What is often described as “aid” to Africa is in fact part and parcel of the cycle of dependency stemming from centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. The only real solutions for advancement of the continent must derive from the struggle of the masses against Western domination, which can only be effectively realized through Pan-Africanism and Socialism in practice.
[Author’s Note: This address was delivered at the Detroit branch of Workers World Party public forum held on Saturday, 22 April 2017. The event examined various anti-imperialist struggles taking place around the world from the Middle East and Africa to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Venezuela. Other speakers included the event chairperson Kayla Pauli of Workers World Party, Randi Nord of Workers World Party and Joe Mchahwar of WWP youth section. Tom Michalak of WWP read a paper prepared by Jim Carey of Geo-politics Alert and WWP. Others were Yvonne Jones of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA), and Martha Grevatt of the UAW Local 869, who is also a contributing editor for Workers World newspaper.]
Any reasonable observer of the United States ruling class discourse during April 2017 realizes that the imperialist war drive is still a dominant theme.
Many people were quite skeptical, if not disbelieving, of the campaign rhetoric of current President Donald J. Trump when he hinted at lessening tensions with the Russian Federation over the wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine. The decision to embark upon a militarist approach to foreign policy is well entrenched in history.
After all, the indigenous Native peoples were driven off their lands and systematic genocide remain the order of the day in light of the situation at Standing Rock as a stark example. Of course African people having been kidnapped into slavery and super-exploited for two-and-a-half centuries through involuntary servitude by the purportedly “enlightened and civilized” British, French, Spanish, Danish and Dutch ruling classes were essential in the transformation of the economic system of the West from feudalism and mercantilism into industrial capitalism and imperialism.
The Atlantic Slave Trade not only created the economic conditions for the rise of mass production utilizing steam technology, large-scale agricultural commodity exports and raw material extraction, it developed more effective means of generating surplus value through the advent of the mining outposts and plants where scientific manufacturing systems such as Taylorism and Fordism took capitalism to unprecedented levels of wealth generation. Although capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries expanded the capacity to generate wealth, it only intensified the contradictions between labor and the owners of production.
It was the global triangular trading system of slave labor, agricultural commodification and export for profit which fueled the economic imperative of colonial imperialism. Slavery was abolished beginning in the early decades of the 19th century only to pave the way for a more effective process of exploitation. Even though workers in the colonies both foreign and domestic were considered emancipated, in fact they were enslaved through their dependence on meager wages needed to maintain an existence after the destruction of more traditional forms of farming and small scale commodity production.
The colonial project in the British colonies of the northeast and southeast as mentioned above was based on genocide and enslavement. The contradictions between the ruling classes of Britain and what became known as the U.S. were resolved through the so-called Revolutionary War, which some historians now realize was in actuality a counter-revolution to preserve chattel slavery, and the War of 1812, which solidified the quest for American dominance over areas south of the Canadian border.
Contemporary imperialist destabilization in Africa: The case of Cameroon
For the purpose of this discussion let us first look at the current situation in the West African state of Cameroon. This is a country that garners almost no news reporting in the U.S. due to what is perceived as a lack of strategic interests.
Nonetheless, over the last several months a mounting struggle across the country has paralyzed the ability of the public sector to function in an efficient manner. The Cameroonian crisis is almost completely framed by corporate media reports as a conflict between the French and English speaking regions of the nation. Two provinces are dominated by those who speak English while the other eight are largely under the influence of French language and culture.
Teachers and civil servants went out on strike late last year in the English speaking provinces due to policies initiated by the government of President Paul Biya, who has been in office now for 35 years. Lawyers and legal workers objected to the imposition of French speaking judges in their court systems which created an untenable situation.
Later, teachers in the English speaking provinces complained of the inadequacy of educational materials mandated by the French-oriented regime. Moreover, teachers were not being paid for their work and these factors precipitated a general strike among both educators and legal workers.
The Biya government responded by imposing draconian measures such as the termination of internet services in an attempt to make it more difficult to organize resistance. Just recently the government announced that it is reinstating connectivity to these provinces in the western region.
This labor unrest eventually spread to the French speaking areas as well. Teachers in the other provinces went out on strike saying that in many cases they have not received a paycheck in as long as five years. Many teachers who graduated from college and were hired as educators had not been able to collect one dime for their services.
Despite the efforts of the government and business press to frame the conflict as purely a sectional one, stripping it of its class and anti-imperialist dimensions, this has not been wholly successful. One of the leading football stars of Cameroon, the champions of the Africa Cup, openly expressed solidarity with the people of the English speaking regions of the country.
