. There is of course no freedom whatsoever in the land of Egyptian “Socialism”. (Almost all these countries now have the nerve to call themselves socialist.) Except the freedom of a small ruling class to get inordinately rich while the people who produce the wealth live in abject poverty.

Similar conditions obtain in the other countries of the north of the continent, in the former French colonies, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Senegal, all of which have divested themselves of European rulers since the war. In all of them the position of the working-class is one of wage slavery compounded by the opposition of the native rulers to the formation of trade unions or independent political parties. One day, the workers will no doubt succeed in getting them. But meanwhile, their fate is deplorable. And as we move south of the Sahara, conditions are even more appalling. The very names of places like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the “Central African Empire” (ruled by a murderous megalomaniac called Bokassa, formerly a soldier in the French army, another General Amin) are enough to give nightmares to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the excesses that are perpetrated there. Then we have Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo. One might have thought that the atrocities committed by King Leopold in pre-1914 days—his speciality was to cut off the hands of natives who impeded his quest for profits—would be unequalled. But the former Belgian soldier, Mobutu, who now rules in Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) can compare with the worst of them. And to some purpose. The fortune that he has spirited out of the country (against the day when he may have to get out in a hurry) is reputed to make him one of the richest men in the world. And this brings us to Angola with whose president, Netto, Mobutu has apparently come to terms recently after the wars and massacres that have taken place in the copper-rich province of Zaire, twice invaded recently by rebel forces stationed in Angola. Angola, like all the worst hell-holes, is now a “Marxist” state if you please. Marx repudiated Marxists in his time, but he could never have dreamt that his name would be purloined by the kind of regimes that exist in Angola and Ethiopia where mass murder and constant terror—against their own subjects, as well as against neighbouring black countries—are worthy of Genghiz Khan.

In Nigeria, the largest and potentially the richest country in the continent, once again there is not a vestige of freedom and the lot of the workers can be gauged by an item which was mentioned in the Socialist Standard some years ago but is worth repeating in the present context. The government of this rich country, which had recently finished off a war attempted secession by Biafra (and finished off around a million people by guns and starvation) had the effrontery to put an advert in that well-known liberal paper, the Guardian, calling on British capitalists to invest in factories in Nigeria where the main advantage was “the cheapest wages in Africa”—seven cents an hour. Just enough to keep a monkey in peanuts. So much for black workers in independent Africa. The black capitalists make royalty look like beggars. At the very time when Biafran workers were literally starving to death (and when all fighting had ended) the Nigerian chief, General Gowon, got married. The papers were full of the stories about planes coming in from France carrying tons of the most delectable foods—and French chefs to deal with them for the delectation of the ruling class wedding guests. Yet only a few days before this article was written, there was an article by the editor-in-chief of the Observer, Conor Cruise O’Brien, saying what a nice chap Gowon is and how graciously he accepted the coup that kicked him out—so that he could live in Hampstead on the millions he had salted away!

We can only just glance in passing at such details as the war between “Marxist” Somalia (formerly backed by “Marxist” Russia but now armed by America) and “Marxist” Ethiopia (formerly backed by America and now backed by “Marxist” Russia). Suffice it to say that thousands of poor people fight and die in places like the Danakil desert where, in temperatures that go up to 150F in the shade, life is just about on the margin even in peace time. And Kenya. Here, we have just ben regaled with the story of the funeral of M’zee, the Grand Old Man and Father of the People, Jomo Kenyatta. Some of us knew Kenyatta in the ’40s when he was in Manchester; our word for him was “four-flusher”. He played the leading rôle in getting rid of the British in Kenya so that now there is, as always, a small, exceedingly rich, black capitalist class and a mass of liberated black workers who are suffering at least as much poverty, unemployment etc. as they ever did. And let anyone who criticises the leadership beware. Even an MP who had the nerve to open his mouth in Parliament was kidnapped by Kenyatta’s guards and his body found dumped in a ravine. The Commission of Enquiry is still sitting!

Still, these poor Third World countries do get aid from places like Sweden; a herd of magnificent Swedish cattle, each beast being worth a hundred men in hard cash, was donated to improve the Kenyan stock. No doubt it improved the stock on the farm belonging to Kenyatta’s sister where the entire herd ended up. Then, a year or two later, a proud announcement was made by Tiny Rowland the chairman of Lonhro, the British firm trading mainly in Africa (the actual “unacceptable face of capitalism”—Heath): “We have appointed the first black man onto our Board”. Great news for the downtrodden proletariat. Especially when the new director was the son of the same Kenyatta’s same sister. How many African workers, conned by leftists of all colours, were made to suffer privation and even death in rebellions like the Mau Mau so that a few blacks should own the country instead of a few whites? And who will win the election to succeed Kenyatta? Nobody. No election, see.

All of which leaves us but little space to deal with the appalling state of affairs in Rhodesia which is now filling the papers (not to mention the cemeteries). The white capitalists have undoubtedly treated the black people in unspeakable fashion ever since the days of the unspeakable Rhodes. And now there are massacres of blacks and whites so as to sort out which black leaders will come out on top in the struggle for power when the whites are dethroned. Which will get the black Mercedes and which the hearses. There is no more principle involved than in the struggle between A1 Capone and Jack Diamond —or Stalin and Trotsky. At the time of writing, the favourite for the role of Stalin is a gang-leader called Mugabe, backed by Nyerere of Tanzania (another black “socialist” dictator who has an enormous number of political prisoners rotting away in his gaols). Mugabe has been most honest for a politician. He has made it perfectly clear that there will be no freedom to oppose him once he gets power. One man one vote —for Mugabe, or else. He has also made it clear that there is a grisly fate awaiting those who are now opposing him—which means huge numbers of ordinary blacks as well as leaders (and ordinary whites). And when there was a debate in the Commons about a dreadful massacre of missionaries and their families, a loud-mouthed leftie, a former actor called Faulds, blamed the massacre on those who failed to give “one man one vote”. Knowing full well Mugabe and Co have declined to take part in elections. Saying in effect: We have got the guns. We are going to take power on our terms and to hell with democracy. And if a lot of “our” blacks are going to get killed in the process, who cares?

And while on that note it is apposite to mention the role of our former “socialist” Premier, Sir Harold Wilson. When sanctions were first proclaimed against the Smith regime many years ago, he boasted they would bring down the white regime “in weeks, not months”. And the British navy have mounted a blockade outside Beira ever since. And now even a paper like the Observer (Sep 3) calls Wilson a hypocrite because he was at that very time conniving in supplies of oil—the heart of the matter—being pumped into Rhodesia by British government-owned BP in order to defeat those very sanctions. Still, as the paper says, some hypocrisy is essential in government; it is merely a matter of how much! Wilson went too far! And the dreadful thing is that the majority of workers, of all colours, just swallow the hypocrisy of capitalism as though no other system is possible.


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