IV Online magazine : IV385 - January 2007

Africa: The Nairobi Social Forum

Jean Nanga

Source: International Viewpoint @ http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1191 (external link)

The arrogance of neoliberalism, although certainly challenged in some Latin American countries, seems to face a cooling of opposition everywhere else, as if there was an exhaustion of the “expansive wave” of the movement for global justice. What can we expect from the second World Social Forum to be held in Africa (following its polycentric version in 2006, held in Bamako, Caracas and Karachi), where all the evils of globalisation in its different phases are concentrated? Will it give a second breath to the movement, a greater and firmer radicalism in the area of alternatives?

The underhand dealings of Africa’s leaders

Successive conflicts, the AIDS drama, a rate of infant mortality that is still very high, malnutrition and food shortages, a low rate of access to drinkable running water and to electricity, a still massive illiteracy, the massive and hazardous exodus to the countries of the capitalist centre and so on, all give the image of an Africa which is the victim of its exteriority to globalisation.

Some experts have not hesitated to speak of a suicidal, masochistic drive on the part of Africa with regard to the opportunities offered to “develop” itself in the manner of Asia. To such a point that the generous donors from the West have lost interest, weary of seeing what is supposed to have succeeded elsewhere fail in Africa. Thus, they have chosen to ensure a minimum servicing in the area of aid and leave the African peoples to the incompetence of their leaders, with whom they are supposed to share suicidal practices, like corruption.

The underhand dealings of the African governing elites are not a fad, they are a fact. The democratisation of the 1990s has not eradicated the oligarchic virus. Much to the contrary, being neoliberal in character, it has instead developed the obsession with enrichment, including its illicit form. Fortunes are being made or increased, whether in the post-Mobutu or the post-Houphouët-Boigny eras, to cite these major figures of sub-Saharan oligarchism. Heads of state like Dos Santos (Angola), Sassou Nguesso (Congo), Biya (Cameroon), Bongo (Gabon), although not classed by “Forbes” among the possessors of the biggest world fortunes, have accumulated as much as some multinationals through embezzlement of funds and other public property, commissions in the attribution of strategic markets and so on.

But they have also invested, as much in their countries as elsewhere (banking, real estate, mining, oil sector and so on) thus becoming veritable capitalists, unusual only in the public source of their primitive accumulation. Even Mobutu was not only a hoarder of money. His fortune was placed not only in numbered bank accounts in the so called democratic countries, but also invested in real estate and in the form of shares in companies outside of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Thus we see the constitution and consolidation of a class of local hucksters developing in Africa. Recently, for example, Idrissa Seck, former prime minister of the Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, stated, after the dropping of a lawsuit, that he had enriched himself by drawing on the coffers of the Senegalese state to become an entrepreneur in real estate, in Paris in particular. In South Africa, the arrival of the ANC in power has allowed some its leaders and those of its trade union ally, COSATU, to become heads or owners of private companies, in the name of “black empowerment”, a so-called positive discrimination which amounts to putting a little more colour in the South African bourgeoisie.

These governing elites are thus, as entrepreneurs, attached to the neoliberal organisation of the world economy, hence their indifference to the consequences of globalisation on the people. They tolerate the “fight against poverty” of their peoples only when it is not incompatible with their individual and class interests.

Corruption: a relationship

Without wishing to deny the reality of the phenomenon of corruption and its harmful impact on African societies, where adults and children die in the absence of not being able to oil the machine of corruption in the public care centres, the criticisms made here and there smack rather more of a moralism informed by racist considerations on the immaturity of Africans than of politics. Indeed, it is most often the minor forms of corruption which are targeted rather than those which determine the big economic and social, and thus political, orientations of a country.

And the African continent is not alone in suffering from the latter forms of corruption. It is rather the victim of a culture of corruption linked primarily to the system which has been imposed on it before being chosen by the elites formatted by the said system. It is enough to reject the fraudulent image of capitalism and its democracy propagated by economists and political scientists supportive of the dominant order, and relayed by media of the same stripe, in order to realise the structural nature of corruption in the capitalist system.

The orientation of the decisions of the US Congress by private capitalist interests is the norm rather than the exception, inasmuch as the deciders can also be economic entrepreneurs much more interested in laws and public projects to finance than by control of the realisation of the said projects financed by public money.

The cases of corruption in the political class, sometimes at the summits of the state, in the societies of the centre are enclosed in a quasi-pact of silence or, failing that, benefit from a guarantee of being forgotten as shown by the succession of French “affairs”. This forgetfulness often has consequences for human lives in the societies of the periphery, as is the case for example of the Elf affair in France, with thousands of deaths in the Congo which remind us that the most harmful corruption for African societies is that which links the economic and political powers of the centre with the governing elites of the continent.

