AU AT 50: Working Class Alternative Urgently Needed Across Africa
AU AT 50: Working Class Alternative Urgently Needed Across Africa
(By Lanre Arogundade)
Only the clique of about fifty African leaders that gathered in Ethiopia way back in May this year for the so-called 50th anniversary of the African Union (AU) the successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), formed in 1963 could have been deluded by the achievement touted by the host Prime Minister, Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn.
“This historic day marks not only a great leap forward in the Pan-African quest of freedom, independence and unity but also the beginning of our collective endeavor for the realization of Africa’s social and economic emancipation”, he declared. But Desalegn was soon to quieten his audience when he quickly added that achieving the goals set by the founding fathers of AU would require what he termed “paradigm shift” in social and economic governance.
The theme of ‘a greater regional integration and a celebration of Africa’s re-emergence as a global power’, adopted for the anniversary further indicated the level of illusions and or deception that pervade the ranks of the African leaders. So much so that the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper significantly remarked in an editorial that the leaders that gathered in Addis Ababa did so inside the Chinese built headquarters of the AU while arguing that there was nothing to count as their achievement.
“For the member states that form the African Union, what has been so manifest in the past 50 years has been tales of woes, arising from wars, natural disasters, poor leadership, lack of development hunger, diseases and mindless exploitation of the continent by external powers, with their local collaborators”.
Truly these are the realities well known to the ordinary working masses, youths, peasants and farmers beyond and outside the gathering of the African leaders.
As a matter of fact, the increasing presence of the Chinese in Africa, including road constructions, building of hospitals, establishment of industries and even Universities in places like Liberia is one side of the coin of the second slavery of the African continent many years after the so-called independence of the countries. The other side of the second slavery is the continuing American and British led imperialist domination of the commanding sectors of the economies albeit through conditionality like privatization and commercialization and policies such as public-private-partnership that are fundamentally never designed to favour the working masses, poor farmers and peasants across the African continent.
Actually, at a time of global economic crisis characterized by repeated recessions and inflations especially in the capitalist heartlands of Europe, America, Japan, etc, the raw materials, cheap land and labour, plus limited markets, that Africa offers cannot but continue to be major attractions for western multinational corporations on behalf of whom their governments ram neo-liberal policies down the throat of African governments.
Thus it is only on the surface that these policies are touted as the much needed panacea for development, growth and job creation, among others. The hidden truth, but open secret, is that these economic frameworks, either by way of IMF and World Bank loans, so-called economic partnership agreements etc come with concessions from the African local ruling classes that essentially strip the working class of even the most basic rights the right to belong to unions of choice, the right to decent wages, the right to job protection. Along these lines, a gargantuan program of casualization of the working class now pervades the commanding heights of the African economic and industrial landscape especially in the manufacturing, mining, banking and financial sectors.
The fight back against these and other anti-working class policies has been considerably weakened by the ideological collaboration of the vast majority of the Labour leadership with the ruling classes. Instead of putting forward a working class socialist alternative of working peoples government and public ownership of the commanding sectors of the economy through a program of nationalization, they usually seek involvement, participation or partnership in the process of privatizations as if that offers any way out for the working peoples. Thus, it has become the tradition of the Labour leaders, to behead strikes and mass actions as it happened during the anti-fuel subsidy removal revolt in Nigeria in January 2012 whenever the question of the alternative of organizing the working class and their allies to take over power is firmly posed.
The African working masses have of course not accepted this situation hook line and sinker, not least as seen in many mass movements across the continent including that of Nigeria mentioned above and especially the on-going revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. But where the working masses have opted to confront the bosses, the state armed machinery have always been quick to step in to play the role that have long been fashioned for them from the pre-colonial to the colonial and now the neo-colonial era.
