Theses on Capitalism and Class Struggle in Black Africa (Part 2)

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Is Capitalist Black Africa Rising?

 

 

 

1.                   It is true that Africa experienced an economic upturn in terms of GDP figures in the 2000s: average growth of real GDP more than doubled from just above 2% during the 1980s and 1990s to over 5% between 2001 and 2014. [1] However, contrary to the contention of neoliberal propagandists that “Africa is rising” and will supposedly even repeat the so-called “Asian miracle,” this upturn is not a sustainable one based on the enlarging the continent’s industrial capacity. Instead, it was primarily the result on a cyclical rise in prices of minerals. Consequently, with the collapse of mineral prices on the world market, the spectacular GDP growth figures have declined during the past two years. This becomes clear if we examine the growth figures for most black African countries (the so-called “Least Developed Countries”) which averaged 7.9% between the years 2002-08, but which for 2015 and 2016 dropped respectively to 4.1% and 3.7%. [2]

 

2.                   The basic determining factor for the economy of sub-Saharan Africa remains its deformed productive base focusing on mineral extraction and a the cultivation of a few agricultural commodities. In fact, as Rick Rowden has noted, “the bulk of African countries are either stagnating or moving backwards when it comes to industrialization. The share of MVA [Manufacturing Value Added, Ed.] in Africa’s GDP fell from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 10.5 percent in 2008, while in developing Asia it rose from 22 percent to 35 percent over the same period. There has also been a decline in the importance of manufacturing in Africa’s exports, with the share of manufactures in Africa’s total exports having fallen from 43 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2008.[3]

 

 

 

Africa in the Grip of Imperialism

 

 

 

3.                   Despite its formal independence, black Africa remains more than ever imprisoned in the fetters of imperialist super-exploitation. As we have already mentioned above, our book The Great Robbery of the South describes how this exploitation by the imperialist monopolies can be divided broadly into four categories:

 

i) Extra profits via capital export as productive investment

 

ii) Extra profits via capital export as money capital (loans, currency reserves, speculation etc.)

 

iii) Value transfer via unequal exchange

 

iv) Value transfer via migration, i.e. the import of relatively cheaper labor force to the imperialist metropolises from the semi-colonies

 

4.                   The strategic sectors of Africa's economy, like mining and finance, remain dominated by foreign capitalist monopolies. For example, as many as 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange have mineral operations in sub-Saharan Africa. These corporations control over $1trillion worth of Africa’s resources with just five commodities – oil, gold, diamonds, coal and platinum. Furthermore, these foreign monopolies control vast swathes of Africa’s land area, their concessions covering a staggering 1.03 million square kilometers of the continent. [4]

 

5.                   Today, sub-Saharan Africa is the Southern continent with the highest share of foreign ownership in the financial sectors (52% of all banks representing 29% of all banks assets). A recently published bourgeois study commented on this figure: "Foreign bank penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa, already high in 1995 at 31%, in part due to past colonial links, only further rose over the sample period and in 2009 over 50% of the banks active in the region were foreign owned." [5]

 

6.                   Furthermore, the Great Powers force African countries to accept so-called “free trade deals.” While these deals require Africa to open its markets for commodities from the rich countries, the latter continue to block their domestic markets to African goods to varying degrees. As a result, African small producers are increasingly sidelined by cheaper products from the Western countries or China.

 

7.                   Another example of ongoing economic dependency is the use of the CFA franc by 14 Western and Central African countries. This currency, ostensibly guaranteed by the French treasury, which has a fixed rate of exchange opposite the euro, makes them entirely dependent on France's and hence the EU's monetary policy.

 

8.                   Furthermore, black Africa is once again becoming trapped in a cycle of indebtedness and payment of interest to Western creditors. While the continent’s level of indebtedness was reduced to less than 30% by 2008 (thanks to a combination of debt forgiveness and booming commodity prices), its level of debt is now again rising rapidly, having increased from $282.9 billion in 2010 to $416.3 billion in 2015. As a result, the debt-to-export ratio of the countries in the region sharply rose from 87% at the end of 2014 to 116% exactly a year later (end of 2015). [6] Given the falling prices of commodities and the black African economies lower rates of growth, this ratio is likely to continue increasing.

 

9.                   Related to Africa’s increasing indebtedness is another imperialist instrument to increase the continent’s super-exploitation: the so-called Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). These programs consist of loans provided by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which are linked to strict austerity programs (e.g., cuts in social and health programs, mass lay-offs in the public sector, etc.) as well as plans to privatize public companies.