Nevertheless, how did this situation develop? Africa was subjected to imperialist divisions during the late 19th century. There is almost no appreciation or acknowledgement of the role of Germany under Otto von Bismarck in the imperialist partitioning of the continent. The fact of the matter is the Berlin Conference was held there due to the important role of Germany in the colonial project.
In a series of three articles published recently by this writer, I have outlined the role of Germany in its genocidal and exploitative role during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Africa. These articles dealt with the demand by the Herero people of Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, for reparations stemming from the genocide against the Namibian people during 1904-1907. Tens of thousands of Africans were slaughtered, forcibly removed from their traditional lands, starved and worked to death simply because they revolted against the imposition of German colonialism in the final years of the 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s.
Also the Germans were involved in East Africa through the colonization of the area now known as Tanzania, then Tanganyika, along with Rwanda and Burundi. In Tanzania, the Maji Maji Revolt of 1905-07 against German imperialism prompted another genocidal wave of violence resulting in untold numbers of deaths through brute force, dislocation and systematic starvation. The people of Tanzania are now demanding reparations from the government in Berlin, which is seeking to enhance its trade and political relationships with independent African states.
Cameroon was as well a German colony during this same period. Atrocities were committed through forced labor initiatives utilized to build railroads and agricultural commodity production. Those Africans who refused to cooperate were tortured and killed in the thousands.
All of these historical developments occurred decades prior to the holocaust in Germany, Poland and Hungary of the 1930s and 1940s under the Third Reich of Adolph Hitler. Yet the consciousness of people in the West, and even within Africa itself, is almost nil in this regard.
During the course of World War I, Germany lost all of their colonies in Africa. The imposition of the Treaty of Versailles negotiated by President Woodrow Wilson and the victorious European imperialist powers in the aftermath of the First World War did not bring peace to the globe but set the stage for the rise of fascism and the advent of World War II.
However, there has been no recognition of the colonial history of Cameroon in evaluating the contemporary political impasse. It is important to evoke the anti-imperialist and revolutionary national liberation history of Cameroon.
In the aftermath of WWII, there was a wave of anti-imperialist fervor internationally. Africa did not escape this phenomenon. The Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) sought immediate national independence during the 1950s. Having met vicious repression on the part of the French colonialists, they embarked upon an armed struggle. Consequently, the UPC was targeted for liquidation by Paris.
Two of the leading figures in the UPC, Ruben Um Nyobe and Felix Roland Moumie, were assassinated. Nyobe was killed on the battlefield in 1958. Moumie was later poisoned in Switzerland by the French secret police in 1960. The political forces which became the official government after independence in the early 1960s were willing to compromise with imperialism. Although Cameroon was further divided through the independence process, officially it is not supposed to be a Francophone state.
Consequently, it is important to look beyond the headlines in order to understand the post-colonial conflicts in Africa. As historical and dialectical materialists we must uncover the truth through an examination of the social forces motivating existing contradictions both within the society as well as external influences.
Trump escalates imperialist war in Somalia
Late last month, President Trump issued another executive order on Somalia. The essence of the initiative was to purportedly relax restrictions on carrying out aerial strikes against Al-Shabaab fighters who have been in a war with the U.S. and European Union (EU) supported government in Mogadishu.
Washington has a long history of military and intelligence interference in the internal affairs of Somalia. In the last decade, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have engaged in targeted assassinations, training programs for the reconstructed of the Somali National Army and the embedding of U.S. personnel within local state structures.
These policy efforts are bolstered by the presence of flotillas of warships off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, one of the most lucrative shipping lanes in the world. The situation in Somalia manifested by the naval presence of the Pentagon and the EU in the Gulf of Aden is closely related to the imperialist war in Yemen, Syria and the entire region of West Asia.
The previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush, Jr. and Barack Hussein Obama engaged in aggressive military and covert operations in Somalia. Since 2007, U.S. and British warplanes have staged bombing operations in various regions of the Horn of Africa state.
Therefore, the proclamation by Trump is merely a disingenuous approach to continuing the already existing war policy in the Horn of Africa. Additional Pentagon troops are being deployed to Somalia in a supposed bolstering of training operations in support of the recently-elected administration in Mogadishu.
In fact the role of the U.S. in Somalia over the last twenty-five years has done more to ensure that no real political settlement is achieved in the country. When any semblance of national unity and social stability is achieved it is immediately attacked by Washington. This holds true for successive Republican and Democratic administrations.
