1990s >> 1994 >> no-1082-october-1994

Pity the Continent

If ever a continent cried out for justice, for help and, more, for Socialism, it is Africa, a land of 30 million square miles, 54 nations, a thousand languages and 642 million people; a land geographically as rich in diversity as it is in fauna and flora; a land organically as rich in oil and coal as it is in gold and diamonds, and yet, paradoxically, the poorest continent on Earth.

For over a hundred years a spectre has haunted Africa — the demon of world capitalism that sees Africa only as a source of profit, cheap commodities, a gullible market for western exports and an easily exploitable population ruled by corrupt leaders.

The age of overt colonialism may have gone, when the European powers raped and carved up Africa, each with vested interests backed up by huge armies, but now there are new colonists who can do ten times as much damage with the flick of a pen — the World Bank and the IMF.

In ten years, loans given by the IMF and the World Bank have tripled Africa’s debt burden to $180 billion — a figure that represents more than Africa’s aggregate net income. Debt repayments currently stand at $11 billion a year — a staggering four rimes more than what Africa spends on health and welfare.

Since the mid-1980s, African governments have repaid the IMF $2 billion than they have received in loans — a system that is so severe that every adult and child in Tanzania and Zambia owe their nations’ external debtors twice their yearly earnings.

African governments secure loans unwittingly to the detriment of their respective nations because they believe this is the only way to domestic stability. Most are forced into accepting loans on terms and conditions regarding policies they would not have hitherto adopted: the privatisation of state-owned industries, the introduction of new constitutions and drastic reductions in public expenditure which hit health and education programmes the hardest.

In the past ten years about 30 African nations have come to regret the acceptance of IMF and World Bank advice. Living standards have dropped by two per cent annually, while unemployment has quadrupled to 100 million, with real wages falling by 30 percent. Africa is now worse off than it was 25 years ago. The June issue of New African declared that “the average African has 10 percent less food to eat than twenty years ago”.

The Guardian (20 July) reported how “in myriad cases, bank projects, supposedly targeted at the poorest of Africa’s poor, not only increased inequality and hunger, but exacerbated ethnic conflicts . . . Across Africa, projects funded by the bank have become synonymous with financial mismanagement, environmental degradation, the displacement of vulnerable populations and corruption”.


Eighteen African nations are amongst the world’s poorest 20, 30 amongst the world’s poorest 40. Africa with eight times the land area of the USA and twice its population has only one percent of world trade, while American capitalists are top of the world trade league. In 1991, the total GNP for Africa south of the Sahara, excluding South Africa, was $204.7 billion — only slightly higher than that of tiny Belgium with a population of 10 million. Within six years 300 million Africans will be living below the subsistence level.


Myth of overpopulation


Africa has a population of 642 million. Considering Africa is three times the size of China, it has one sixth the Chinese population per square mile. Yet some experts point to African overpopulation as one of its problems. This is pure fallacy. While 50 percent of Africans are undernourished, it is widely known that the continent is capable of sustaining a population several times its present size were Western farming methods applied there.


While millions were dying in the Ethiopian famine eight years ago. the Ethiopian government were exporting thousands of tonnes of lentils to the West. In 1991, Zimbabwe was forced, by the World Bank, to sell one million tonnes of surplus grain to meet debt repayments. A year later a drought hit southern African cutting Zimbabwe’s grain output by 60 percent, with disastrous effects.


If anything, the problem facing Africa is western capitalism. Shortages of food and overpopulation do not even enter the equation. Guy Arnold, writing in New African in September believes “an enormous deception has been practised upon Africa since I960. It is that all the interference by the World Bank, the IMF and the Paris Club has been for Africa’s advantage”.


“Africa”, Arnold says, “ is not at all interested in such donor prescriptions, but is obliged to accept them because it is heavily in debt and debt is a primary instrument of control.”


This is an intrinsic fact of capitalist society: the wealthy control the poor.


Africa is a land of plenty and only Socialism could truly release its productive potential to the benefit of its people. For a hundred years the West has carved up Africa, diseased its flesh and drained its life-blood. Reforms and loans will only ever be the sticking plaster over the gunshot wound.


John Bissett