 

10.               In addition, black Africa is exposed to significant economic drain by illicit financial flows. Between 2004 and 2013, $675 billion was spirited out of Africa by fraudulently invoiced trade deals and leakages in the countries’ balance of payments. This sum represents on average 6.1% of the region’s annual GDP, meaning a greater relative spiriting away of wealth than that experienced by any other region of the world! [7] This figure reflects the close relations between the corrupt bourgeoisie of Africa and the imperialist financial institutions where the black capitalists ship their wealth.

 

11.               Finally, another form of imperialist super-exploitation is that resulting from migration and the associated brain drain of Africans abroad. Millions of Africans live as cheap, super-exploited workers in Western Europe and North America. According to a World Bank report, about 23,000 African university graduates leave their countries every year. As a result, more African scientists live in the US today than in Africa! [8] Not only are African economies deprived of these talented workers, but they become increasingly dependent on the remittances which these migrants send home. In various countries of Africa, remittances make up 5%-20% of their annual GDP; in some cases as much as half! [9] In the future even more Africans are likely to migrate. Given the misery of life in Africa, nearly a third of all people in sub-Saharan Africa (32.1%) seek to move abroad. [10]

 

12.               Thus, contrary to the myth perpetuated by bourgeois public opinion, it is not the rich countries sending aid to Africa, but quite the opposite: If inflows and outflows are balanced, every year Africa pays billions of dollars net to the imperialist monopolies. A recently published study gives the following figures: “While $134 billion flows into the continent each year, predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid; $192 billion is taken out, mainly in profits made by foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs of adapting to climate change. The result is that Africa suffers a net loss of $58 billion a year.” [11] We see, therefore, that for centuries Africa has been plundered because of its wealth in minerals and sources of labor. As a result, today it is the poorest and most backward continent. In other words, summarizing this dynamic in a dialectical formula, we can say that “Africa is poor because it is rich”.

 

13.               The Western imperialist powers try to secure their economic interests in Africa by keeping a military presence on the continent. Whenever the imperialists see their political and economic interests endangered, they send in their troops. Between 1968 and 2014, France intervened militarily in African countries 42 times. [12] During the last 50 years, a total of 67 coups took place in 26 African countries; 16 of those countries are French ex-colonies. [13]

 

14.               The imperialists drive to increase their military strength has intensified in the past years using the pretext of the so-called "war on terror." In addition to its traditional military bases in Réunion et Mayotte, Djibouti, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, France also has over 3,000 troops stationed across five countries in Africa — Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — as part of Operation Burkhane. [14] The US Africa Command officially has a presence of some 5,000 US troops and a military base in Djibouti. However, in recent years, the Americans have increased their presence and built smaller military bases in several African countries. [15]

 

15.               However, despite these troops on the ground, imperialist powers do not necessarily always intervene directly in local conflicts and civil war, but often use local lackeys to do their dirty work. A prime example is the so-called “African Union Mission to Somalia” (AMISOM) comprising an occupation force of more than 20,000 troops stationed in that Horn of African country since 2007. Given Somalia’s vital geo-strategic position on the Eastern corner of the African continent, with shores on the Gulf of Aden (leading to the Red Sea) and the Indian Ocean, the Great Powers are united in actively supporting the AMISOM forces. The leading local force involved in AMISOM is that of the reactionary Ethiopian dictatorship of Hailemariam Desalegn. This foreign occupation of Somalia has provoked a just popular resistance, the most important manifestation of which is the guerilla struggle being led by the petty-bourgeois Islamist Al-Shabaab movement.

 

 

 

China as a new Imperialist Great Power Challenging the Western Domination

 

 

 

16.               For more than a century, Africa has been dominated by the Western imperialist powers – in particular Britain, France and the US. However, in the past decade their absolute domination has become increasingly challenged by the rise of China as a new imperialist power. As the RCIT has elaborated in several studies and essays, China's (and Russia's) emergence as new imperialist powers is one of the most important developments in the world situation, accelerating as it does the inter-imperialist rivalries and intensifying their super-exploitation of the semi-colonial South. [16] This development is particularly relevant for Africa. China's business with Africa is motivated by (a) its desire to find new markets for its commodities, (b) its interest in finding new markets where it can profitably invest its massively accumulated capital and (c) its need for raw materials.