Somalia is an oil-rich nation where leading multi-national petroleum firms are engaging in drilling. Its natural resource wealth combined with the strategic waterways off the coast makes the nation an important focal point of imperialist intrigue on the African continent extending through the so-called Middle East.
Nevertheless, despite all of the natural wealth and imperialist funding of military operations, including the stationing of 22,000 African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) troops which are funded and trained by the imperialist states, the humanitarian situation in the country is worsening on a daily basis. Somalia has for nearly four decades suffered from periodic drought and famine. These problems have forced millions of its residents into neighboring states in Africa, the Middle East and even into Western Europe and North America.
The advent of colonialism scattered the Somali people across five different geographic nation-states: British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, French Somaliland, Kenya and imperial Ethiopia. The maintenance of the status quo under neo-colonialism is the driving forces by the U.S. support of military intervention by neighboring states such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
Formerly French Somaliland, Djibouti, is now the largest base of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) on the continent. This geographically small Horn of Africa state houses thousands of American and French troops at Camp Lemonier serving as an imperialist base for Pentagon and CIA operations across the region including Yemen.
With all of these resources flowing in from the West and its allies, why are the people in Somalia still under extreme duress? It is largely due to the real objectives of the imperialist states which are to ensure geo-strategic dominance and the exploitation of resources and labor.
In a report issued by the Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN) of the United Nations on March 28, it says: “Six years after a famine killed a quarter of a million people in Somalia, the country is threatened with another. Famines only occur if political decision-makers allow them to; it is imperative that the right decisions are made now. But have we learnt enough from the mistakes of 2011? The context has changed since 2011. Somalia now has a functioning – if limited and fragile – state apparatus. Some of the areas worst affected by the last crisis have since received considerable resilience investment (although how far such programming has helped people prepare for or cope with the current crisis is not yet known).”
IRIN continues in this same article emphasizing: “Food security, nutrition and health are rapidly deteriorating in affected areas of the Sool Plateau in the north of Somalia and in the ‘sorghum belt’ in the south. In late 2016, the deyr rains failed in the south and the earlier gu rains were well below average, bringing national grain yields to their lowest in a decade. Predictions for the coming gu season in the affected areas are not optimistic. Food prices are rising. The purchasing power of typical households has declined by 20 percent in some areas of the north and by as much as 60 percent in the hardest-hit areas in the south – repeating the dangerous pattern seen in early 2011. Large-scale livestock deaths are already occurring. The Shabelle River, which provides irrigation water and a livestock refuge in the south, ran dry at some locations in January and remains dangerously low.”
Such profound contradictions of increasing U.S. military involvement and deteriorating social conditions are by no means an anomaly. This is the actual history of imperialism in Africa over the last six centuries.
Prior to the rise of the Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism, the area now known as Somalia was very much a part of the world system extending from the Far East in Asia to the Indian Ocean basin. This trading network existed for at least a thousand years and was not disrupted until the rise of Portugal and Spain as the initiators of the triangular construct leading to involuntary servitude as an economic system.
In understanding this history it is quite conceivable that the system of imperialism can be overthrown and transcended. This basis for the establishment of an alternative economic method of organizing society, the relationships between states, and the priorities of production, has been set forth through socialist ideology.
This is the reason why imperialism declared war on socialism in its infancy following the Russian Revolution (1917) and the subsequent founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922) in 1922. Both the bourgeois liberal imperialists and their fascist counterparts longed for the destruction of the Soviet Union and the national liberation movements through the rise of the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Japanese expansionism in Asia. The breaking of the might of the Nazi military apparatus at Stalingrad and other key battles in 1942-43 has never been fully recognized by the educational modules that have achieved dominance in the U.S.
Then, of course, the efforts by both Italy and Germany to reclaim their imperialist ambitions during World War II led to some of the fiercest battles of the period being waged in the North Africa regions of Egypt and Libya in 1942-43. Ethiopia’s invasion by Italian imperialist fascism in 1935, as far as Africa is concerned, represented the beginning of the Second World War.
Even with the defeat of Italy and Germany in 1944-45 solidifying the resultant dominance of England, France and the U.S. did not lead to the abolition of colonialism. A Cold War beginning in 1947 was not merely designed to reverse the advances of socialism and national liberation in Vietnam, Korea and China. The Cold War represented the imperatives of the West to maintain its colonial hegemony among the immense majority of humanity in the oppressed nations of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
In addition, the contradictions within the imperialist states themselves had reached unprecedented proportions prior to World War II. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought the capitalist system to the brink of collapse. Both the ruling classes of the U.S. and Britain were forced through their desire for mere survival to adopt the Welfare State, incorporating elements of socialist “safeguards” to protect the interests of the private ownership of capital and to ameliorate the antagonism of the nationally oppressed and the proletariat as a whole.
