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Chief plunderer goes to poorest continent

This article is over 18 years, 6 months old
Guest editorial by Mani Tanoh a socialist in Ghana
Issue 1859

‘GEORGE BUSH is coming to South Africa with his hands dripping with the fresh blood of Iraqi people. When they roll out the red carpet for him, it will be to hide the bloodstains.’ That’s how Trevor Ngwane, the leading South African anti-privatisation activist, summed up what Bush’s tour of Africa means.

The top representative of capitalism and militarism is setting foot on the continent that has been most devastated by both. The neo-liberal era of the last quarter of a century has seen life thrown backwards for most people in Africa.

Life expectancy now stands at 49 years in sub-Saharan Africa. One in three of the population do not have enough food. One in ten are living with HIV or AIDS. Like Tony Blair, Bush is using the suffering in Africa to masquerade as a man with a conscience. But his visit is about strengthening the US military and economic presence.

The US has already contributed to the spread of war in Liberia and West Africa. It gave the state of Guinea, which borders Liberia, a bribe of military aid when it wanted its vote for the Iraq war in the Security Council.

Bush wants a series of alliances with a number of African states, where their leaders will accept US imperialist goals in return for a very junior place in the system.

The extra AIDS funding Bush is offering is largely money already promised. It is tied to the involvement of US pharmaceutical companies. It means accepting their stranglehold on the fruits of research in return for a limited exemption from the rules on copying drugs. That exemption can be withdrawn by the companies at any moment. It is a lever against every government in the region.

He’s also linking the package to the spread of genetically modified organisms, which will make farmers even more dependent on the multinationals. Bush is pushing these agreements one to one with various African governments rather than going through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Individual states are even weaker face to face with the US than they are at the undemocratic WTO.

The most sickening hypocrisy is the move to use the tragedy of Liberia to extend the presence of the US military. Bush only got interested when the French did and started backing a faction in Liberia. The US supports another faction. We are seeing echoes of the kind of games between the imperialist powers that carved up Africa in the 19th century.

Liberia for many years was run as virtually a company state by the US corporation Firestone. It got a concession to run the rubber plantations, Liberia’s main export, for 99 years in 1926.

US marines have repeatedly intervened to ‘defend democracy’, which means to defend Firestone. Liberia took the International Monetary Fund’s medicine of privatisation in the 1980s.

The result has been economic collapse and rival groups using brute military force to grab wealth. It is military capitalism – a micro-version of what Bush is practising on a world scale. Some African leaders will shake hands with Bush. They have long since made their peace with the world system. Workers and the poor feel very different. Protests were planned in every country Bush was due to visit.

We knew our rulers would turn their police and troops on us. But there is a new feeling of resistance. It is growing and becoming more coordinated. It is part of the international movement against war and capitalism. It knows we have to confront our own corrupt rulers. And it knows our allies in the West are among the workers and the poor not the warmongers in Washington and London.

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