 

17.               Since the beginning of the new century, Chinese trade in Africa has been growing at a rate of 30% annually, with the result that, by 2009, China had surpassed the US to become Africa’s biggest trading partner, with trade for that year amounting to $198.5 billion. The trade relations between China and Africa resemble the classic relations between an imperialist and a (semi-)colonial state: In 2011, more than 80% of China’s $93.2 billion in imports from Africa consisted of crude oil, raw materials and resources. Africa has become the second largest supplier of crude oil for China (the top African suppliers are Sudan and Angola), ranked behind the states of the Middle East. On the other hand, Chinese exports to Africa are primarily finished products such as machinery, textiles and electronics. [17]

 

18.               Furthermore, China has become one of the biggest foreign investors in Africa, there presently being about 2,500 Chinese-funded companies on the continent. [18] The top destinations for Chinese investment in the years 2005-15 have been South Africa, Nigeria, Guinea, and Congo. [19] Naturally, a realistic assessment must take into account that China started from a very low level of foreign investment in Africa, as from the end of the 19th until the end of the 20th century the black continent has been dominated by the European and US monopolies. While these two blocs still play a central role in African trade, starting a decade ago, China entered the circle of top foreign investors in the continent. In 2014, China ranked number four among the foreign investors in Africa. The annual flow of Chinese direct investment in Africa increased eight-fold between 2005 and 2014 when it reached an annual figure of $3.2 billion. During this same 10-year period, the cumulative stock market value of Chinese investments in Africa grew twenty-fold, to $32 billion. [20] While the US is still a bigger investor, China is catching up (see Figure 2). Currently, Beijing plans to increase its trade volume with Africa to $400 billion and its direct investment in the continent to $100 billion by 2020. [21] In the past, China’s main focus in Africa was on resources, especially mining and oil. Nowadays, infrastructure has become the priority, with companies like Huawei winning contracts to provide telecom services in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Developing power grids has also become important in the bid to support and grow power-hungry, Chinese-owned mining interests.

 

 

 

Figure 2: US and Chinese Flows of Foreign Direct Investment into Africa, 2003-2012 [22]

 

 

 

 

19.               Another important development is that Chinese capitalists investing in Africa rely less on native workers than other monopolies. Instead, they import many skilled Chinese workers. Furthermore, many Chinese go to Africa as private entrepreneurs to establish their businesses there – a kind of Chinese version of the white settlers of the old colonial powers in earlier centuries. According to China's semi-official English-language newspaper Global Times, there are currently more than one million – some estimates are as high as two million – Chinese living in Africa. [23]

 

20.               China's increasing economic interests in Africa makes Beijing determined to bolster their influence with a military presence. Since 2014, it has stationed a 700-member Chinese UN peacekeeping infantry battalion in South Sudan. [24] This military force should be understood in the context of Beijing's massive investments in Sudan, where ¾ of all foreign investment are by Chinese monopolies. [25] Similarly, China started to build its first ever overseas military base in Djibouti in April 2016. This deal ensures China’s military presence in the country up to 2026, with a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers. [26] This naval military base offers China strategic access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

 

21.               Naturally, the emergence of China as a new imperialist power to a certain degree increases the room for maneuver for African governments. They now posses an alternative to the Western powers and monopolies for loans and business deals. However, it is crucial for the working class not to align itself with one exploiter against another, but to fight independently of all exploiters. Revolutionaries oppose the myth spread by various Stalinists (like the South African CP) and bourgeois nationalists that China is a socialist or a progressive, "non-hegemonic" country. The working class must not prefer, let alone support, one imperialist robber against another, but fight against them all. Socialists consider China as neither a worse neo-colonial power than the US or the Europeans – as various NGO's paid by the West claim – nor as a better one. They are all equally imperialistic, and hence revolutionaries support all forms of class struggle and popular resistance against both Western and Chinese imperialists.

