TO HEAR British chancellor Gordon Brown and European leaders speak you would think that Africa’s debt crisis is almost over.
They claim that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative has reduced debt to manageable levels.
In fact debt remains a weapon of mass destruction.
Taken together, the African countries covered by the HIPC initiative still spend $2 billion a year on debt repayments.
That looted money is directly responsible for tens of thousands of child deaths through health clinics not built, services not provided for free, education not provided and drugs withheld.
In an average country which qualifies for HIPC, the foreign bankers and financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund take 12 percent of government revenues, rising to 25 percent in the case of Zambia.
Ethiopia, with half of its population living in extreme poverty, will spend $100 million this year on debt repayment—more than it spends on healthcare.
Africa’s problems are a result of a world system dominated by imperialism and war.
Yet today the underdevelopment of Africa is still attributed not to exploitation, but to inferiority.
It was in recognition of such pathetic lies and racial stereotyping that Patrice Lumumba, one of Africa’s anti-colonial leaders in the 1950s, said, “One day history will have its say. But it will not be the history they teach at the UN, in Washington, Paris or Brussels, but the history they teach in countries freed from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be one of glory and dignity.”
Capitalism has always been bred on violence. First capitalists grabbed their wealth by driving peasants from the land and by working slaves to death in the “New World”.
Then there was the violence of factory production.
Today the violence of the system is naked to our eyes in the war on Iraq. But the same system also produces “hidden wars” such as the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 3.5 million people died in two years.
The US and Britain are also the leading arms sellers to the Third World. This—and the lack of resources for ordinary Africans as a consequence of neo-liberalism—are fuelling the wars in Africa that Western governments hypocritically reduce to ethnic differences.
Western-sponsored regimes ensure that Western multinationals make enormous profits from stealing African resources. The US backed the late Jonas Savimbi, a brutal rebel, in a war for oil that brutalised and traumatised the people of Angola.
Despite the promises that global capitalism will result in prosperity for all, the outcome has been uneven development and inequality.
It is the West that has gained more from this model of development. In Africa living standards have worsened instead of improving, because of the neo-liberal capitalism promoted by capitalist institutions of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the African Development Bank.
Initiatives by anti-debt activists around Jubilee 2000 and Jubilee South have been a thorn in the side of the powerful. So have campaigns by groups such as War on Want, Friends of the Earth and the World Development Movement. But the greatest hopes come from the revolts by the oppressed themselves, and particularly by the working class.
In Zimbabwe food riots and strikes terrified the Mugabe regime. In Ghana and South Africa the anti-privatisation struggles have given new hope to the poor, and underlined how the movements and debates that take place in Europe are essentially the same ones we face in Africa.
In Nigeria Ken Saro-Wiwa of the Ogoni people was executed in 1995 by the military dictatorship for campaigning against Shell Oil’s destruction of the environment and its complicity with human rights abuses. But Nigeria has also seen powerful strikes by oil workers and others which have forced big concessions from the regime.
In Botswana the greatest challenge to the government has come from the strike by diamond miners which threatened to cut off the source of 90 percent of government revenue.
In South Africa the powerful trade union movement has shown that it has the ability to challenge the government’s pro-business policies.
These are just some examples of the force that can change the world. Tens of millions are suffering across Africa. The working class is the point of the spear of the fightback, a force that can pull behind it, and give focus to, all of those in torment.
The European Social Forum is a crucial event that brings together people from different countries and perspectives, all determined to build another Europe free from global capitalism.
As we seek this alternative Europe, free from exploitation, it is important to remember that European imperialism was built on the blood and toil of millions of Africans who served as cheap labour. The “high point” of this was the infamous Berlin conference where the “Scramble for Africa” was sanctified.
A new Europe will mean, as Marx put it, that “the free association of all is the condition for the free development of each”.
Yes, another world is possible where we can realise our potential free from hunger and war. The global movement against neo-liberalism and war gives us the first glimpses.