The Strangling of Africa

Issue: 107

The resources exist worldwide easily to wipe out Third World poverty and the G8 are guilty of not providing them. That was the message motivating very large numbers of people to demonstrate as we went to press. But there was also a conscious attempt by Britain’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to divert the feeling over poverty into a neo-liberal agenda that will leave the system creating it untouched.

This agenda is embodied in the much hyped Commission for Africa. Run by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Britain’s overseas aid minister Hilary Benn, this brings together those who have pushed the International Monetary Fund orthodoxy on Third World countries for the last two decades (like former IMF director Camdessus) and a handpicked selection of African capitalists, financiers and government ministers.

The two popstars who provide the most public face to the poverty campaign have thrown their weight behind its ideas, with Bob Geldof chairing the Commission for Africa. Their commitment to fighting poverty is genuine. But the measures recommended by the Commission would prove disastrous for Africa’s workers, peasants and urban poor.

Its underlying assumptions are:
-The West’s impact on Africa has been generally benign. In some 460 pages only a couple of paragraphs mention ‘exploitation by the colonial powers’, and it ignores completely the ongoing military interventions of the last half century.
-International Financial Institutions like the IMF ‘can play an invaluable role’ and clear the way ‘for private sector investors’ (p148).
-The key to poverty lies in the advance of private profit making. ‘Successful growth will be led by the private sector’ (p86).
-Africa’s people can work their way out of poverty by exporting to the rest of the world if only free trade does away with barriers to them doing so.

How has this thoroughly neo-liberal approach managed to have an appeal for anti-poverty campaigners like Geldof, Bono and the leaders of some major NGOs? The appeal lies in a utopian vision of what capitalism can achieve in Africa if only certain obstacles are cleared away.

It focuses on four things:
-Governance – the corruption and lack of commitment to free markets seen as cramping ‘entrepreneurship’ and foreign investment.
-Aid as the seedcorn that has to be provided from outside if the shoots of capitalist development are to take off.
-Debt relief for the poorest countries which cannot ever pay off existing debt (but only for such countries, for any other would hurt banks’ profits) in return for working within the IMF and the World Bank
-Rapid moves to free trade, which it says would be fair trade with the removal of European Union and US farm subsidies.

This agenda has been the one promoted running up to the G8 by the virtually official campaign on the BBC.

Yet, as we show in the following pages, it is a disastrous agenda for the mass of people in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South.
Gavin Capps looks at how talk of relieving Africa’s debt covers up for the continuing flows of wealth out of Africa into the pockets of western capitalists. Charlie Kimber analyses aid and governance, and shows how the new Commission for Africa orthodoxy would tie the mass of Africans into the system which bleeds them dry. Jacob Middleton extends the analysis to trade. And Pete Dwyer provides a brief survey of African protest movements.

They all point to a simple conclusion. There are ways to end world poverty very quickly. Cancel all Third World debt without any strings. Use the thousand billion dollars spent worldwide on arms on real, unconditional aid to the world’s poor. End the exploitation of Third World wealth by Western multinationals. Support the demonstrations, riots and strikes by which the people of Africa and elsewhere challenge exploitation and oppression by their own rulers, the multinationals and the IMF.