Africa’s opening

Issue: 130

Andy Wynne

Issa G Shivji, Accumulation in an African Periphery: a Theoretical Framework (Mkuki na Nyoto Publishers), £15.95

Professor Shivji of the University of Dar es Salaam has been writing in the Marxist tradition since the 1970s when, for example, he wrote the classic Class Struggles in Tanzania. His latest project, of which this booklet is the first chapter, is an analysis of the place and role of Africa in the global political economy of neoliberalism. The central message of the booklet is that the crisis of recent years has provided an opening for the Global South to refuse to play the capitalist imperialist game, whatever the rules. He argues it is time to rethink and revisit the direction of development and dominant strategies.

The two core sections of the booklet provide an analysis of the global economy in general and the Global South in particular. Starting with Marx’s identification of accumulation as the motive force of capitalism, he goes on to consider the contributions of Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and others in developing the theory of imperialism. He then considers how “accumulation by dispossession”, a phrase coined by David Harvey, has shaped the historical geography of capitalism, particularly in the Global South.

Shivji briefly indicates how the Asian crisis of 1997-8 destroyed the myth of the Asian Tigers. They had previously been held up as the success story of the International Monetary Fund’s neoliberal policies which Africa leaders were cajoled to follow. He argues that the recent financial crisis and subsequent global recession have shattered many illusions in the efficacy of global capitalism.

Shivji argues that it is the system of super-exploitation of the rural peasantry and the informal sector in the cities of the Global South that lies at the centre of “accumulation by dispossession”. This allows a surplus to be produced in the Global South, or periphery, which is then accumulated at the centre. Various mechanisms achieve this, unfavourable terms of trade, debt servicing and profit repatriation (through manipulation of transfer prices, for example). But there is not a simple dichotomy between the periphery and the centre. Accumulation also occurs in various sub-imperialist centres, for example, Nairobi in East Africa, Lagos in West Africa, and South Africa.

The boom in prices of African raw commodities over the last few years has led to a series of perverse results rather than the economic development. In Dar es Salaam a multibillion dollar project was proposed to reclaim hundreds of square kilometres of the Indian Ocean to create a new city centre of shopping malls and offices. This would do nothing to serve the chronic demand for housing from the slums and the ghettos. While many “middle class” homes of Dar es Salaam are decorated with cheap plastic flowers imported from China, fresh flowers are exported from East Africa to Europe. Neoliberalism is also “heralding a new wave of commodification and expropriation of land” across Sub-Saharan Africa in which the “fist of the state… will be deployed freely”.

Shivji concludes his booklet by saying that answers to such problems “cannot be answered in the abstract. They require a concrete analysis of the agency of change in the context of the state of international and national class struggles, which we hope to do in the ongoing study of the political economy of Tanzania.” Given the nature of Shivji’s previous work, we can look forward to this analysis providing a further contribution to our understanding of the Global South and our arguments for the necessity of collective action to effect real change. Meanwhile this booklet provides an excellent introduction to such an analysis.