Socialist Worker

Trading under African skies

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1787

Tony Blair has been strutting around abroad again, posing as the saviour of the world. This time Africa has been the victim of his attentions. When Blair pledged to 'reorder the world' at the Labour Party conference last October he claimed to have Africa especially in his sights. He called the continent a 'scar on the conscience of the world'.

In Nigeria last Thursday Blair argued that Western help for Africa could help protect the West from terrorism bred by poverty and injustice: 'There has never been a time when self interest and mutual interest were so closely dependent on each other.'

This at least acknowledges what the Bush administration steadfastly denies-that terrorism is not just 'pure evil' but has social and economic roots. Blair is trying to put a radical spin on the 'war on terrorism'. Foreign Office minister Peter Hain attempted the same in an article in last Saturday's Guardian.

Hain devoted much of his article to a ridiculous rant against both what he called the 'anti-interventionist left', who oppose the war, and the 'anti-trade left', including anti-capitalist activists such as George Monbiot.

Hain accused the latter of wanting to abolish globalisation, and compared this to opposing the industrial revolution two centuries ago: 'Today's rock-throwing militants who trash McDonald's are the modern equivalents of the Luddites who trashed factory machines.' This is poor stuff coming from someone as long in the tooth as Hain.

Firstly, from his days in the Anti Nazi League and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, he must remember how often progressive mass struggles have been accused of violence, just as he falsely accuses the anti-capitalist movement now.

Secondly, this movement is not opposed to globalisation. As I can personally bear witness from the recent World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, it is probably the most global movement in history. What it opposes is the worldwide dominance of capitalism, which destroys people's lives and endangers the planet itself. So what precisely is the 'global action' that Peter Hain demands the left should embrace?

His denunciation of the 'anti-trade left' gives the clue-free trade. Blair proposes a 'Marshall Plan for Africa'. The original Marshall Plan involved the US giving massive aid to Western Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This is not what Blair envisages for Africa today.

According to the Guardian, 'The British government view is that an increase in trade will be much more beneficial for Africa than huge amounts of new aid.' So Blair wants the Western economies to remove the barriers to African imports. Reciprocally, of course, the African countries will have to open up their markets to Western trade and investment. It's not hard to see which side is better equipped to benefit from any such arrangement.

Many African producers would be wiped out by the multinationals, which could profit from the privatisation of public services. This process is already under way. In Ghana, one of the West's prize African pupils, there has been fierce resistance to attempts to privatise the water supply.

Cheerleaders for free trade such as Blair and Hain would do well to consult the record. During the last 20 years of neo-liberal economics, growth rates have fallen worldwide, with the sharpest fall in the poorest countries. The idea that free trade uplifts the poor is a myth.

Africa certainly should be a scar on the conscience of the West. The policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Treasury have caused havoc throughout the region. The wars that still devastate many parts of Africa are largely an inheritance of Cold War conflicts, when Russia and the West armed rival regimes in pursuit of their larger geopolitical conflicts. Fighting continues to rage among armies that know no other way of living. This, of course, offers another commercial opportunity for Western companies. Never was Blair's hypocrisy more starkly exposed than when last Christmas he pranced around the Indian subcontinent posing as the prince of peace. It soon emerged that British companies were trying to sell India a huge arms package.

How long before we discover that 'global action' in Africa means British arms sales there as well?

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Sat 16 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1787
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