These dynamics on the part of imperialism are manifested in Africa through the crises in Somalia and throughout the continent in the present era. Drought and famine are spreading across the region at a rapid pace.
IRIN in the above-mentioned report stressed: “On the other hand, the current drought is more widespread than that of 2011. Global competition for humanitarian resources is fiercer. Parts of South Sudan have already been declared to be experiencing famine, and the situation there is likely to worsen substantially over the next four to five months, while Nigeria and Yemen also face the imminent threat of famine. Across the world, a record 70 million people are estimated to need emergency food aid in 2017. Yet there are fears some donors, notably the U.S., will significantly cut their aid budget this year, including for humanitarian assistance.”
The U.S.-based corporate and government-sponsored media never asks the simple question: How is the renewed military build-up by the Pentagon in Somalia going to address the humanitarian crisis? Or what is the correlation between imperialist militarism and underdevelopment as represented by increasing poverty, dislocation, food deficits and political instability? Also, what real impact does aid from the West actually have on the imperatives of self-reliance, self-determination, genuine independence and sovereignty and sustainable development?
We can only conclude based upon the actual history of Africa that what is described as “aid” is part and parcel of a reinforcement of the cycle of dependency stemming from centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. The only real solutions must derive from the struggle of the masses against Western domination, which can only be effectively realized through Pan-Africanism and Socialism in practice.
Destabilization of South Africa, Zimbabwe and the SADC region
Finally, we must look at recent events in the sub-continent to get an even clearer insight into the African situation. The Republic of South Africa is the most industrialized state on the continent due in large part to the international division of economic power and labor.
During the 19th century, the struggle for the imperialist control of South Africa and the Southern Africa region intensified through the quest for control of its treasure trove of natural resources and arable land. The mining of gold and diamonds in South Africa and Zimbabwe thrusts these countries into the forefront of imperialist exploitation worldwide.
The complete rationalization of capitalist exploitation through the apartheid system after 1948 was by no means an aberration. This social pattern had been based on developments in the U.S. where the indigenous people were forced off the most arable and mineral rich lands to make way for the settler-colonialists. Super-exploitation of the labor of Africans generated profits so enormous that the return on investments was unprecedented in comparison to any other period in world economic history.
A protracted struggle for national independence accelerated in the aftermath of World War II with the Rand Miners’ Strike, the development of the African National Congress Youth League Program of Action, the Defiance Campaign Against Unjust Laws, the creation of a Federation of South African Women, the advent of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the Congress of Democrats, etc.
By the period between 1976 and 1994, less than two decades, the African masses and their allies were able to force the racist apartheid National Party from power. The African National Congress, which had been labelled as communist and terrorist, was able to construct a government that remains in power after 23 years.
In response to the national liberation movement in South Africa, occurring in conjunction with the overall African revolutionary struggle across the continent and the broader international community, the owners of capital sought to undermine the capacity of the ANC to effectively govern the post-apartheid state. Large scale disinvestment after the advent of the national democratic government was far more significant in real terms than the divestment movement which sprung up from the 1960s through the early 1990s, targeting the settler-colonial system itself and its enablers in the imperialist countries, mainly the transnational corporations and financial institutions based in the West.
Even today a major controversy has developed over the economic trajectory of ANC government policy. Since the world recession of 2008 and beyond, the South African people have lost millions of jobs due to the shrinking of manufacturing and monetary markets increasing the cost of conducting commerce and prompting the closure of plants, mines and its concomitant impact.
These developments were compounded by the reaction of capital to the demands of the working class for a greater share of the profits accrued from the exploitation of strategic minerals, commodities and manufacturing production. The legacy of radical trade unionism in South Africa has roots extending back to the greater portion of the 20th century. Without the essential role of the South African working class, the overthrow of the apartheid system could have never been achieved within the existing historical framework.
The formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985 placed tremendous pressure on the already beleaguered settler-colonial state and internal capitalist system which was dependent upon the investments from Wall Street, Washington and London. An organized working class union with a strong alliance with the national liberation movement and the South African Communist Party (SACP) signaled the potential for a genuine socialist construction after the demise of white minority-rule.