 



[1] African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations Development Programme: African Economic Outlook 2016, p. 24

[2] UNCTAD: Least Developed Countries Report 2016, p. 3

[3] Rick Rowden: The Myth of Africa’s Rise. Why the rumors of Africa's explosive growth have been greatly exaggerated, January 4, 2013, Third World Economics, Issue No. 536, 1-15 Jan 2013, pp 5-6, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/01/04/the-myth-of-africas-rise/

[4] See Mark Curtis: The New Colonialism: Britain's scramble for Africa's energy and mineral resources, A Study published by War on Want, July 2016; Mark Curtis: Britain’s New African Empire, 26 July 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mark-curtis/britain-africa-development_b_11191728.html

[5] Stijn Claessens and Neeltje van Horen: Foreign banks: Trends and Impact, in: Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Supplement to Vol. 46, No. 1 (February 2014), p. 302

[6] World Bank: International Debt Statistics 2017, pp. 18-19

[7] See Dev Kar and Joseph Spanjers: Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2004-2013, Global Financial Integrity, December 2015, p. 5 and 12.

[8] Yohannes Woldetensae: Optimizing the African Brain Drain - Strategies for Mobilizing the Intellectual Diaspora towards Brain-Gain (2007), p. 3

[9] Emmanuel Boon and Albert Ahenkan: The Socio-economic Contribution of African Migrants to their Home and Host Countries: The Case of Ghanaian Residents in Belgium, p. 12, http://www.uclouvain.be/cps/ucl/doc/demo/documents/Boon.pdf

[10] ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017, p. 9

[11] Natalie Sharples; Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, Health Poverty Action Briefing, July 2014, p. 1

[12] STRATFOR: Where France Would Intervene Next in Africa, May 9, 2016, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/where-france-would-intervene-next-africa

[13] Abdullahi Boru Halakhe: The West renews appetite for African military adventure, 06 Jun 2014, http://mgafrica.com/article/2014-06-06-the-west-renews-appetite-for-african-military-adventure

[14] See e.g. Jeremy Bender: France's Military Is All Over Africa, Business Insider, Jan. 22, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/frances-military-is-all-over-africa-2015-1?IR=T

[15] Horace Campbell: Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa, Monthly Review 2015, Volume 67, Issue 03 (July-August), http://monthlyreview.org/2015/07/01/imperialism-and-anti-imperialism-in-africa/

[16] See e.g., Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/; RCIT: On the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of World War I: The Struggle against Imperialism and War. The Marxist Understanding of Modern Imperialism and the Revolutionary Program in Light of the Increasing Rivalry between the Great Powers, Revolutionary Uprisings, and Counterrevolutionary Setbacks, 25.6.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/struggle-vs-imperialism-war/; RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism (English-language Journal of the RCIT) No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/; RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/; RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists. Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013; Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4; Michael Pröbsting: No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! Chinese and Japanese workers: Your main enemy is at home! Stop the conflict on the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea! 23.9.2012, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/no-war-between-china-and-japan/; Michael Pröbsting: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism. Another Reply to Our Critics Who Deny Russia’s Imperialist Character, August 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/; Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/; Michael Pröbsting: Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Summary of the RCIT’s Analysis, 28 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-china-and-russia/; Michael Pröbsting: More on Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Reply to Chris Slee (Socialist Alliance, Australia) and Walter Daum (LRP, USA), 11 April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-slee-on-russia-china/; Michael Pröbsting: The Uprising in East Ukraine and Russian Imperialism. An Analysis of Recent Developments in the Ukrainian Civil War and their Consequences for Revolutionary Tactics, 22.October 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/ukraine-and-russian-imperialism/

[17] Yun Sun: Africa in China’s Foreign Policy, April 2014, Brookings Institution, p. 7

[18] Ministry of Commerce of China: 2014 Business Review XI: China-Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Starts a New Chapter, January 26, 2015, http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/zt_businessreview/news/201503/20150300908034.shtml

[19] Center for Strategic and International Studies: Does China dominate global investment? http://chinapower.csis.org/china-foreign-direct-investment/

[21] Steven Kuo: China's Investment in Africa - The African Perspective, Jul 8, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/riskmap/2015/07/08/chinas-investment-in-africa-the-african-perspective/

[23] Yuan Jirong and Huang Jingjing: Isolated in Africa, Chinese workers get religion en masse when missionaries lend a helping hand, Global Times, 2015-2-1, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/905235.shtml; see also Howard W. French: China’s second continent : how a million migrants are building a new empire in Africa, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2014

[24] Zhang Zhihao: Chinese peacekeeping troops ready for South Sudan mission, chinadaily.com.cn, 2016-12-17, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-12/17/content_27697366.htm

[25] China controls 75% of oil investment in Sudan: minister, August 3, 2016, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article59816

[26] François Dubé: China’s Experiment in Djibouti, October 05, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/10/chinas-experiment-in-djibouti/