This has been vividly seen in successive bloody crack downs on the working peoples’ movements since the Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak and succeeding military dictatorships began. It was also bloodily seen in the events that culminated in the Marikana massacre in South Africa, a year ago. The images of 34 striking workers shot dead and close to hundred others injured at the Marikana mines ranked along the Soweto massacre of protesting school pupils. The difference however is that whereas the later happened under the apartheid regime, the former was supervised by the Jacob Zuma led ANC government. The greater truth however is that with the killings and the continued division of the South African society between the poorest poor and the richest rich, the more the poor masses now look, the less they see of the difference with the apartheid regime. 25 percent of South Africans are now unemployed, while a majority of this – about 70 percent – are youths.
The same tale of unemployment crisis permeates other economies like Ghana, Liberia etc that have been acclaimed as neo-liberal success stories based on perceived growth. The reality of this so-called growth is another matter entirely. On this the Democratic Socialist Movement of Nigeria had said before that: “much of these higher growth figures reflected a pick-up in raw material exports and increases in their prices. In 2009 69% of Sub-Saharan exports were raw materials. Generally these statistics did not reflect any rounded out, solidly based generalised growth in the economy or living standards. In fact the increase in food and fuel prices means a new assault on living standards. Indeed, drawing lessons from North Africa’s revolutions, Donald Kaberuka, the AfDB president explained in June 2011 “Our challenge in Africa is one of inequalities. Growth seems to benefit a few people … North Africa’s economies were growing, but they were not inclusive enough and therefore not sustainable … The big dangers to the African recovery now are the international economy, number two, food prices and number three, socio-political revolts. The economy provides the raw material and the politics the trigger.”
Ghana for example has recently been suffering from power outages; so also fuel shortages despite having become an oil producing country. Some few months back international flights to Accra, the capital, had to be diverted due to non-availability of aviation fuel. These developments confirm warnings that oil might prove as much a curse to Ghana has it has been to Nigeria, Angola etc as its income is not used to develop the country but looted. In December 2011, the Financial Times of London had said that on the account of the onset of oil production “Ghana is the fastest growing economy in the world this year, expanding at a forecast 13.6 percent” but quickly added that “there is little sense of a boom” under an IMF-backed stabilization programme.
That little sense of boom is fast turning to some sense of doom with many businesses now succumbing to the debilitating effects of high inflation amidst increasing joblessness. Thus, the Ghanaian Daily Graphic in February this year noted that out of the total number of youths entering the Labour market yearly, more than 30 percent or 70,000 are graduates with only 5000 managing to find work in the formal sector, one of the evidences according to the newspaper, that makes Ghana’s case that of growth without development, which is essentially the case with other African economies that have been touted as neo-liberal successes.
From the rubber plantations in Liberia to the array of precious minerals in Sierra Leone, Congo and Niger; from the oil deposits in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and South Sudan to the water resources in Guinea, Zambia etc, Africa is indeed capable of attaining development, banishing poverty, diseases and illiteracy contrary to a situation where with just 12% of the world’s population, it leads with the number of women dying at child birth (57%); infant mortality (49%) and HIV infections (67%). Her lot should also not be droughts, famines and wars as repeatedly experienced in Niger, Chad, Congo, Somalia, the Sudans etc.
But genuine growth on the continent can only be accomplished through the solidarity and united action of the working masses, peasant and farmers through a program of public ownership, peoples’ democratic control and management of the economy and society. This will ensure that the resources currently being plundered and pocketed by capitalist ruling elite are used to develop society. To the extent that capitalism would continue to be profit-driven, it would never be able to meet even the most basic needs of the African masses. This therefore, firmly puts on the agenda the need for the socialist transformation of African countries, as socialism offers a peoples-driven alternative to the private-profit-accumulation motif of capitalism.
The foundation for this urgently needed revolutionary change will be laid through working class solidarity and leadership of on-going revolts against dictatorship and capitalist exploitation as in Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa as well as the simultaneous building of working class alternative political platforms as the DSM in Nigeria and South Africa are respectively trying to do with the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria and Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) of South Africa.