This seems to have been discovered by the NGO Transparency International, which previously had for a long time put the accent on the corrupt rather than the corrupters. “The big exporters compromise development by dubious practices abroad... In the economically weakest African countries, for example, those questions have designated French and Italian companies as being most frequently at the origin of these practices”. (Summary of Report on Index of Corruption of Exporter Countries 2006). No western country is given a 10/10 mark by this NGO. In some countries, this foreign corruption is even encouraged and fiscally covered by the law, because it is necessary to compete with others. Thus the exceptional character of the inquiry carried out by Britain’s Africa All Parliamentary Group, denouncing British multinationals, although no action has resulted from it.[1]

The crusade against corruption waged by the World Bank thus smacks of a diversion, from the viewpoint of the struggle against structural social injustice. Its sole real concern was to establish the rules of competition between imperial powers. The US is sometimes blocked in its expansion on the African market by certain complicities built up in the course of history between African elites and their equivalents in the European multinationals, of which the consequence is the attribution of markets through negotiation. This crusade against corruption has then a variable character. Thus, it is not surprising that the recourse to sanctions for backsliders in the area of corruption has been criticised by the French and British ministers in charge of cooperation. This rivalry is further exacerbated by the arrival of China on the African market. As the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy?, has put it “as this century begins, Africa has become a strategic stake of the first order”. [2]

Africa again a strategic focus

The officially sanctioned economists have their figures to prove Africa’s virtual exclusion from the world economy, the project being to integrate it therein. Africa’s GDP only represents 1% of the world total; its share in world trade is 2% (against 8% in the 1990s); its share of foreign direct investment is around 1% of the world total. But the use of these figures starts from the erroneous postulate of an equitable exchange between different partners.

The recent deal concerning copper in the Democratic Republic of Congo can serve as example: “The US company Phelps Dodge [3] has shares in the biggest mining project in Katanga. In Tenke Fungurume the most important reserves of copper of the world, still not exploited, are located... around 18 million tonnes of copper and 1.5 million tonnes of cobalt, which would yield around 100 billion dollars, according to the prices of recent years. Tenke Mining is part of the Lundin group based in Geneva.

Whereas Phelps Dodge has a shareholding of 57.75%, Gécamines has only 17.5%. Gécamines has received 15 million dollars in all from Phelps Dodge. How is it that a mine whose reserves are worth 100 billion dollars is sold at such a derisory price?” [4]

As was the case during the period linking the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, Africa has since the end of the last century again become a strategic focus for the different capitalist imperial powers. In its report for 2006, the World Bank tells us on the one hand that “the increase of income per inhabitant in Africa is currently equivalent to that of other developing countries” [5] - which is unhappily only an average excluding great inequalities of real income and the very unequal division of wealth between the social classes - and on the other hand that “the productivity of the best African companies is comparable to that of their competitors in Asia (India and Vietnam) for example”.

Foreign direct investment has increased, neoliberal reforms are well underway. The International Finance Corporation has praised Africa’s progress: “Globally, the most popular reform in 2005-2006 has consisted in facilitating the formalities of creation of enterprises. Forty three countries have simplified them, and have thus reduced the costs and the time periods The second most popular reform, implemented in 31 countries, has been to reduce the amount of taxes and steps necessary for the payment of taxes”. [6] Thus, foreign companies made a turnover of 200 billion dollars in Africa in 2005. Great Britain has been doing rather well, according to the British NGO Christian Aid. From July 2005, date of the G8 summit at Gleneagles, to July 2006, financial flows from Great Britain to sub-Saharan Africa were 17 billion pounds sterling (of which 1.35 billion was contributions; 6.8 billion direct investment; 7 billion imported commodities). But financial flows from sub-Saharan Africa to Great Britain were 27 billion pounds sterling (1 billion in repayment of the debt from Nigeria; 4 billion in profits of British companies; 4.5 billion in imports of commodities; 17 billion in capital flight). [7]

This is the picture which justifies the words of the French foreign minister: “It is a continent whose average growth is henceforth durably superior to world growth and is triple the European growth rate. In 2006, according to the IMF, the growth of sub-Saharan Africa will exceed 5% for the ninth consecutive year. The investors are moreover not ignorant of this, when international and financial flows to the African continent have doubled in the past three years... France does not intend to disengage from a continent which is near to it, and with which it has for such a long time had privileged relations”. The recent bombardments (December 2006) of villages under the control of Central African and Chadian rebels by the Mirages of the French army are another confirmation of this.

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