Since 1994, the Tripartite Alliance has been flexible and even conciliatory in its approach to the immediate need of preserving foreign capital inside South Africa. Yet this approach has not been met with reciprocity by the ruling class. Not only have the mine owners and other capitalists retrenched production facilities and markets as well as laying off many workers over the last several years, they have systematically resisted any mention within the public discourse of the necessity of wealth redistribution as a prerequisite for the realization of a people’s democracy.
The opposition parties which have sprung up to challenge the ANC on an electoral level are largely bankrolled by the capitalist class. The Democratic Alliance (DA) advocates policies of greater neo-liberalism which have not worked effectively anywhere in Africa or throughout the world. Another party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is led by Julius Malema who was expelled from the ANC several years ago. Although the EFF takes an ultra-left position in its rhetoric, objectively it has blocked with the DA which is in actuality a party of the white settler-class despite the Black figureheads who are ostensibly in charge of the organization.
A recent illustration of the role of international finance capital and its efforts to strangle the South African National Democratic Revolution was the revelations regarding the currency fixing carried out by some of the leading banks inside the country. This scandal is strikingly similar to the London Interbank Offering Rate (LIBOR) matter which gained considerable media coverage in years past. LIBOR was utilized to exploit working people utilizing insider information and informal negotiations to maximize the profits of these firms at the expense of the most vulnerable within capitalist society.
A report published by this writer in March says: “In South Africa, it was revealed by an anti-trust agency that during the period where residents were negatively impacted by the uncertainty in the economy fueled in part by the fluctuating value of the rand, banks were profiting from these problems. These multi-national firms represent some of the largest of such entities in South Africa and the world. The South African Competition Commission cited the following companies in relationship to the currency fixing matter: Citigroup, Nomura, Standard Bank, Investec, JP Morgan, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Group, Commerzbank AG, Standard New York Securities Inc., Macquarie Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), ANZ Banking Group Ltd, Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays Africa (Absa), part of the Barclays Plc. Investec and Barclays agreed to participate in the probe. Nonetheless, Standard Bank, BAML, Nomura, Credit Suisse, ANZ and Standard Chartered have not gone on record as to whether they will cooperate in the inquiry.” (Global Research, March 16)
This same report goes on to stress that: “These developments in South Africa and internationally illustrate that the economic system of capitalism is controlled by an ever shrinking group of financial interests who operate as a matter of policy in contravention to the majority of people not only within the western industrialized states notwithstanding throughout the world. As the African Union member-states face escalating economic difficulties a re-emergent debt crisis in looming. This burgeoning phenomenon of declining currency values and lack of credit availability portends much for the ability to strengthen both state and non-state structures in Africa. Escalating rates of poverty and lack of national and regional economic capacity will inevitably foster even greater dependency on the West and its transnational institutions.”
This is why the lessons of Zimbabwe and its land reclamation process are important. After two decades of independence from settler-colonialism, in 2000, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government initiated a constitutionally engineered policy of seizing and redistributing millions of acres of land which rightfully belonged to the African people. The land was illegally confiscated by Cecil Rhodes and his class of settler-colonialists. In order to carry out this process it was necessary to politically enslave the masses through a colonial system of military and economic domination. Sanctions were enacted against Zimbabwe not only by the former colonial power, Britain, but also their erstwhile imperialist allies in Washington and Brussels. Zimbabwe is yet to recover from this economic war against social transformation yet the farmers are able to exercise a greater degree of self-determination and economic independence through land ownership. Studies conducted by the Institute for Development Studies in Britain confirm the positive impact of land reform, which is sorely needed in South Africa and Namibia as well.
A recent summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) endorsed a regional industrialization program aimed at fostering such self-reliance and internal-centered development policy. Nonetheless, it will be a challenge in pushing forward with this process because it goes right up against the desire on the part of the former colonial and current neo-colonial powers which actively work against genuine independence and sovereignty.
Conclusion: The need for an anti-Imperialist viewpoint
These examples of events on the continent bring attention to the cause of anti-imperialism in the U.S. We must be in complete solidarity with all anti-capitalist, socially progressive and socialist-oriented policy initiatives taking place in Africa.
The African states have an inherent right to shape their own governmental and societal structures free of imperialist influence. It is quite obvious that six centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism has failed to bring real development to the people. Therefore, the importance of social transformation should be a priority of all modern-day anti-imperialist and solidarity forces in North America.
* Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor of Pan African News wire.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!